You and your friend are at a bar, having a drink talking about work, family, everything. Your friend shares that they’re going through a lot right now and drops the line “sometimes I wonder if anyone would miss me if I disappeared” or, “I’m not sure what the point of it all is any more”, or even “sometimes I think about ending it all”.
Whether they say it in a cryptic way or are more clear – hearing that your friend is struggling so much is painful. It brings up a lot of emotions, ranging from worry and panic to a sense of responsibility and even anger that they would want to leave you.
How should you react? How can you help them? For now, put your fear and worry aside and try to keep the following in mind:
Take them seriously
Even if the comment is said in a light-hearted way, be sure to take what they’re saying seriously. Encourage them to continue talking about it. A lot of people struggle to talk about subjects like suicide, but the more open you are, the more comfortable your friend will be talking about it. Suicidal thoughts are common and often temporary, but to laugh off or brush over a comment like this could do more harm than good.
Listen to them without judgement
Once you’re engaged in conversation, listen to them with empathy and without judgement. There are many different reasons someone may be contemplating suicide, we never truly know what someone else is battling.
As you’re listening, try to keep asking questions rather than turning the conversation onto yourself and your experiences. Sometimes it can help to relate, but often the person in question just needs a listening ear.
Feeling the weight of responsibility is understandable, but try to remember that it is not up to you to offer advice or make them feel better. Instead, focus on helping them find the professional support they need.
Encourage them to visit their doctor (you could even offer to take them to the appointment), tell them about helplines like Samaritans and see if they’ve considered counselling – you could even sit with them and search our site to see if there are any counsellors near them.
After the conversation is over, don’t let it drop and disappear under a sea of small talk when you next see them. Follow up with them. Check-in to see how they’re doing, find out what progress they’re making in terms of getting professional help.
If it feels appropriate, talk to their family about what’s happened. This can help you get some support and ensure your friend’s loved ones are looking out for them.
Take care of yourself
As we mentioned earlier, hearing that your friend is having suicidal thoughts can bring up a lot of emotions for you. It’s important to address these and take care of yourself too. Ensure you have someone you can talk to and, if necessary, see if a support group or even counselling could benefit you. If you’re struggling, you won’t be in a position to help anyone.
As difficult as it may be to hear, you are not responsible for your friend’s happiness and you are not going to be able to take away their pain. By being there, listening and signposting support – you are being a wonderful friend.