Help! I am not sure how to help a friend!

My friend looks dull and withdrawn these days. But it seems like he has put a wall around and refuses to get out – I have tried to talk him out of it to no avail.

  • Find the right space and time to first LISTEN!
  • Avoid jumping on the impulse to give advice- before listening and trying to understand.
  • Allow him/her to talk about feelings rather than rushing and saying things like “Hey! Don’t worries too much…come out of it!”
  • Be patient. Be around.
  • Once he/she opens up, try to understand his/her perspective…
  • Explore the methods one is using to handle the situation/the feelings, before offering a few tentative suggestions.

Somehow, I get the feeling that my friend may be suicidal. I just don’t know what to say/do.

  • It is a myth that asking individuals whether they are feeling suicidal will make them more prone to suicide.
  • Tune in to the feelings that your friend may be experiencing. Try to understand how severely distressed he/she is feeling.
  • Ask a gentle question to specifically explore thoughts about suicide: (Example: These days, when you are feeling low, does it happen that the thoughts about ending it all/doing something to put an end to life cross your mind?)
  • If the answer is yes to the above line of inquiry: Ask further about the frequency of getting such thoughts, how long these last and what the person does when such thoughts come to mind.
  • Express your concern.
  • Jointly come up with a plan/offer a feasible list of options regarding what to do when distress increases and such thoughts come to mind.
  • Try to help the person commit to postponing /putting on hold any such urge to end one’s life, whenever it surfaces and instead try out other options to temporarily reduce distress (e.g. talking to a friend over phone)
  • Mobilize support for the person and for yourself
  • Make his/her near ones aware about his/her mental state and the risk
  • Reach out to someone who can help you help the person (e.g. a counsellor/a family friend/a teacher)

Dr Seema Mehrotra
Additional Professor of Clinical Psychology
NIMHANS, Bangalore-29