What Should I Do If One Of My Friends Is Contemplating Suicide?
When someone is threatening suicide they are calling for help. Their threat is a request that someone help them get out of their situation. People who have committed suicide have usually made cries for help long before they actually committed suicide. If you are the friend that someone who is considering suicide talks to about their thoughts of suicide it is because they want your help in the matter. They may deny this and even try to make you feel like they don’t want your help, but they are looking for a solution to their problem and they think that you can be part of that solution.
As their friend it is important to be a dependable source of acceptance, comfort, and love. Proverbs 17:17a says that “a friend loves at all times …” This means that you need to be a person that they can count on to be there for them when they are feeling like they want to end it all. You are probably thinking, “I don’t want that responsibility.” This feeling is understandable, but your friend needs someone who will make them feel safe to express how they are feeling. People who are considering suicide often feel overwhelmed, hopeless, lonely, rejected, angry, and many other negative feelings. They often lack close relationships where they can share their pain without fear of rejection. Most people push away emotionally needy people, such as those who are contemplating suicide. This is precisely why it is important for you as a Christian to reach out to someone who is considering suicide. At first it may not be a pleasant experience, but the Lord has called us to love one another (John 13:34).
If you encounter a friend who says they want to commit suicide the first thing you should do is make them feel understood. This is easier said than done, but the general idea is to provide empathy for what they are going through. Even if you don’t think that they are having realistic thoughts and feelings it is important to make them feel that you are willing to accept what they are saying without challenging them. There may be time for that later. The most important thing at this point is providing an unconditional acceptance of their feelings and thoughts. The time for challenging them about their distorted thoughts and feelings will come later.
If you have a friend who has threatened to commit suicide the first practical thing that you can do for them is assess how serious their threat is. After providing an empathetic environment, this is the first thing that health professionals do when they encounter someone threatening suicide. A simple way to assess how significant the threat is is to find out if they developed a plan for how they would commit suicide. This may sound insensitive, and one shouldn’t just jump in and ask how they have planned their suicide, but this could develop naturally through conversing about the issue. If the individual describes a detailed plan for committing suicide their threat should be considered serious. If they have only vague and arbitrary ideas about how they would commit suicide, the threat may not be as serious.
There are a couple ways that a situation involving threats of suicide can be handled. If you are not sure if the threat is serious or minor you should consider it serious. If you feel that the person is at risk of committing suicide the moment they are left alone this is an extremely serious threat. They need to receive professional help as soon as possible. Do not leave them alone! Offer to take them to the local hospital to talk to someone about their threats. If they resist, it may be necessary to call 911 and stay with them to support them even after the authorities arrive.
In less serious cases you could suggest that the individual call the local hospital and talk to someone about how they are feeling. The hospital’s Psychiatric Department should be able to assess the individual over the phone and determine if they need to send someone to get them. Another option is to bring the individual in yourself and have the hospital assess them in person. In some cases, where the threat is not immediate, you could offer to help them make an appointment to meet with a counselor or a pastor. Meeting with a professional about suicide may be intimidating to them and they may resist this, but people who are threatening suicide need to receive help that you are probably not qualified to give them. Even if you are qualified to help them, it is still a good idea to have them meet with an objective individual. As their friend it is impossible to act as a professional because you know them in a nonprofessional, personal relationship.
Let’s say that you are able to help them find professional help, they still need a friend. Many times people feel that people who threaten to commit suicide are manipulating them in order to get attention. This may be true, but it is still important for you to be a good friend to them. Jesus taught us that in relationships you are not the one who is important; it is the other person. That’s what love is about. Sacrificing your desires for the needs of the other person is the sign of a true friend. Remember Proverbs 17:17a. Also, consider Proverbs 27:10a, which says, “do not forsake your friend …” The Bible is very clear about what friendship is about. Being loyal to your friends, even when it is difficult, is obedience to the Lord. This doesn’t mean that you can’t tell them how you feel about the way they are treating you. There is a way to be empathetic and comforting with someone who is contemplating suicide while at the same time being honest about their use of suicide as a way to manipulate your friendship. If you are supportive and accepting of them, but also honest with them, the individual should respect what you have to say about them and your friendship.
People who are feeling depressed and considering suicide often don’t feel that anyone understands them. This is why it is so important for you to let them know that you want to understand. Encourage them by building them up. Think of kind words to say about them, help them get involved in social activities (church, school, etc…), exercise with them (exercise can do an enormous amount of good), listen to them, be honest with them, and look at Scripture with them. Jesus has a lot to say about worrying (see Matthew 6:25-34 & Luke 12:22-34). Quote encouraging verses to them, such as Proverbs 8:35 “For whoever finds me finds life and receives favor from the Lord.” Draw your strength from the Lord and know that He will only give you what you can handle. Being a good friend to someone who is considering suicide is draining, but know that you are doing the right thing. You are obeying the Lord’s call to love one another.
National Adolescent Suicide Hotline (800) 621-4000
- It may be good to give this number to someone who is considering suicide
- The hotline could also answer more of your questions about how to help your friend
National Depressive & Manic Depressive Association (800) 82-NDMDA
- This association offers patient support groups, advocacy, and provides educational information about these disorders
- They would also be able to refer to local support groups and Christian sources for support