What to Do If You Have a Friend or Family Member Who is Depressed or Suicidal


Suicide isn’t just an ugly word. For those who have loved ones who are depressed and suicidal, it can be terrifying. 

It is a global problem, as each year more than a million people die by suicide. That’s one suicide every 40 seconds. 

And the problem is only getting worse, as over the last 45 years the worldwide suicide rates have increased by 60%. 

The US isn’t spared from this problem at all. The most recent CDC data reveals that in 2012, about 40,600 cases of suicide were reported. 

In addition, the problem isn’t limited to just one age group. While the  highest suicide rates were among the people from 45 to 59 years old, it is also an existing problem among the youth. 

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among people ages 10 to 24, and the #3 cause of death for kids age 12 to 18 as well as college-age adults. 

In fact, if you combine the number of fatalities brought on by AIDS, cancer, birth defects, heart disease, chronic lung disease, influenza, pneumonia, and stroke, it is still less than the number of fatalities caused by suicide. 

Warning Signs

But for many of us, suicide is not a statistical situation. This is especially true if you have a suicidal son or suicidal daughter, or if you have a suicidal friend

It’s a deeply personal issue, and of course you want to help.

If your child is beset by depression or if you have a depressed friend, it’s only natural for us to be concerned and worried about our loved one. 

Here are some warning signs to look out for:

  1. They talk about taking their own life. This in itself is enough for you to be very concerned. 
  2. They take unnecessary risks or repeatedly engage life threatening activities, such as taking drugs or driving recklessly. 
  3. They harm themselves, such as cut themselves or bang their heads against the wall. 
  4. They talk to other people in such a way as if they won’t see them ever again.
  5. Perhaps they may even engage in rather indirect conversation that’s vaguely suicidal. For example, they may wonder aloud if you’ll miss them when they’re’ gone, or if suicide is wrong or painful. 
  6. They’re getting their affairs in order, such as giving away their wealth and possessions. 
  7. They actively procure the items they need to commit suicide, such a gun or hoard dangerous pills. 
  8. They suddenly stop seeing or talking to other people and withdraw from their social circles. 
  9. You notice that they exhibit extreme mood swings, such as being enthusiastic one day and then extremely down the next day. 
  10. Their sleeping and eating patterns have drastically changed. 

So What Can You Do? 

It’s a natural thing to want to help your suicidal friend or suicidal son or daughter. Actually, your help is essential and could very well save their life.

If you’re concerned because you have noticed at least one of the warning signs of suicide in your loved one, you should not simply ignore your fears and hope you’re wrong. 

So what should you do?

  • If you’re not sure of what to do, or if you think you need to do something immediately, then you need to get some professional help. You can 911, or you can also call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). 

    It’s alright to call for help even if you think you’re over your head. Not everyone is cut out to provide the kind of help that a depressed friend needs. 

    In fact, you should call a professional even if you think you can handle the matter yourself. For things like this, the opinions of a trained professional can’t hurt. 
  • You can also talk to your suicidal daughter or son, by asking direct questions. Ask them about what’s bothering them, and you can even ask directly if they’re contemplating suicide. 

    When they speak, your job is to listen to them—as in really listen.  Don’t rush, don’t cut them off, and don’t say anything judgmental. 

    You’re talking to them because you care, and that’s what you need to let them understand. 
  • And when they talk, all you can do is offer support and sympathy. Don’t try to berate them for having these suicidal feelings, don’t say it’s a sin, and don’t give advice or offer ways of solving their problems. 

As a friend or family member, you have two responsibilities. You can offer sympathy and concern, and at the same time you should talk to a real professional who can advise you on what to do, depending on the circumstances.