Ask Dr. Vail | Help a friend in need
December 3, 2012
TAHOE/TRUCKEE, Calif. – A good friend recently has been acting quite differently. Three months ago he experienced a breakup with his longterm partner and lost his job. Since then he has been withdrawing from social activities, appears to be drinking alone and seems to be loosing interest in activities he previously really enjoyed. I just don’t know what to do. I am afraid to ask if he is suicidal because I don’t want to offend him and have him feel I think he is crazy. However, I am afraid that if I don’t do something, he might hurt himself as he has said he feels hopeless and does not think anything will ever get better.
– Signed, a concerned friend
Thank you for writing. Depression can overwhelm and be difficult to bear. This goes for those people who are experiencing depression and for those who are concerned or worried about that person.
In regard to your friend, I suggest you directly ask him if he is thinking about hurting himself. Most people have had thoughts of suicide at some point in their life, yet less than 2 percent of deaths are from suicide. Many people assume if they ask if some one is suicidal, the person might get a new idea. However, information about suicide is all over the media, so it is not likely to be a new idea, especially if he has mentioned believing that nothing will ever get better.
You did not mention the age of your friend, but some age groups have a much higher suicide rate than other age groups. For males between the ages of 15-24 and older than 65, this number is unfortunately much higher than for the rest of the population. However, all people who express hopelessness and depressive symptoms should be cared for attentively by their community.
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Suicide prevention should not be a last-minute act. If you are worried, act quickly. Ask what your friend is thinking and if he is suicidal. Be direct. Determine if this is a new idea or if he has been thinking about suicide for a while. Ask the hard questions, like does he have a plan and a timeline for how he would go about committing suicide, has he given away any special items lately? If he answers yes that he has a plan, attempt to get him to give you what he would use to commit suicide. If he is giving away prized or very special possessions, extra careful, for these are very serious warning signs of suicidality.
If you determine that he is at high risk, do not leave your friend alone. If possible tell other people who care about this person and establish a support network for them. Often, a suicidal person will beg you to keep this information a secret. If this happens to you, please do not keep this secret. Look on the internet and find a suicide prevention hotline for your friend. Get your friend medical and therapeutic attention. Make an appointment with their doctor and give them the names of some mental health therapists in their community and if at all possible, go with them to their appointments. If your friend resists this intervention, keep trying. Taking the uphill steps to get your friend the needed help can be hard road to travel. However, letting him know that you care and want to help often goes a long way to help someone believe that life may get better, and provide a glimmer of hope for someone in a very dark and lonely place.
– Amy Vail, Psy.D., is a clinical psychologist with a private practice Squaw Valley. She works with couples and individual adults and adolescents helping them find healthier and more satisfying ways to live their lives. Call 530-581-2539. To submit a question for the Ask Dr. Vail Column, please email to Drvail@exwire.com