If your friend threatens to take their own life

blue flowerIf your friend tells you they are feeling suicidal or that they want to end their life, take it seriously. Hearing this might make you  overwhelmed and worried, especially if your friend is very upset or angry.

There are things you can do to support and help your friend if they threaten to take their own life.

Don’t keep it a secret

Secrets can be dangerous if your friend is going to get hurt or die. It is important to tell someone who can help you and can help keep your friend safe.

This may be a parent, counsellor, teacher, youth worker, doctor or someone else you trust. Another option is to call a helpline such as Samaritans on 116 123.

Encourage your friend to seek help

It’s important your friend seeks help from a counsellor, psychologist, youth worker, teacher or doctor, or a helpline like Samaritans.

Although it might seem hard, these people have training to help your friend get to a point where they are feeling better, and are happier within themselves.

If your friend refuses to see someone

Keep encouraging them to. Try not to let them put you off and keep trying, in as sensitive a way as possible. If you feel able to, you might offer to go with your friend when they speak to someone about how they are feeling. It might also be helpful to forward them some of the information in this suicide and self-harm section.

Offer your support

It can be scary when you realise you need help. Let your friend know that you care, and spend time with them. Just knowing that somebody cares about them can be reassuring as they may feel very alone and as if no one cares.

If they do talk to you about how they are feeling, it might help if you acknowledge that they are feeling down and that things might seem hard, while at the same time trying to remain positive and encouraging.

Choosing when to talk

Timing can be an important part of talking to someone about sensitive stuff. If possible, and if they are not at immediate risk of harming themselves, try to choose a time when you’re both relaxed. If you do feel that they are in immediate risk of an attempt on their life, then calling an ambulance or getting them to A&E or to another safe environment with a trusted, responsible adult who can help your friend, is the right thing to do.

Avoid talking with them during an argument or if they are really upset. If you talk to them during an aggressive or defensive moment you may end up getting a bad reaction and distancing them.

If you’re not sure what to say, you might try saying ‘I’m worried about you’, ‘You mentioned the other day you felt like ending your life, do you still feel that way?’.

Ask them to postpone the decision

While your friend may feel like they have to act now, they can try to postpone that decision. Advise them they may feel different tomorrow or even next week. They can keep a list of other things they can do to distract themselves.

This might include watching a DVD or going to the movies, playing a game, ringing a friend, chatting on Facebook, doing some exercise, reading a book or listening to music. They can then put this into action when the feeling starts to surface.

Many people report that by postponing a decision to die they found that life did change. They got the support they needed and could move on to a better, happier place. This is something you should share with your friend.

Thoughts don’t need to lead to action

Remind your friend that thoughts about taking their life are just thoughts. They do not mean they have to act on them.

No matter how overwhelming they are or how often they have them. They also don’t mean that they will always have those thoughts.

Get informed

It might be helpful to have a general knowledge of suicide and depression. By doing this you may be able to better understand what your friend is going through and what might help.

When you are worried about a friend you might feel stressed or overwhelmed and forget to look after yourself. It is important that you take care of how you are feeling. Speak to someone you trust, such as a family member, friend or counsellor.

Having time away from your friend can be important and can allow you to relax. Make sure you spend some time doing what you enjoy. You may want to play sport, hang out with other friends, listen to music, or go for a walk.

It is also important to remember that even though you can offer support, you are not responsible for the actions or behaviour of your friend. If they are not willing to help themselves it is not your fault.

Comments Show all comments

  1. ReachOut says:

    Hi Kayleigh

    You are obviously very worried about your friend and it's a tough situation to deal with. You have been doing the right thing by trying to get your friend to speak with someone in a support service. I know you say she won't speak to anyone but have you tried offering to go along with her to her GP or another support service? If she really doesn't want to speak with someone face to face then, if she's over 18, she could speak to other people who are going through a tough time and get support through the forums on www.turn2me.org. If she's under 18 then it's worth finding out if there is a Pieta House Centre nearby ( www.pieta.ie ) or a Jigsaw service ( www.jigsaw.ie ). Both of these will accept a self-referral so your friend can just make contact or call in herself without a doctor's referral and both can provide support to your friend.

