Today’s culture of oversharing can sometimes be dishonest. We share the good, but not the bad.
For someone who is depressed or suicidal, this is especially true. Life can feel pretty isolating, dark and helpless when you’re depressed. Unfortunately, there are still a lot of stigmas and shame surrounding the topics of suicide and mental health. Yet, 1 in 10 Americans experience depression at some point in their lives and suicide has become the second leading cause of death in people ages 10-34.
When a friend is hurting or suicidal, our first response is to try and solve their “problem.” For those on the outside, knowing how to help is difficult. Often the best thing you can do is help them find a therapist or just be there and listen to them, says Adeola Adelayo, MD, a practicing psychiatrist with Banner Behavioral Health Hospital. Dr. Adelayo shares 5 ways you can help a friend in need of support.
- Be There. Let your friend know you are there for them; you care. Try and stay in touch, even if your friend doesn’t initiate contact. Usually with depression, people lack initiative. Help them with tasks, bring them meals and help with chores and child care.
- Ask. Don’t be afraid to ask your friend if they are having suicidal thoughts. “Many people believe that even broaching the topic will create this urge for suicide, which is far from the truth,” Dr. Adelayo said. “There is nothing wrong with asking. It shows your friend you are open to discuss in a compassionate, supportive and nonjudgmental way.”
- Create a Hope Box. Put together a collection of items that remind your friend their life is meaningful and worth living. You can place pictures of friends and family, words of encouragement, bucket lists, letters with caring messages and coping cards for stressful situations. “Suicide is such a compulsive thing. Let them know if they are feeling stressed or hopeless, to reach for their hope box. This can help address and combat irrational thoughts,” she said.
- Get Appropriate Help. Connect your friend with ongoing support to help them establish a safety net when they are in crisis, such as the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline (formerly known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline) or have them text 741741. Finding a mental health specialist may be a daunting task for them. If they are willing to see someone, you can take over the task and logistics to find someone and offer to drive them to the appointment.
- Self-Care and Support. Having a friend who is struggling with mental illness can also be traumatic for you. Seek support from a friend from a different social circle and ask if they would be open to discussing the situation. You may even consider seeking help from your own therapist. To be compassionate, supportive and patient with a friend who is hurting, you need to get support for yourself, too.
Clearly, there are limits to what you can do as a friend but following these steps will let your friend know you care and are there for them. Remember not to take on this burden alone. You can’t save someone from their illness, but you can be a good friend.
If your friend is contemplating suicide or self-harm, please contact the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988, and find a mental health specialist in your area.