Content Warning: Suicidal Thoughts
If you’ve ever frequented the hallways of a middle school or high school, it’s likely that you’ve heard lots of things. Snippets of conversation, gossip, and news of all sorts. But recently, I found myself walking down the hallway and overheard a statement that was alarming to me. The student had been clearly having a bad day and muttered that they wished they could kill themselves. I hesitated for a moment, and asked them if they were okay. They said they were fine, and I brushed it off. But then, a different friend repeated a similar statement on the bus the other day. I felt ill-equipped to comment or offer any sort of advice, again asking if they wanted to talk about anything. But as these situations occur more and more, it’s important that we know what to do and how to respond to them. In order to be more helpful, I’ve done some research and I hope that this helps others who might find themselves in such a situation.
The first thing you should do is assess the situation. Is the situation cheerful? Does it make sense that someone would make this remark? If the latter is true, it is still smart to pay attention to someone else’s feelings, but you should understand that it is likely they are throwing an expression around, just because it is stressful and they aren’t sure what to say. For example, if it’s been a long day with hard tests and someone comments about how they “wish they could die,” understand that the phrase is being used casually, in most cases. Let them know they are in the wrong for joking, as suicide is not a funny topic to be joked about. It is inappropriate to make such comments casually. Suicide is not to be taken lightly. However, if a situation seems positive and someone makes this remark, you may want to approach them more seriously and ask if they are okay.
But, what do you say to someone who makes a comment like this? First, approach the person and ask them how they are feeling or if they want to talk about it. If they say they are fine, but you sense something is off, you can bring in a trusted adult to talk. An adult can then appropriately direct them to a social worker or therapist if they need to talk about something. If they admit to joking, you should explain to them why it’s inappropriate to use such an expression, so they can better understand the effects of their language choices.
Next, it is important to keep them safe. If someone is contemplating suicide, it is important that you reduce the risk of them accessing potentially hazardous materials, like firearms or drugs. If you think someone may be in immediate danger, it is best to call emergency services. If you are unsure how to help a friend in crisis, you can always contact the Lifeline, or visit bethe1to.com.
Also, try to be there for someone when they are struggling. Whether this means hanging out with them in a positive space, grabbing coffee, watching a movie, or exchanging numbers, the connections we make with others make them feel loved and like they matter.
The next step is to try and follow up. If the person did end up seeking help, you can ask them if they are feeling better or if they are in a better place. Following up is important, as it shows you care and you are looking out for someone else.
Perhaps the most important step comes last: educate others! If you find yourself in a situation where people are clearly joking about suicide, call them out for it. Cite a statistic, or let them know in some way that it isn’t cool to joke about a sensitive topic.
While it can seem difficult to approach someone who might be experiencing suicidal thoughts, it is important to care for others and let people know that they matter. You could just be the one to save someone’s life.