Teens and Young Adults: How to help your friend with depression?

how can you help

Teens and young adults ask me this question a lot. They have a friend who is confiding in them. That friend may be cutting, thinking of suicide, doing a lot of drugs, having trouble sleeping or just really depressed lately.

This is for those of you thoughtful enough to listen to that friend who is suffering. If suicide is an eminent threat, then you listen with compassion, call the suicide hotline and get them to the next level of care. Sometimes that means calling 911 or the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255. This podcast is a good one for having a conversation.

Remember these things

  1. It’s not your job to fix this
  2. Listen with compassion
  3. Get your friend to tell an adult
  4. Assume you are the only one who will do this
  5. Tell that adult with the person. Offer to go with them
  6. Follow up later to make sure it happened if #5 was not possible
  7. You might have to tell an adult if they don’t

Scenario

Your friend has told you about his cutting. And you are worried. In fact, it’s stressing you out but you want to be there for your friend but you don’t know what to do.

This is a scenario for when suicide is not an eminent threat but you know your friend has been suffering and this friend is talking to you.

You are not going to be the one to fix this. Why? Because you are not qualified. Guess what? I’m not either.

But an adult can help get that friend to a professional that knows how to help. Maybe that adult is a parent, teacher, youth leader, pastor, soccer coach, an aunt or someone else’s parent.

If your friend wants to write a message to this adult, it needs to be honest, direct and from the heart. If they have had thoughts of suicide, it needs to say, “I have struggled with thoughts of suicide and these thoughts scare me. I don’t know what to do and I don’t know why I have these thoughts. I try to make them go away but they don’t. I need help and I’m asking you to help me.” This guide will help with the telling part. 

Just so you know, typically, this adult would call a doctor, therapist or psychiatrist that takes that family’s insurance and state what they think the problem is and put this in the hands of professionals. The next step might be a psychological evaluation to figure out what it is if they don’t know.

Your job is to do your best to make sure a trusted adult gets told which might mean you have to do it if they don’t agree. You are not ratting out a friend. You are saving a life. And I would bet you’d rather have a friend mad at you than dead. I am empowering you to take this step because I know you can. And you will be proud of yourself for having the guts to do it because it’s the right thing to do.

Cutting, binging and purging, suicidal thoughts and risky behavior can all lead to death. Below is just a sample of how you might discuss this with your friend who is suffering.

The script

James: So dude, I’ve noticed you have some cuts on you and you are driving like a bat out of hell. You got me worried about you. Tell me what’s up.

David: My parents are getting a divorce, I failed that chemistry test, I can’t sleep or eat and I just feel really down all the time. I am not sure why I cut but it’s the only time I feel relief and then I feel really bad after. I want to stop but then I can’t. When I am alone at night I just have some really scary thoughts.

James: Are you thinking of suicide?

David: Not all the time.

James: So you have had thoughts of suicide?

David: Yeah. Crazy right? It’s like I can’t think about anything else when I get them. I think of ways to die and it just hammers at my head. After a while they go away. They scare the shit out of me. I can see that after a while, I won’t care about how it makes my family feel. I just want the pain to stop.

James:  Damn. I am so sorry you feel so bad and I am not sure why this is happening to you. I care what happens to you. This is serious and you could really hurt yourself.  I’m googling the suicide hotline number now and I will text it to you.

David: Well those thoughts go away.

James: But just put the number in your phone. It can’t hurt right? Next time late at night if I’m not up, that’s what you’re going to do. You’re going to call Call 1-800-273-8255.

David: Yeah I guess.

James: Got it?

David: Yeah. In my address book

James: What you’ve told me takes guts.  Thanks for trusting me.

You know we gotta tell an adult. And I can help you figure out who and I can go with you. If you want to write it in a message or letter I can be with you when you write it.

David: Dude, I trusted you!

James: You trust me because I am a buddy. And because I care, my job is to help you ask for help. I can’t fix this. You by yourself can’t fix this. I’m not backing down bruh. I’d rather have you be pissed at me than dead. Cutting is serious shit and it’s not safe driving like you were.

David: I know.  I won’t cut again.

James: Not backing down dude. Look. Let’s pick who you want to tell. Your aunt maybe? She’s pretty cool.

David: Yeah, she’s cool

James: Let’s call her now then

David: Well she’s at work

James: Still let’s call her and leave a message. Put it on speaker. Tell her you have something really important to talk about and to call you as soon as she can

David: OK

James: Be direct. She might think you are joking so you might have to tell her you are not kidding. So you might need to say it twice.

David: What if she tells me I’m just trying to get attention?

James: Tell her she’s right. How else do you ask for help? Hard to get help if you’re not asking for it, right?

David: I never thought of that.

James: So let’s call now….

After the phone call

James: Hey, I’m going to call you tomorrow OK?

David: All right. I feel kind of stupid.

James: I don’t think you are stupid. It’s pretty brave. I want to be able to sit with you 10 years from now looking at that crappy senior picture and laughing my ass off with you OK?

David: I get what you’re saying

Forgive me if this is corny but you get the gist. Let’s say your friend is being treated and it’s not working yet. Then in that case maybe ask them if they will go to a support group with you. Be gently adamant. This friend needs to know they are not alone. They need the support of others who are working at getting better.

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To teens and young adults who are thinking about suicide

Published by

Anne Moss Rogers

I am an emotionally naked TEDx speaker, and author of the Book, Diary of a Broken Mind. I raised two boys, Richard and Charles, and lost my youngest son, Charles to substance use disorder and suicide June 5, 2015. I help people foster a culture of connection to prevent suicide, reduce substance misuse and find life after loss. My motivational, training and workshop topics include suicide prevention, addiction, mental illness, and grief. As talented and funny as Charles was, letting other people know they matter was his greatest gift. And now the legacy I try and carry forward in my son's memory. Professional Speaker Website. Trained in ASIST and trainer for the evidence-based 4-hour training for everyone called safeTALK.

3 thoughts on “Teens and Young Adults: How to help your friend with depression?”

  1. There’s this anime/manga called Orange about a group of high school students helping their suicidal friend. It also shows a future where the friend died and how the group copes with that. It’s a bit lacking in the tell an adult department, but it’s a heartfelt story that’s not devoid of hope and shows the devastating effects of suicide without villainizing the victim. Definitely better that 13RW 🙂

      1. I’m glad you’re looking it up! Sadly, some responses from people who watched it goes to show how far we still have to go in the battle again stigma …

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