How to Identify and Support a Friend With Suicidal Thoughts

by InnerHour on Mon, 27 Feb 2017

Signs and Symptoms

The behaviours listed below may be signs that someone is thinking about suicide:

  • Talking about wanting to die or wanting to kill themselves

  • Talking about feeling empty, hopeless, or having no reason to live

  • Making a plan or looking for a way to kill themselves, such as searching online, stockpiling pills or buying a gun

  • Talking about great guilt or shame

  • Talking about feeling trapped or feeling that there are no solutions

  • Feeling unbearable pain (emotional pain or physical pain)

  • Talking about being a burden to others

  • Using alcohol or drugs more often

  • Acting extremely anxious or agitated

  • Withdrawing from family and friends

  • Changing eating and/or sleeping habits

  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge

  • Taking great risks that could lead to death, such as driving extremely fast

  • Talking or thinking about death often

  • Displaying extreme mood swings, suddenly changing from very sad to very calm or happy

  • Giving away important possessions

  • Saying goodbye to friends and family

  • Suddenly putting affairs in order, making a will

If these warning signs apply to you or someone you know, get help as soon as possible, particularly if the behaviour is new or has increased recently.

If you’re in a situation where you believe a friend or loved one is in danger of taking their life, first remember that it is important to be calm. Address the issue in a careful and sensitive manner. What you are doing by being there for them is very important as research has shown that close relationships with friends and family make us more equipped to deal with trauma. It lowers suicidal risk and the chance of suicide attempts.

Here is what you can do:


However difficult this may be for you, the best way to get an answer about whether someone is suicidal is to ask them. Do not get scared thinking that this will prompt them to take the step, just start with an innocuous question like “I’m concerned about you, how are you feeling?” It might give them the outlet they need to express themselves. Once they start to open up even a little bit, ask follow up questions about the nature of their feelings. Ask how long they’ve been feeling this way, if something happened to cause these feelings, or how you can be of help. Let them know that you’re there for them and even though you might not fully understand what they’re going through, you’re willing to do what it takes to help them.

If they want to talk, listen. You don’t have to offer advice or your opinion; just be sympathetic, patient and accepting of all they have to say. Remind them that help is available and that they are important to you. Don’t try to argue with them or disagree with their feelings by trivialising the issue and saying things like, ‘look on the bright side’. 

Two things that you have to remember is that when a life is at stake, there is no benefit in allowing yourself to be sworn to secrecy about the matter. You will need the help of others to help them. Secondly, none of this is your fault and can only do your best to help. 

Take precautions for their safety

Keep anything that could be used in a suicide attempt away from them. If you can, find out what their plan is and take measures to prevent it. Prepare a crisis plan, and keep emergency numbers and first aid accessible at all times. Be very clear on the time it will take you to reach a hospital, who to contact in case of an emergency and resources to pay for any medical intervention that may be required. If you’re really worried, do a practice run.

Always stay connected

Make sure that the person is comfortable sharing regular updates with you. Make them feel safe and accepted even when they are at their worst. It’s important not to show the judgement of any kind, because it may cause the person to hesitate to confide in you before a crucial step. Ensure that others around them, like a landlord or a roommate, know to contact you in case of a crisis.

Don’t hesitate to seek help yourself

Being the confidant of someone struggling with emotional upheaval can take its toll on you as well. If you feel yourself straining under the load, speak to a therapist or call a helpline. Explain your situation to them and ask for advice. To be able to care for your loved one, you yourself need to be healthy. Seeking help will empower you to be a better helper.


NIMH » Suicide Prevention - National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved January 6, 2017, from

How can I help? | Mind, the mental health charity - help for mental .... Retrieved January 6, 2017, from

(n.d.). Risk Factors of Suicidal Phenomenon: Prevention and ... - Cornerstone. Retrieved January 6, 2017, from

If you, or anyone you know, is facing difficulties helping a loved one having suicidal thoughts, don't hesitate to reach out to us. An InnerHour therapist can help you.


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