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My Friend Is Threatening To Kill Himself

Published: February 16, 2014 | Last Updated: February 26, 2022 By | 6 Replies Continue Reading
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Friends can’t take changes when someone is depressed and talking about suicide.

QUESTION

Dear Friendship Doctor:

I’ll be straight. My best friend—well he’s amazing and has always been here for me—but I think he’s depressed.

His dad died a while ago and he’s told me that he was going to kill himself and I think he would if I didn’t start crying and begging him not to. Any advice?

I recently got over depression, cutting and anorexia. I don’t want him to start down that road. How can I help him???

Signed, Elyse

ANSWER

Hi Elyse,

It’s great that you were able to recognize that your friend is depressed but it sounds like your friend needs more help than you (or any other friend) can provide.

When someone is depressed and threatening to kill himself/herself, you have to take the person’s threats seriously and encourage the individual to seek help from a mental health professional. You can’t risk the chance that he won’t hurt himself purposely or inadvertently.

If your friend already has a therapist, ask him to call that person right away. If he doesn’t have one, he should contact a suicide hotline immediately.

  • A free 24-hour National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) is available to people in crisis (or their loved ones) at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Calls are routed to local crisis centers.
  • In the UK or Ireland, Samaritans offers confidential support at 08457 90 90 90.

If your friend is unwilling to reach out to a professional, make sure you aren’t handling this burden by yourself. Tell him that you need to let someone in his family know what’s going on because you care about him.

Given your recent history, I would also encourage you to speak to your own therapist, too. It’s very easy to sink back into depression when you spend a lot of time with someone who is severely depressed.

Hope this helps you take the right next steps.

My best, Irene


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**No information provided here or elsewhere on this blog is intended as medical advice.

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Category: Dealing with friends with health and/or emotional problems

Comments (6)

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  1. When a friend threatens suicide - The Friendship Blog : The Friendship Blog | September 23, 2014
  1. Matt says:

    Him seeing a therapist is crucial. I think it’s also important to share your history with him. He probably feels very alone and if you tell him you went through mental illness, it’ll tell him he’s not alone. Plus, opening up to him will encourage him to open up to you.

  2. MaryJo says:

    I have a neighbor who has said several times that he feels like killing himself. The last time he said this, I stayed up with him & just let him talk himself down.
    I don’t know if this is the right thing to do. He was waiting for a call from the local Suicide Hotline where he’d left a message. He’s unemployed, has filed for Bankruptcy & realizes that he is in a Depression. He hasn’t gone to a doctor yet.
    What should I do the next time he says he wants to kill himself? I thought about calling the police but I don’t know if that would help him. I live in a neighborhood where being a “snitch” & calling the police would put me in danger.
    What else can I do?

    • Irene says:

      Don’t wait until your friend is feeling suicidal again. Urge him to seek help now before he feels so low that he thinks of taking his life. Please see my response to another reader’s post, which may be helpful to you: https://www.thefriendshipblog.com/can-depressed-friend-get-help-2/

      It sounds like you instinctively did the right thing but, unfortunately, you can only encourage him to seek help. You can’t make him go. Do you know any close family members you could alert? I’m surprised and disappointed that a suicide hotline was so unresponsive. You could also help by checking into the mental health resources in your community and providing him with several phone numbers.

      While he may be less interested in psychological support, a social services agency may also be able to help him obtain financial benefits (e.g. unemployment insurance, food stamps) or other benefits to which he may be entitled.

      So sorry you are in this painful situation. You sound like a wonderful neighbor and friend.

      Best, Irene

  3. Amy says:

    I’m sorry your friend is suffering. You’re a good friend to seek out resources to help him.
    Irene is right, your friend needs more help than you can provide as a friend. You have to take his suicidal threats easier, and understand that your crying and begging might temporarily prevent his acting on his ideas, but won’t protect him from his depression and suicidal ideation in the long term.

    Encourage him to reach out to his therapist, his mother, teacher or other adult. If he won’t do that, you must tell an adult. Talk to your own therapist for support and suggestions or a school counselor. Teens sometimes make the mistake of thinking they can help their friends without adult or professional intervention, but that’s not true. Depression is a medical problem, and just like you wouldn’t think you can cure a friend’s cancer, you can’t cure depression and suicidal thoughts. There’s a term called “enabling” and that’s when we inadvertently make getting help or recovering from a problem more difficult, even though we’re trying to be helpful. Trying to fix his problem without professional and/or adult intervention might be preventing him from getting better.

    Good luck. He’s lucky to have you.

    • MaryJo says:

      Thanks for your replies. Just want to point out that I was not “crying and begging” him not to kill himself. I just let him talk himself out. He’s a grown man capable of making his own decisions.
      You’re right though, that it’s important NOT to mistake emotional relief with solving the problem. Feeling better does not mean that the situation has been changed or improved. All I can do is give him the information & phone numbers–he has to make the calls.
      P.s. He had a job interview–haven’t heard how it went!

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