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The Dos and Don'ts of Helping a Friend on the Brink

The Dos and Don'ts of Helping a Friend on the Brink



If your friend is threatening to kill herself, here are some important DOs and DON'Ts to remember.
  • DO take her seriously. She is not doing this just to get attention. A suicide attempt is a cry for help.
  • DO be direct. Talk about her suicidal feelings openly and calmly. Some people worry that talking about suicide makes it happen. This is not true. Talking about her feelings will help her, not hurt her.
  • DO talk with an adult you trust about your friend's situation so that you aren't carrying the burden by yourself. You are not a trained professional, and no one expects you to be able to save your friend.
  • DO listen to your friend and encourage her to express her feelings. Try to accept her feelings just as they are.
  • DON'T leave your friend by herself. If you can't be with her, make sure that someone else can stay with her.
  • DON'T try to talk your friend out of anything she says, and don't remind her of how lucky she is compared to other people. That will only make her feel worse. It's OK to disagree when she says she's "no good" or nobody cares, but remember that she really does feel that way right now.
  • DON'T be harsh, angry, or judgmental. Your friend is already judging herself and saying she's no good. It's much better if you are kind and accepting, even if you are angry at your friend for wanting to hurt herself. If you do get angry, try to stay calm and don't yell at her. Tell her you are angry and that it's because you care about her.
  • DON'T get into a debate about whether suicide is right or wrong, or if the feelings she is having are good or bad. Don't give her a lecture on how great life is. She won't be able to hear that right now.
  • DON'T act shocked. Your friend is probably already feeling guilty and ashamed of her behavior. If she sees that you are shocked, she'll stop sharing her feelings and close up right away. Then you won't be able to help her.
  • DON'T dare your friend to commit suicide.
  • DO stay involved. Even if you feel afraid of what might happen, don't back away. Be available. Tell her that you will support her, no matter how bad she feels.
  • DO ask your friend if she has made a specific plan and if she has done anything to carry it out. For instance, has she collected pills from her parents' medicine cabinet or bought a weapon? If she has very detailed plans, then she could be in immediate danger. Get help right away. Don't take this on by yourself.
  • DO ask your friend to give you all weapons, pills, or anything else that could be dangerous so that you can take them away. Give these things to an adult you trust.
  • DO offer your friend some hope. You can tell her that many people like her who wanted to kill themselves have gotten treatment and they are living normal lives today.
  • DON'T tell her things that are unrealistic, like "everything will be fine tomorrow." Your friend can get better, but it is going to take some time and hard work.
  • DON'T make any promises to keep her suicidal feelings a secret. Ordinarily, a good friend does keep secrets, but right now her safety is the most important thing.
  • DO suggest that your friend call a suicide prevention center or a crisis hotline.
  • DO suggest that she talk with an adult—someone she trusts and respects—like a teacher, a counselor, an older sibling, a family friend, or an aunt.
  • DO ask an adult whom you trust to help you find professional help for your friend, especially if she is not willing to seek help on her own.
  • DO call 911 or a suicide hotline number immediately if you feel that your friend could hurt herself any minute. Don't worry that you are "telling on her." Your friend has given up hope. Right now, she just can't see through the doom and gloom. Even if it seems like her mind is made up, some part of her still wants to be alive. As her friend, you can help her hang on to that little morsel of hope—until she is well enough to do it for herself.
 
 
 
Last Modified Date: 2/23/2001
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