What do I say when someone tells me they want to die?
- Freaked Out Friend
Dear Awesome Friend Who Knows When to Reach Out,
It's so scary when someone you love (or hell, even a stranger) says that they want to end their life. Try not to panic. It’s a big deal that your friend confided in you-- and you can help them.
One thing you should know is that a lot of people feel suicidal and it may not mean that they will act on it. But it's not your job to figure that out. You can help by connecting your friend to a pro who can. I know that’s easier said than done, so I asked my good friend and crisis counselor extraordinaire Sunitha Menon* for advice.
“The first thing you should do is make sure that person feels comfortable. Say something like, ‘I’m really glad you told me. I know this is really hard to talk about,’” she said.
If you don’t feel comfortable talking more about it, or if you are under 18 and really need to pull an adult into the convo, you can say, “Do you think you’d be willing to talking to a therapist/parent/crisis hotline about it?” (It’s also a good idea to have some of these numbers saved in your phone. They are basically the Ghostbusters of mental health.)
But if you are comfortable going a little deeper, start by letting your friend know that you care. Something along the lines of “I’m concerned about you I want to help you get through this.” Then you can ask, “Is there anything I can do to help you feel differently?”
This may mean letting them talk about why they want to die, but as Sunitha says, “No one should think they need to do any kind of therapy. Offer to do simple things that aren’t overwhelming to you or friend.” She suggests calling someone who can help, keeping them company, or taking them to an ER.
Safety is the biggest issue. You can ask, “Are you thinking of hurting yourself right now?” If the answer is yes, you should call a crisis hotline or 911.
Of course, there’s a good chance your friend is telling you this about this via text or chat and you might not know if they are serious or just being sarcastic. Ask what they mean or dial their number so you can hear their voice.
The bottom line is that if someone tells you they want to kill themselves, it is not your job (or within your control) to save them. Helping them get support ASAP is the absolute best thing you can do.
P.S. *Sunitha Menon is a social worker (that’s LMSW to you academic types) and is the Director for Training and Consultation Services at RAINN. She was previously at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Thanks for the advice, Sunitha!
P.P.S. Need Some Real Talk? E-Mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll give it to you straight.