• Keeping Friends

When a friend expresses suicidal thoughts

Published: March 11, 2016 | Last Updated: March 11, 2016 By | 6 Replies Continue Reading


Hi Irene,

I have had some troubles with one of my friends. Last December, when my father was diagnosed with cancer, I already had some other troubles going on in my life. This friend never asked me how I was doing when I needed it most and I was a bit disappointed.

After a month I told her about my disappointment but she didn’t agree, saying that I didn’t show interest in her. She blamed me for a lot of other things that went wrong in our friendship. We both aren’t people who express their needs and boundaries so there were lots of irritations on both sides.

She told me that she has suicidal thoughts and I advised to tell her parents and seek professional help. She didn’t want to tell her parents and asked me to keep it secret but that was impossible for me. So I told her that if she wouldn’t tell her parents, I would do it on my own. She became angry and said that I am an unreliable friend. That really hurt me but I had let her choose between two options: either she would tell her parents and we would both work on our friendship to make it work again, or she wouldn’t and then I would tell her parents and the friendship would be over.

It became the last option, but now I still have doubts about whether it was the right choice. I don’t like to leave people when they are in trouble, but I didn’t want to keep her secret for myself because the responsibility was too big. What is your opinion about this situation?

Signed, Meghan


Hi Meghan,

When your friend expressed suicidal thoughts, you did the right thing by urging her to tell her parents. As you suggest, that was too big a secret for you to keep to yourself. Had she acted on her feelings and hurt herself, you would have felt terrible—much worse than you feel now.

Given your friend’s state of mind, I’m not surprised that she wasn’t able to empathize with your problems and got angry at you for telling her parents. Hopefully, with professional help and their support, she’ll come to realize you had her best interests at heart.

Try to forget old wounds in the meantime and be as supportive as you can be of your friend. Check in every once in a while to let her know you are thinking of her but if she is still very angry, you may have to back off. If you are very upset about your friend’s situation, which is understandable, you may also want to talk to a counselor at school to help you deal with your own feelings.

Hope this helps!

Best, Irene

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

Comments (6)

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  1. Marie says:

    You did the right thing by telling her parents. While friends might choose to provide emotional support to each other during times of crisis, it’s not fair of her to expect you to shoulder the burden of her problems all on your own. She needs a mental health professional. Friendship doesn’t require you to provide ongoing free emotional labor or to act as a stand-in for her therapist. Calling her parents or in some cases the police can be something you do both to protect her and to take care of yourself.

  2. Maddie says:

    Call the police if she threatens suicide. Don’t tell her, just do it. If she’s truly despondent it can help her on the way to getting what she needs. If she is manipulative it shuts that down fast. She does not sound very nice. Many fade away a bit.

    • Maddie says:


      I also agree not to set up tests for friends.

    • Carlos B says:

      Please do not call the police. This will only create more problems for the individual and a police report that may not be kept confidential. It will definitely not prevent suicide and may even
      cause it. A police report will cause future reports to hospitals, doctors, social workers.

      None of this will prevent it, unless you have seen actual signs of an attempted suicide.

      Many people speak of suicide, very few do it. My Mother at age 73 spoke of suicide and though we tried to prevent it, she unfortunately took her own life.

      Express your care for the individual, make frequent phone calls and visits, resolve past difficulties if possible. Be a true caring friend.

      • Irene says:

        When someone expresses suicidal thoughts, you need to take the threat seriously. In this case, a young woman shouldn’t consider this threat a secret. She needs to tell a responsible adult.

        Suicide can’t always be prevented but you want to do what you can. Whether or not to call the police depends on the specific situation and their relationship to the individual.

        Thanks for sharing your experience, Carlos. I’m so sorry about your mom.

        Best, Irene

  3. Amy F says:

    You did the right thing. I’d rather lose a friend through anger than through suicide. I had a similar situation with a former classmate of mine who had a plan to commit suicide. I told him if he didn’t tell his wife, I would. He hasn’t spoken to me in a few years, but he’s still alive.

    Just because your friend is feeling suicidal, doesn’t mean she gets to treat you however she wants. You matter. Of course, you want to be empathic to her feelings and understand that depression might be playing a role in her behavior. You always deserve to be treated with respect, even when your friend is angry.

    Be careful about setting up “tests” with your friends. If your friend was going through depression and other life stressors, she may not have thought to ask you how you were after your father’s diagnosis. Depressed people can be self centered if they are overwhelmed with their problems. It was thoughtless, but you could have also said, “Can we talk about my dad? My feelings are hurt you haven’t asked.” That way you wouldn’t build up resentment.

    You don’t have to leave your friend, you can set boundaries. If she’s treating you poorly, tell her you aren’t going to continue the conversation. At the same time, her depression isn’t a blank check to take her problems out on you. You can ask for some space. Never lose yourself trying to help or support a friend, even if she’s depressed or suicidal. You matter.

    I like the idea of talking to your school counselor, who may also be able to provide both you and your friend some support during this difficult time. Your friend is lucky to have you, even if she doesn’t realize it right now.

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