Dear Fr. Joe: What do I do if a friend is suicidal?
Tough times, obviously – you have my prayers. Now, what do you do? First of all, you have to recognize that you are in an important position as a friend. If you think your friend is suicidal, then one of two things is true: One possibility is that your friend told you that he is thinking of suicide. If that is the case, then that means your friend has trusted you with his secret. You have earned something great because of the way you care, and that speaks very well of you. The second possibility is that you have watched your friend and picked up on subtle signs that something is amiss, and that you see the possibility of her hurting herself. If that is the case, this also speaks well of you; you are an observant, sensitive person who is aware of your friends at a time in your life when it is hard not to be self-focused. I am telling you these things because you need to keep them in your heart, as things might get rough.
The first step is to be sure that you are talking with your friend about his or her feelings; “How are you doing today? Is there anything I can do?” Questions like this are an invitation to take what is hidden in the darkness and bring them out into the light. They are more than questions; they are a statement of care and concern. As your friend shares his heart with you, make sure that you are really listening. Find out what is going on and what you can do to help. Often, the best thing you can do to help is to be available and offer him all your love and prayers.
Now, if in your conversations, you realize that she is serious about hurting herself or taking her own life, you need to be sure and be present to her as much as you can. Perhaps you can get a group of trusted people to stay close, or seek help from an adult while you take the next step, which is the difficult one.
See, the next step is that you need to take this to an adult. The hardest part here will be your feelings of guilt about breaking a confidence. It could also be that you are thinking “Well, I could be wrong and if I am, I’ll really embarrass my friend.”
I think it’s worth it, don’t you? Suicide is a permanent condition. There are no second chances in a situation like this.
With that in your heart and mind, then, be sure and talk to a trusted adult. You may want to talk to your own parents. Sometimes, they may have suggestions about who should be telling about this situation. There is also the possibility of talking to one of your teachers, or the counselor at school. There are many people you can go to in a situation like this – make sure you take this step!
Now, if the person is threatening to seriously hurt him or herself at that moment, don’t hesitate – pick up the phone and call 9-1-1. Don’t worry about “wasting their time.” I assure you, the numerous police officers I have talked to on this issue would rather respond to a call to prevent a teen suicide than a call to report one.
Some people will tell you, “Well, she’s only doing it to get attention,” and that may very well be the case. However, if she is only “doing it to get attention,” then she must need attention pretty badly, because talking about suicide is a pretty drastic step. Don’t use the possibility of “attention-getting” as a reason to step away, let it compel you even more to get involved. Any time a person threatens to hurt herself or to end his life, you should take it very seriously.
If you are reading this and struggling with thoughts about hurting yourself or ending your life, please talk to someone who can help: your parents, your priest or teacher, a friend; anyone who can help.
Life is a precious, beautiful gift – we all need to take care of and cherish that gift the best we can.
Enjoy another day in God’s presence!