I was 15 years old when I took action to help prevent one of my close friends from taking her own life. When you’re close friends with a person there is often strong mutual trust between the two of you. You’re expected to keep each other’s secrets no matter what, but I learned that sometimes it’s important to do what’s best for your friend in the long run, rather than keeping a promise that could ultimately do them more harm than good.
There had been several signs that my friend was considering suicide. She often talked about how meaningless and sad life was, spoke about death/wanting to commit suicide, and had become withdrawn from many activities that she used to enjoy. One night she told me that she was going to kill herself. At first, I was torn about whether I should notify someone or not. She had made me promise that I would never tell anyone about her thoughts. I knew that if I notified someone that it may damage, or even end our friendship. However, her life meant more to me than a friendship. Yes, she could end our friendship due to broken trust, but she would be alive. That’s all that mattered to me.
After contacting her parents (who were both at work), the local police soon arrived at her house and took her to the hospital, where she was treated for her depressed feelings and suicidal ideation. Her recovery wasn’t immediate. However, as time passed she slowly began using healthy coping skills. When she returned from her treatment at the hospital, I was surprised when she told me that she was thankful (and even happy) that I had informed authority figures of her thoughts. When I reached out to her parents, it opened up a door to recovery for her and I will be forever grateful that I made the decision to tell others that she was thinking about hurting herself.
Many cases that involve a teenager’s suicidal ideation don’t end as well as my friend’s story did. However, through a few simple steps, you can learn what you can do if you find yourself in a situation with a friend who is in crisis.
Step One: Be aware of the signs that indicate that a friend is at risk of harming themselves. Risk factors for suicide include, but are not limited to:
- Mental disorders (particularly mood disorders and schizophrenia)
- Impulsive tendencies
- A history of trauma or abuse
- Chronic illness
- Previous suicide attempts
- The recent loss of a job or relationship/family member
- Exposure to others who have died by suicide
- Access to lethal means
Step Two: Know the warning signs that a friend is considering suicide. Warning signs of suicide include, but are not limited to:
- Talking about wanting to die, feeling hopeless, not wanting to live, being a burden, or feeling trapped
- Increased use of alcohol/drugs
- Acting reckless or anxious
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Withdrawing from social interactions
Step Three: Ask your friend if they are considering suicide. Asking this question will not cause your friend any harm or put the idea of suicide into their head, contrary to popular belief. Asking this question can lead to having a conversation with your friend about their well-being.
Step Four: Figure out if your friend has a specific plan. Asking these questions can help you have a better idea of how quickly you need to act.
- Do they have a suicide plan?
- Do they have what they need to carry out their plan?
- Do you know when they would do it?
Step Five: If your friend is considering suicide it is important to inform someone. This can include their parents/guardians, teachers, or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
It’s also important to show support to your friend. Commit to helping them a realistic amount. Showing support can include speaking to them on the phone, helping them find others who can help support them, or even being physically present with them.
It’s also extremely important to help your friend connect with professional and helpful resources. It’s important to have a crisis safety plan ready. The My3 App is a great resource that can help you develop a plan for yourself or a friend. One of the final steps that you can take to help a suicidal friend is to continue to support and encourage them. Never be afraid to reach out for help. No matter what the circumstance is, there is always someone out there who cares and can help.