I never thought teaching my teen how to help a suicidal friend would be such a prevalent topic of middle and high school but here we are. Multiple times a week my children’s close friends share suicidal ideations with them. Your children may not tell you but there is a good chance that they are also hearing about their friend’s biggest struggles. Don’t let the experience catch them by surprise. I have a few tips to help you help a suicidal friend or help your teens to do so.
What to do if your friend is suicidal
*** Disclaimer – This is a difficult conversation to have with your children. Keep it age-appropriate and equip them without overwhelming them.
Make sure they have crisis information
If your friend is suicidal or your child’s friend is considering suicide, it’s important to make sure they have crisis hotline information. These are found at the following locations: contact the crisis hotline at 800-273-8255, text home to 741741, or message the crisis hotline on their website. There is also a crisis resource specifically for LGBTQ youth via The Trevor Project.
It’s important to understand if someone is in crisis, it is best to first try to direct them to someone who is more qualified. Directing a friend to a crisis line does not mean you don’t care. In fact, it’s the most caring thing you can do. You care enough to help them connect with someone trained to fight for their life! That’s the greatest gift you can give.
Be available but have boundaries
When someone is considering suicide and confiding in a friend, they are often reaching out for help. Some part of them does not want to make this choice. This state of desperation can quickly turn into an unhealthy relationship if you aren’t clear with boundaries. You (Your teen) want to help this friend but you don’t want it to cost you your mental health in the process. Here are a few boundaries to set and how to communicate them kindly.
- “You’re the only reason I’m alive.” You may hear this comment from a friend with suicidal ideas. It’s even more common in teenagers. This kind of statement is an unhealthy one to make to a friend. It puts unfair pressure on you to always keep the person alive and leaves you trapped in their care. They may not even realize that they have put this pressure on you/your teen though. This is a good time to communicate a boundary.
Try a statement like, “That’s too much for me to carry. Let’s work together to find more reasons than me to live. I want you to live but I also have to care for me.”
- “If you don’t answer/help you don’t really care.” This is another false message from someone going through a crisis and can put the person helping in an unhealthy position. It can help to set clear boundaries around when you are available and maybe discuss who their other safe contact people can be if it isn’t you/your teen.”
- “You can’t tell anyone about this.” When it comes to teens, this is one of the most dangerous statements of all. Teens feel they must hide their feelings about suicide from anyone they know for fear of a baker act. When talking to your teens it’s important to point out that there are some secrets that can’t be kept. Saying something like, “I love you and I can keep most of your secrets but if I worry for your safety, I have to share that with someone if you won’t,” can be a good way for your teen to communicate that they want to help but can’t keep unsafe secrets.
Help them find mental health resources
Suicidal ideations can come from a mental health need that hasn’t been met. This could be depression, grief that hasn’t been processed, or a chemical imbalance in the brain. Sometimes, the lack of insurance or a lack of ability to make phone calls can prevent them from seeking care. Offer to make phone calls for them to book appointments or reach out for resources. Real tangible solutions can make a world of difference.
Focus on hope
When someone is in crisis they can hyper-focus on the worst parts of their situation. This can include sharing that they feel there is no way things will ever get better. Oftentimes, people who consider suicide aren’t wanting to die. They just don’t want to feel the pain they are in anymore. Spending some time focusing on hope and the specific ways things can and will get better can make a world of difference.
Know when to seek outside help
When you are helping a friend who is considering suicide, it is important to know when it is time to seek outside help. If you are concerned that your friend will follow through with their threats, seek a certified counselor, or if the need is more urgent, make a call to emergency services. For teens, it can help to suggest reaching out to a teacher, school counselor, or parent if a friend is making plans to hurt themselves.
It is important to know when it is time to let someone step in and take over to handle a more urgent situation.
Looking for more?
- Reasons Not to Commit Suicide
- The Truth about Suicide
- Survivors of Suicide
- Quotes About Suicide
- Free Mental Health Resources for Teens