Seeing someone you care about struggling with suicidal thoughts can be scary and overwhelming. You might even be tempted to downplay the issue when someone hints at or mentions suicide. But it’s worth facing your discomfort and engaging them in conversation about it instead. Let them know that they can talk with you about what they’re going through, and keep a few guidelines in mind. You can play a powerful role in saving a life.
If someone is in immediate danger, the quickest way to get help is to call 911
1. ASK: Do ask the person if they think about suicide.
Evidence shows asking someone if they're suicidal can protect them. You can simply ask, “have you had thoughts about suicide?” Don’t hesitate to do this – asking will not put the idea in their head, nor will it make them more likely to attempt suicide. By asking someone directly, you give them permission to tell you how they feel and let them know that they are not a burden.
2. STAY: Don’t leave the person alone, and stay calm.
Don’t panic. Just because someone is having — or has had — thoughts of suicide, does not necessarily mean they are in immediate danger. However, it is important to stay with the person if you can. If not, make sure they are in a private, secure place with another caring person until you can get more help.
3. EMPATHIZE: Listen, be supportive and remain non-judgmental.
You can take some time to listen calmly and compassionately to what they have to say. Instead of attempting to “fix” their problems or giving advice, let them really express their experiences. Take an open and compassionate approach when they are talking and try not to criticize or minimize the way they feel.
Avoid saying: “It’s not so bad,” or “everyone has problems,” both of which can come across as downplaying their feelings. It is also best not to say, “You don’t really want to die,” or “suicide is wrong.” This might make them feel judged. They may isolate themselves further, which makes it harder to get help.
Do say: “I’m so sorry you’re going through such a hard time,” and “I really care about you,” or something similar. This expresses empathy and lets them know they are not alone. You might even offer, “would you like me to come over and keep you company?” if you’re able.
4. CONNECT: Act as a bridge to professional support.
Encourage them to seek professional help. You can quickly connect someone to emergency and mental health resources. Here are some options, depending upon the situation.
Call 911: Do this if there is an immediate risk of harm. Tell the operator you need support for a mental health crisis. (To determine if there is an immediate risk of harm, ask “do you have a plan?” and “do you have the ability to carry out that plan?” If they say yes, call 911.)
Call or text 988: 988 is available nationwide to contact for mental health, substance use and suicide crises. Anyone in the US can call or text 988 or chat at 988lifeline.org for a free and confidential conversation at any time. Trained crisis counselors are available to talk 24/7/365.
Call their therapist: If it feels easier for them to talk to someone they know, and they have a therapist - especially if they have an existing safety plan with their therapist - this may be the way to go.
Call a population or issue-specific hotline: If your friend is a veteran, a person who is transgender, an LGBT youth, or a victim of a disaster, there are hotlines especially for them (see "Additional Crisis Resources" below), which they may feel more comfortable calling.
How to ask for help: Encourage your friend or family member to be direct. When calling a helpline, they can say things like, “I am having suicidal thoughts” or “I am feeling suicidal.”
5. FOLLOW UP: offer to help them find longer term support.
Once your friend is out of immediate crisis, you can offer to help them find a therapist, psychiatrist, or school counselor for ongoing support, if they don’t already have one. You might also consider offering to go with them to their first appointment if they are hesitant. Being present for them during a difficult time can be very encouraging. For help finding a professional, Psychology Today has a comprehensive database of mental health professionals, and you can search by insurance, gender, and specific issues, like grief, trauma, and more.
Supporting a friend who is suicidal might seem hard at first, but it’s worth it to step forward, help them feel less alone, and get them connected to the resources they need. You just might save someone’s life.
Additional Crisis Resources
Veterans Crisis Line: 800-273-8255, press Option 1
Trans Lifeline: 877-565-8860 (U.S.) or 877-330-6366 (Canada) The Trans Lifeline’s Hotline is a peer-support service for trans and questioning individuals in crisis. All operators are trans-identified.
Trevor Lifeline: 1-866-488-7386 The only national 24/7 crisis intervention and suicide prevention lifeline for LGBTQ young people under 25.
TrevorText A free, confidential, secure service in which LGBTQ young people can text a trained Trevor counselor for support and crisis intervention, available Monday–Friday from 3–10pm ET / Noon–7pm PT by texting START to 678678.
Disaster Distress Helpline SAMHSA’s Disaster Distress Helpline provides 24/7 crisis counseling to people experiencing emotional distress related to natural or human-caused disasters.