    It's a very difficult situation for you to be in. It's clear that you want to support your friend and if she is in danger of harming herself it's important that you tell someone else who can help to keep your friend safe until she can get the help and support she needs to get past her thoughts of suicide. You have let her know that you care and by contacting us you've taken further steps towards getting the support she deserves so that she can feel better. There are ways to begin to feel better and if your friend can start taking small steps towards support it will begin to make all the difference.

    Do keep encouraging her to get support yourself but do also get advice from a family member or a support service.

    You've mentioned that she won't call a helpline but maybe she would e-mail Samaritans at jo@samaritans.org

    If you let us know where in the country you are we can find out more details about local support services and pass them on to you. Also, if your friend wanted to get in touch with us we could help her to get an appointment to speak with someone.

    If you're worried that your friend is in serious crisis right now you can call the emergency services on 999 or go with her to the A&E department of your nearest hospital. If you are unsure about calling 999 we could call the Gardaí or emergency services for you, if you let us know where your friend is.

    Please do get support to help you keep your friend safe so she can the support she needs to get through this,


  2. kayleigh says:

    my best friend self harmed, but she tryed stopping and she did, but now she has told me that she is going to commit suicide, i dont know what to do, she refuses to get help or call a helpline and whenever i try to talk to her about it she wont tell me anything, i let her know that i care, but i dont know what to do, how can i help her?

  3. ReachOut.com says:

    Hi Aoife,

    It’s great that you’re helping your friend out with this. Trying to stop self-harming is tough and it’s really tough to do it on our own. Your friend seems like she really does want to stop though and that’s the first step.

    Counselling is good because it helps to talk about how we’re feeling and it gives us that some professional support and advice that we often need to get through something like self-harm. If either of you wanted to know what a counsellor does and what to expect from a first visit, you can follow the links above.

    If your friend doesn’t want to talk to a counsellor right now though, there are other options. The most important thing is that she talks and opens up to someone. That someone might be you if you’re ok with that, or you could suggest that she talks with a family member. Either way, make sure she knows that she’s not alone and that there’s someone she can call at any time of the day or night if she needs to talk.

    She seems to trust you and has already opened up to you, but this can be tough and feel like a big responsibility, so make sure not to take too much on and to always tell someone else if your friend threatens to take her life even if she makes you promise not to tell anyone. Things like this shouldn’t be kept secret.

    You could suggest that she speaks with her GP. GPs can usually give good advice and helpful information and it might seem less daunting to visit her GP than going to a counsellor. If you wanted to could offer to go with her.

    Pieta House is an organisation that helps people who self-harm. They have an action plan for tips on helping someone who is self-harming, which you can find here. You could call Pieta House on your friend’s behalf or give your friend their contact details, phone 01-6010000 or email mary@pieta.ie.

    Sometimes people self-harm as a way of coping with a tough time they’re going through or a way of expressing difficult feelings that they find it hard to talk about. If this is the case for your friend our friend needs to find new ways of coping top replace the self-harm. As a starter, you could suggest to your friend that she makes a list of ‘distraction techniques’ that she can turn to if she feels the urge to self-harm. We have information about distraction techniques on our self-harm factsheet and there are loads more distractions she can look through here.

    Things like getting enough (but not too much) sleep, eating healthily and getting enough exercise can also help. They might seem like simple things but they can make a big difference. Writing down feelings in a journal can also help. Our minding our mental health section has more information on each of these.

    Your friend is really lucky to have someone like you looking out for her, but remember to mind yourself too. Try not to bottle this up; talk to someone you trust about this and how it makes you feel. It’s hard to help someone else if we’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed ourselves.

    We hope this is helpful Aoife and that your friend gets the support she deserves. Do get back in touch if you need any more information and let your friend know she can contact us too if she had questions or wants to share her experience with someone.

    Take care Aoife,

  4. Aoife says:

    I was just wondering if you'd be able to tell me, for a person who self harms and attempts suicide, is there any other form of help then counselling? my friend needs help and she's willing to do anything other then counselling but i don't see any other way then a help line and i don't think its as affective.If you could ,I'd love if you'd answer my question

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