Helping a Friend in Need (ACT)

How do I help someone at risk for suicide (including myself)?

ACT—Acknowledge, Care, Tell

  • Acknowledge you or a friend may have symptoms of depression or suicide

Talk about it. If you have a friend who talks about suicide or shows other warning signs, don’t wait to see if he or she starts to feel better. Don’t be reluctant to ask if they’ve been thinking about suicide or hurting themselves. Most of the time, people who are considering suicide are willing to discuss it with someone who shows true concern. Try saying something like “I’ve noticed that you’ve been talking a lot about wanting to be dead. Have you been having thoughts about trying to kill yourself?” Starting the conversation is a win-win for you and your friend in a number of ways:

  • It helps your friend to feel less alone and isolated, and more cared about and understood, the opposite of the feelings that may have led to suicidal thinking in the first place.
  • Talking may provide a chance to consider that there may be another solution.
  • It allows you to get help for the person.

Don’t be afraid that you will “plant the seeds” of thinking about suicide by asking about it. You don’t give a suicidal person morbid ideas by talking about suicide. In fact, the opposite is true. Bringing up the subject of suicide and discussing it openly is one of the most helpful things you can do.

  • CARE about your friend
    Just listen, and CARE: offer reassurance that you’re there for your friend. Do not judge your friend or minimize what they are feeling. Don’t tell them “things will get better” or “just give it time.” If you think he or she is in immediate danger, stay close; make sure your friend isn’t left alone.
  • TELL a trusted adult
    It’s not your job to be your friend’s counselor. The best way to help them is to identify a trusted adult such as a teacher, counselor or parent that they can go talk to. Offer to go with your friend. This way, you can make sure they actually do go talk to someone; you can also be there to support them and help them do the talking. In some cases, your friend may refuse to talk to an adult. They may further try to make you promise not to tell, and even tell you that they won’t be your friend anymore if you do. While it’s best if you can convince your friend to go with you, the most important thing is keeping your friend safe. This means you may have to risk angering your friend in the short-term in order to potentially save their life.  Think about how you would feel if you kept their secret, and then something happened to them? You need to tell!