Your friend called you, and something was different in their voice. You were concerned but unsure what was happening. Then you realize they are telling you goodbye and you don’t think it is just to end the phone call. Panic runs through you as you try to figure out what to do because you realize they want to die. You want to help but aren’t sure how.
This type of interaction is happening more frequently because a lot of people have lost hope. This most recent lockdown has sucked the last bit of the hope and left people feeling helpless, trapped, and thinking they have nowhere to turn for relief. I have been a therapist for over a decade now and what is currently happening is the highest level of mental/emotional turmoil that I have witness. So, what do you do when a friend or loved one tells you they want to die?
When your loved one reaches out, your emotions will go haywire. This is normal. You might feel confused, betrayed that they would even think of giving up, angry, numb or even lost. The thought going through your head will be what am I supposed to do? You are not a healthcare worker. It is not your job to fix this, your responsibility to your friend is to get help. Its just like if they had seriously wounded themselves, you would not think you needed to stitch them up, you would think, I need to get them to a doctor to stitch them up. It is the same. If someone is suicidal, they need to get to a mental health professional for help.
If someone tells you they are going to end everything or you know they have tried something, here are the immediate steps to take:
Don’t leave them alone.
Call 911 / or our local London emergency crisis line of 519-433-2023 / or drive them to the nearest emergency room.
Try to find out if they are under the influence or alcohol or have taken anything to overdose so you can inform the EMT or doctor.
Tell a family member or friend immediately what is going on.
If your friend or family member talks or behaves in a way that makes you believe that he or she might attempt suicide, then do not try to handle this situation alone. Get help from a trained professional as quickly as possible. The person may need to be hospitalized until the suicidal crisis has passed.
There are times when it is not as black and white. You start seeing things that are worrying you and you start to wonder. What do you do if you are just suspicious that they are thinking about it, and they have not said it directly?
The first step is to find out whether the person is in danger of acting on suicidal feelings. Be sensitive, but ask direct questions, such as:
How are you coping with what's been happening in your life?
Do you ever feel like just giving up?
Are you thinking about dying?
Are you thinking about hurting yourself?
Are you thinking about suicide?
Have you ever thought about suicide before, or tried to harm yourself before?
Have you thought about how or when you'd do it?
Asking about suicidal thoughts or feelings won't push someone into doing something self-destructive. In fact, offering an opportunity to talk about feelings may reduce the risk of acting on suicidal feelings.
You can't always tell when a loved one or friend is considering suicide. But here are some common signs:
Talking about suicide — for example, making statements such as "I'm going to kill myself," "I wish I were dead" or "I wish I hadn't been born"
Getting the means to take their own life, such as stockpiling pills
Withdrawing from social contact and wanting to be left alone
Having mood swings, such as being emotionally high one day and deeply discouraged the next
Being preoccupied with death, dying or violence
Feeling trapped or hopeless about a situation
Increasing use of alcohol or drugs
Changing normal routine, including eating or sleeping patterns
Doing risky or self-destructive things, such as using drugs or driving recklessly
Giving away belongings or getting affairs in order when there is no other logical explanation for doing this
Saying goodbye to people as if they won't be seen again
Developing personality changes or being severely anxious or agitated, particularly when experiencing some of the warning signs listed above
When you see these warning signs, talk to your friend, or loved one about going to therapy. Letting them know that you are there for them, but this is not something you are equipped to handle. By letting them know how it is affecting you either by sharing your emotions or allowing them to see the tears, will help them know how much you mean to them. When they can see hope from you that things can get better then they can grasp onto it to be able to get the help they need.
Don't forget about yourself. Having a friend or loved one who is depressed and might/is suicidal is stressful. Make sure that you are taking care of yourself by finding ways to relax and rejuvenate. This might include seeing a therapist yourself as support to help you navigate this situation.
We are all in this life together. Reach out and talk to someone today if you are struggling. We will make it through this, and life will get better. I know because I’ve witnessed it over and over again as people who I work with find healing and make a better life for themselves.
I believe in you.