The last couple weeks we’ve been talking about the important topic of suicide. In the United States, it’s the 10th leading cause of death. The strongest risk factor is depression. Chances are that you have had or will have a friend who is at risk. You may be reluctant to talk to him about his problems, but there are things you can say and do to help. Taking action is almost always the best course.

First, ask questions.

It’s best to be direct, but sensitive. You may begin by asking him how he’s feeling. You might tell him you know he’s been going through a lot. How is he coping? You might ask if he’s thinking about suicide. How would he do it? When would he do it? Remember when you ask him questions, you should be prepared to take plenty of time to listen carefully without being judgmental.

Be supportive.

Help him find help. While you can do everything you can to shore up your friend’s spirits, if he’s thinking about suicide, he needs help from a qualified professional. You can help him find a support group or a mental health specialist or an appropriate trusted person. He may not want it, but remember, you should not feel responsible for his mental health. You are not a substitute for a therapist, even if he refuses to see one.

Stay in communication. Nothing will shut him down more than your patronizing, judgmental attitude. Be respectful of his feelings. He may be experiencing all sorts of emotions—shame, guilt, embarrassment. Let him express them without belittling him with statements like, “You shouldn’t feel that way.” He feels however he feels, but you may reassure him that his feelings can change. With treatment he can feel good again.

Don’t promise to keep his secrets. Continue to be as understanding as possible, but if he wants you to keep his suicidal thoughts secret, you cannot. You may have to get help at some point, and you will need to explain that your friend is contemplating harming himself.

Take action if he is in imminent danger.

Do not leave him alone. Call 911. Get an ambulance or take him to the emergency room yourself, if you can do it safely. If possible, get help from a family member or friends. Get him to a hospital where he can be safe until he recovers.

If you’re afraid you’re overreacting, think about this: Your friend’s safety and well being come first. It’s better to err on the side of caution. If his life is at stake, your intervention could save him. If it’s not at stake, and you’re wrong, he will still be alive. And he will know you care enough about him to take action.

Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional.  If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch.  You can reach her here: https://www.nancyscounselingcorner.com/contact-us.