First, tell your friend you are honored they trust you enough to tell you. And the number one most important thing you can do is listen with empathy.
So what does that mean? Listening with empathy means you listen without passing judgement or offering advice. You can’t “fix” this but you can prevent a suicide simply by sitting and listening to someone.
So what do you say exactly?
When they say they want to suicide, you can say. “Tell me more, I’m listening.” If you can’t remember anything else on this post, you can remember to listen. Many times that is all it takes to prevent a suicide.
When they say they are worthless and no one would care if they were dead. You can say something like, “That is must be so painful to feel that way. I do want you to know I would care, though. How long have you felt this way?”
Like I said. Listening is the most important. But you can ask these questions.
- “Thank you for trusting me with this information.”
- “I’m honored you’d share this with me and allow me to listen and try to help.”
- “I am here. We can figure this out together.”
Don’t fight their answer. By asking you are just planting a seed.
If they say, “What if I attempted and I botch it and make myself disabled for life?” Agree with them that that could happen. Because it could.
If they say, “I am afraid [insert method] will hurt.” Agree with them that it could hurt a lot.
If they say, “Do you think that if I killed myself, I’d go to hell?” Answer honestly that you really don’t know. You don’t want to promote a religious debate and it’s not a “sin” but a public health issue. But if they are feeling doubt and their faith is something that is making them hesitate, then that’s not a bad thing at the moment.
Don’t say, “You have so much to live for!” That sounds like you are invalidating feelings.
A suicidal episode often lasts twenty minutes or so. While that is typical, it could be shorter or longer. If someone who is experiencing an episode of depression or psychosis, it is more complex.
If it looks really bad, you have to call 911. But most don’t need 911 and you can always call the suicide hotline together or the crisis text line and ask together or call to ask for advice.
USA Crisis Text 741-741
USA Crisis Line for LGBTQ Youth 1-866-488-7386
USA Crisis Text for LGBTQ Youth 678-678
USA TransLifeline 1-833-456-4566
USA Suicide Prevention Lifeline & Chat for the Deaf or Hearing impaired. Or dial 711 then 1-800-273-8255
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
Do not make the promise you won’t tell anyone. You don’t want to go on instagram and announce it, of course, but just say that you’d prefer they told a trusted adult. Encouraging the person to get help might mean connecting with them the next day and ask if they have made an appointment for an assessment.
If you have a friend who is telling you about thoughts of suicide often and they won’t tell a trusted adult even if you offer to go together, you may have to tell a trusted adult yourself. You’d rather a friend be mad at you than dead.
One of my friends called me and confessed he was struggling with thoughts of suicide and during our conversation he mentioned his psychiatrist recently increased his medication dose. We decided together that the sudden onset of his thoughts of suicide might be due to to that and the best idea was to call the psychiatrist the following day to report the issue.
I stayed with him on the phone until the episode passed and got back in touch the next day. He made the call and told me later that he had reached out and the increase in meds was the problem.
You will feel you are “not qualified” to do this. But the truth is, the power of caring enough to connect with another human and listening does prevent suicide.
All you can do is the best you can do. Thank you for caring enough to look this up and be there for a friend.
10 thoughts on “What to say to a friend who tells you they want to suicide”
Outstanding read. Perfectly written. So many people need to read this. I hope that they can. Sometimes all someone needs is to know that someone cares about them.
Thank you so much. This is an especially meaningful comment since it’s from a young adult. I hope you will share it on your social pages.
Thank you for making a difference every day by helping to reach so many. ❤️
Thank you for saying that, Kathy. I know that teens and young adults look up this phrase on Google. I want them to find it like they do some of the other articles on the site.
You make very important points. I think sometimes the fear of saying the wrong thing keeps us from doing the right thing. Ironically, the right thing is to not say anything at all that comes from a place of expertise. Thank you for this post.
You nailed it. The fear of saying the wrong thing makes us think we’re not qualified. But all of us are qualified to listen and connect with another human being.
Great post being a suicide survivor, for me it’s just having someone listen and even just hold me and let me cry. Don’t have to have the answers just let me get it all out.
What a perfect comment, Tammy. So important to hear from those with lived experience. “Don’t have all the answers” is what frightens people and I tell others it’s just about BEING PRESENT
Anne Moss, you know I love your posts with concrete suggestions. This is another post that is so helpful. Thank you, thank you.
This one is similar to other posts but I wanted it to rank on google like the “how to help a friend who is cutting” post which is doing very well from google searches. I know young people need the concrete examples as do many others. But I know they are relying on Dr. Google. So I want this one ranked. And your comments help make that happen! Thank you, Amy.