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.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,

  2. 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

  3. ReachOut says:

    Hi Chloe,

    You’re such a good friend and it’s really great of you to write in to ask for help for your friend. She’s very lucky to have a friend like you.

    It can be very hard to know that our friends are going through something like this and you did the right thing by asking for some advice.

    Your friend is very brave and is trying to do all the right things to get help and she should never give up trying to get that help. We’re based in Ireland but we think looking at your email address that you may be in England so we’ll give you information for both countries. Going to see a counsellor in CAMHS is a HSE (Ireland) and NHS (UK) service and it is free and sadly there are often long waiting lists. If your friend and her parents don’t agree with the appointment being postponed, they can get in touch with CAMHS and ask to get an appointment as soon as possible. They don’t have to accept the fact that the appointment was postponed. If it’s still going to take a long time to see a counsellor with CAMHS, your friend could maybe ask her parents to go to see a private counsellor. They could find one on counsellingdirectory.ie (Ireland) or counselling-directory.org.uk/ (UK) or they could talk to their doctor again and ask him or her to recommend a local counsellor.

    The best thing you can do to help her is to be there for her if she ever wants to talk. You could maybe do things together that would take her mind off self-harm, things like going for a walk together or going to the cinema. You can also show her ReachOut.com’s page on self-harm. There are some useful distractions there that she could use if she feels she wants to hurt herself.

    When we’re worried about someone else, we can sometimes forget about ourselves. Helping a friend through something like this can be very tough so we would encourage you to talk to your parents about it to make sure that you have someone you can talk to. It is really important for you to look after yourself too.

    If your friend ever does threaten to take her own life, let her parents know straight away, even if she makes you promise not to tell anyone.

    Thanks for writing in to us Chloe, you're a great friend and should be very proud of yourself.

    Take care,

  4. chloe says:

    My friend, my bestfriend. She's got bipolar, and she's got an addiction too self harm, she says she's going to stop, but then when we have p.e, you can see the recent cuts on her wrist, legs, chest, hands. Me and her, went too the school nurse, who was understandable and then went too ring her parents and then for a few days, everything seemed too look up. But, she went to the doctors with her mom, and the doctor told her to have an 'expression pad' what holds in her emotions, she got a letter from 'kams' and there prosponing, her going too see her councilor, as they've got more serious problems. Since then, she's cut 10 times, all over her body. She's took the big step and asked for help, but noone will give it her

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