How to Respond to a Suicidal Friend

Depression sufferers have no energy, feel deeply empty and believe life has no joy. (Photo Credit: Julia Yubeta)
Depression sufferers have no energy, feel deeply empty and believe life has no joy. (Photo Credit: Julia Yubeta)

“How should I respond to a friend who may be suicidal?” Sadly, this is one of the questions we at the REBOOT Alliance are asked most often.

Your natural inclination might be to ignore your gut feelings and hope someone with higher “credentials” or training will notice if your friend displays any warning signs. But in our experience, it is often a friend or a family member who is most likely to notice suicidal ideations in a loved one. Thus, you are in perhaps the best position to offer help, or at least the first step toward help.

If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, please call the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988.

What follows is the training we give our leaders on how to respond to someone who is suicidal. Please note that this advice is not a replacement for helping your friends and family seek professional help.

  1. Identify the warning signs. Is your friend or family member demonstrating any of the following behaviors?
    • Talking about suicide or death and even glorifying death
    • Self-isolating from friends and family
    • Increased use of alcohol or drugs (legal or illegal)
    • Starting to give away cherished possessions
    • Exhibiting a sudden and unexplained improvement in mood after being depressed or withdrawn
    • Neglecting his or her appearance and hygiene
    • Acting out of character by inappropriately using or displaying his or her weapon unnecessarily or in an unsafe manner
    • Exhibiting reckless behavior by taking unnecessary risks
  2. Use the ACE Method. The acronym “ACE” is a good way to remember the steps needed to take an active and valuable role in suicide prevention.
    • “A” stands for “ASK.” Be direct, and don’t hesitate to ask, “Are you thinking about killing yourself?”
    • “C” stands for “CARE.” Show that you care about what the person is saying, you care about him or her, and you are passing no judgement. You won’t be able to solve every problem in that moment, but you may help get past this dangerous episode.
    • “E” stands for “ESCORT.” Take the person to get some help from a trained professional, an emergency room at a hospital, a pastor or counselor. If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, please call or text the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988. If the person is suicidal, do not leave him or her alone!
  3. Remove weapons from their possession if possible.
    • By far, the most frequently used method to complete suicide in America is with a gun. Over 70% of suicides are impulsive acts that occur within one hour of the actual decision to complete suicide. You can understand why a gun is used in so many successful attempts – in most cases, once a person decides to pull the trigger, there is no going back. Therefore, experts have found that the most successful deterrent in preventing a suicide is to restrict a suicidal person’s access to all guns.

Depression or suicidal ideation is not a sign of personal weakness. Those who are dealing with these feelings are not choosing to be depressed, nor are they alone in their battle. Even though they may feel alone as they walk through the dark valley of depression, what they are experiencing is not at all uncommon. Over 16 million adult Americans experience Major Depressive Disorder.

Suicide is the wrong way out of the valley. Let’s all do our part to provide hope and direction to our friends, family, or neighbors who may be struggling.

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Suicide Prevention