Your teenage friend has confided in you their darkest and most personal feelings. It took everything for them to tell you and now they have asked you not to tell anyone which leaves you in a horrible dilemma.
You wonder, “Should I tell someone my friend is thinking of suicide?”
First, ask your friend if you can tell someone together and make a date to do just that. You can go through a list of possibilities and select that person together.
Second is to escort or help your friend connect with professional services– a school counselor or a college mental health center.
What if they refuse?
As much as you want to keep your friend’s confession in confidence, it’s important that your friend get professional help. (If your friend is in eminent danger right then, call 911.) Let’s face it, you are not looking forward to telling someone. It’s not an easy thing to do. So I’m going to help you understand what to say.
Will your friend be mad?
Maybe. But you’d rather have your friend mad than dead. And I’ve had to call campus police for someone I cared about. I was very clear with campus police that they handle it with compassion. At least it made them think.
If you are still struggling with what to do, let me ask you this.
How would you feel if your friend/relative/loved one killed him/herself and you knew but had not told someone?
Do consider what their parents are like and if that’s the best choice because it isn’t always. For example, your friend might be queer and has religious parents who’ve not been accepting of their gender identity. It might be the best choice is a coach, a minister, or a teacher instead of a parent. If your friend is self-harming, that should be part of the conversation, too.
When you tell someone else, a parent for example, how do you tell them?
“Mrs. Jones, your son Adam confided something in me you should know. It is very important that you take this seriously. He has attempted suicide and suffers from thoughts of suicide. These thoughts don’t go away and he’s struggling, ashamed and feeling despair. He is afraid to tell you because he knows how proud you are of him. I’m very concerned. Please don’t say, ‘He’s doing this to get attention.’ He’s really struggling and if he’s attempted before, the chances he will complete a suicide are higher and I’m worried. Suicide is usually the result of an underlying mental health condition and I suspect depression.”
That gives you an idea of what to go with.
So when your friend asks you, “Did you tell my parents?” Say, “Yes, I did. I was very worried. What if you had died by suicide? I would never get over it and would always regret it. I did it because I care about you and I’d rather you were mad at me than dead. Mad, I can live with.”
I lost my youngest son, Charles, to suicide and although I have found emotional healing, it will hurt for the rest of my life. It’s a brutal grief journey.
Thank you for caring enough about another human being to listen to him/her with compassion and for looking up the phrase to figure out what to do. Now go save a life because you rock as a human being.
Do ask questions or leave comments on this post.
If you are with a friend and not sure what to do, you can reach out to a crisis text line or suicide hotline and ask. But the bottom line is, do tell a trusted adult.
USA Crisis Text 741-741
Canada Suicide Hotline 1-833-456-4566
United Kingdom Suicide Hotline 116 123
Australia Suicide Hotline 13 11 14