The Lowdown
26 July 2022 • 6 min read

Supporting a Suicidal Friend

Is a mate really starting to worry you? If you think someone may be suicidal, ask them. Asking about suicide will not put the thought in their head, but it could save their life. It’s important to ask directly so that you can get them the help they need right away.

Figure sitting in darkness made up of words. Hand touching up back and lighting up showing support.

Is your friend in crisis? Find help for yourself, a friend or anyone you know who is contemplating suicide or self harm here.

Don’t forget to look after your safety as well. You’re not alone in this.
Protect your wairua and treat yourself with the same care that you would offer others.

Spot the signs

  • Have you noticed changes in someone’s behaviour that make you think they’re really not ok? It’s a good time to speak up.
  • You may feel uncomfortable asking, but it’s important to be clear and direct. It can be as simple as “Are you thinking about suicide?”
  • They could avoid the question, they could be offended, they could get upset, but at least they’ll know you’ve got their back.

How to help

People are most likely to turn to close friends or family for support.

That might be you. Be non-judgemental, take the time to listen and acknowledge how they’re feeling.
Ask them if they will consider talking to a mental health professional. This is important so that you can keep them safe and take that pressure off your own shoulders, where it doesn’t belong. You are not responsible for keeping your friend alive all by yourself, so don’t carry that load alone. If they refuse to get help, talk to a trusted adult or to their parents/caregivers. Just don’t do this alone.

If they talk about suicide or not wanting to be there (even as a joke), start giving stuff away or are saying goodbye to friends, these are signs you need to take seriously and do something about - even if they’ve asked you not to.

What if they ask me not to tell anyone?

If you think anyone in your life could be in danger of hurting themselves or someone else, tell somebody ASAP. Reach out to their parents/caregivers, a school counsellor, kaumātua, trusted whanau, Lifeline or Youthline. It’s better to have a friend who is mad at you for breaking their trust than a friend who’s injured or gone.

Here are some ways you can help a friend who is suicidal:

  • If you feel they are in immediate danger of harming themselves, don’t leave them alone. Call 111 immediately, even if they haven’t harmed themselves yet.
  • Take it seriously – even if they’ve been saying it for a long time and never acted on it
  • Acknowledge their feelings, thoughts and what they are going through
  • Listen to what they have to say
  • Try to be calm and understanding
  • Show your concern by paying attention and asking questions
  • Don’t be afraid to ask tough questions, for example, “Are you hurting yourself?”, “Are you thinking about suicide?”, “Do you have a plan?” If they have a plan to harm themselves, you need to call 111 right away.
  • Ask them if they want to talk about what’s going on for them with you or someone else. They might not want to open up straight away, but letting them know you are there for them is a big help.
  • Don’t promise not to tell. Instead, you can say something like, “I need you to know that I can’t keep this a secret because I care about you” and work to create a plan that you’re both comfortable with.
  • Problem solve with them - maybe they don’t want you to tell their parents, but instead you could agree on someone else you could go to (trusted whānau or Lifeline).
  • Try to remove any dangerous objects from their environment (e.g. knives, pills, rope, anything sharp).
  • Stay with them until someone else can join you to help, or for as long as it is safe for you to be there. If you can, make sure they won’t be left alone.

It’s important to note that sometimes the person you go to for help may not offer you the help and support you need, but don’t give up there. Try again with someone else – this is important. Just because someone doesn’t listen or give you the help you need doesn’t mean that what you & your friend are facing isn’t real.

Remember to check in on yourself – are you doing ok? Is supporting your friend having an impact on your own wellbeing? Don’t take on more than you can handle, ask someone you trust for help if you’re struggling and put your own wellbeing first.

Think of it like the safety instructions on a plane – they always tell you to put your own life preserver on first before helping those around you. You can’t help anyone else if you’re not ok yourself!

Where to get help:

If you’re thinking about harming yourself or are having suicidal thoughts, call Lifeline on 0508 82 88 65 now to talk to someone who cares and can support you.

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