How to Help Your Friend Who May be Suicidal

Reach for Resources and Refer

If your friend does not have a plan but is still feeling suicidal, call the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) so that you can find out about local resources. Your call is routed to the Lifeline center closest to your area code. The local crisis center will information about resources such as counseling or in-patient treatment centers for your friend.

At some point in their lives, many people think about suicide. Most of them decide to live because they come to realize that the crisis is temporary and death, on the other hand, is not. Sometimes when in a crisis people may perceive their dilemma as inescapable and feel an utter loss of control. If you have a friend who is threatening suicide there are ways you can help. 

Communicate Care & Concern

Suicide is not a spontaneous act. Over time individuals often feel lonely and begin to isolate themselves, express feelings of hopelessness,  begin to get their affairs in order, talk more about death, increase their drug or alcohol consumption, or have a history of mental illness (usually depression).  If you have noticed your friend:

  • Talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself, such as searching online or buying a gun
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Displaying extreme mood swings

Talk to them about what you have noticed. Often friends who are contemplating suicide feel invisible and unimportant. Take the time to communicate that you have noticed the changes in behavior, that you are concerned, and that you want to support them as best you can.

When they speak, listen. Allow them to express themselves and accept their expression of feelings. Resist the urge to disagree or refute what they are saying. While it may be well intended to tell the friend who says they don't matter that they do, sometimes it confirms their belief "No one understands me. No one listens to what I have to say or how I feel." Also, make sure you are non-judgmental. Don't debate whether suicide is right or wrong, or whether feelings are good or bad. Don't lecture on the value of life. Just Listen!

Ask, Assess, & Affirm

After you've shared what you have noticed and listened to them express how they have been feeling, remind them you are there to support them and ask them if they have considered suicide. Be direct and talk openly and matter-of-factly about suicide.

If they share they have considered suicide, don't act shocked, and keep resisting lecturing about the value of life, morals, etc. Instead, assess for a plan.

  • Do they have a suicide plan?
  • Do they have a means of carrying out the plan? (pills, a gun, etc.)
  • Do they know when they would do it? ( "This will be my last Christmas.")
  • Do they seem intent on killing themselves despite your offers to help them get help?

If your friend has a plan, means, a time frame, and intent, then call 911 or take them to an emergency room. Remove any potentially lethal objects from the vicinity and under no circumstances do not leave or allow them to be alone.

If your friend has a plan, means, a time frame, and intent, and you are on campus Monday Through Friday between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., contact the Office of Student Affairs 610-892-1270 or ext. 270 from an on-campus phone or call the Office of Safety and Police at 610-892-1496 or ext. 496 from any on-campus phone. During any other hours on campus or off campus, dial 911.

Engage, Explain, Eliminate Danger

One of the best things you can do for your friend who is threatening suicide is to be present in their life. Engage them in conversations about how they feel, how they have tried to cope, and remind them that you want to be there to support them. Share with them the information you were able to learn about from contacting the Suicide Prevention Hotline. Most importantly, offer to stay with them as they call the Lifeline.

If you or another Penn State Brandywine student would like to speak with a counselor, feel free to contact Penn State Brandywine's Counseling Services Department at 610-892-1270.