Your friend has confided in you their darkest and most personal feelings. It took everything for them to tell you they are thinking of suicide 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?”
Will your friend be mad?
But you’d rather have your friend mad than dead. I’ve had to call campus police for someone I cared about and in this case, it was an emergency. The student I had been on the phone with was drunk, in deep despair and then was not answering my calls or texts and I needed to take action. I was very clear with campus police that they handle it with compassion. At least it made them think.
As hard as it is, this is a life or death and we always want to focus on life. A school counselor is an excellent choice if you are a student. Universities also have counselors and counseling centers, crisis lines and you can reach out to one of those. You can both call the crisis text line or the suicide prevention lifeline together (numbers below). Or you can call them and just ask for advice. That’s what they are there for. Every situation is different and not a 911 emergency and they can help you evaluate the urgency and offer the next steps.
Offer to go with your friend to tell someone together or call a hotline for the next steps. In some cases, like if they are standing on a bridge, you have to call 911. But that is often a last resort.
You don’t want to say, “Make me promise you won’t suicide.” Because this is a person in so much despair, they can’t make that promise. And by trying to extract a promise, you are shaming them although that is most likely not your intention at all.
You can do this. And if they absolutely will not act as your partner, you have to tell someone. Because what if they die and you never told anyone?
When you tell someone else, how do you tell them?
Example of friend telling a trusted adult:
“Mrs. Jones, your son Adam confided something to me that I need to share. I am feeling anxious since he asked me not to tell but this is important. He admitted to having attempted suicide and suffers from thoughts of suicide. I know this might make him angry with me but I decided I would rather Adam be mad at me than dead.”
Example of a trusted adult telling the parent of the friend:
“Mrs. Jones, your son Adam confided something to my daughter that I feel you need to know. He admitted to April that he has attempted suicide and suffers from thoughts of suicide. He asked her not to tell but Adam’s friendship means so much to April and we both struggled with sharing this difficult news. He is afraid to tell you because he knows how proud you are of him.”
That gives you an idea of what to go with. Sometimes a parent is not the best choice. Sometimes they are. If the family is not accepting of this friend’s gender identity for example, they might not be the best to tell.
So when your friend asks you, “Did you tell my parents/teacher/etc?” 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 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline call 988
USA Crisis Text 741-741
Suicide & Crisis Lifeline for Veterans call 988, press 1
USA Crisis Line for LGBTQ Youth, call 1-866-488-7386
USA Crisis Text for LGBTQ Youth 678-678
USA TransLifeline call, 1-833-456-4566
USA Suicide Prevention Lifeline & Chat for the Deaf or Hearing impaired. Or dial 711 then 988
United Kingdom Samaritans 116 123
Australia Crisis Line 13 11 14
Canada Crisis Line 1-833-456-4566
Canada TransLifeline 877-330-6366
International suicide hotlines