Suicide Risk – How to Spot a Friend in Crisis

By: Helen Bolstad

May 10, 2021

Friend in crisis

How can you tell if a friend is in trouble or struggling with suicidal thoughts? And how can you support them in finding help? Richard A. Charlat, MD, Renown Health Division Chief, Behavioral Health, sheds some light on this serious subject.

Are you feeling virtually exhausted? Life is always challenging, but the mental fallout of a global pandemic is real. Contributing to the loneliness epidemic is the shifting American lifestyle. More Americans live alone (28%) now than ever before, and fewer have kids.

First, let’s acknowledge this is a time of anxiety and worry for everyone. Economic uncertainty, job transitions, grief, and loneliness are a perfect storm for mental stress. Even before the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic mental health was a concerning issue, now it is a relevant topic of crisis.

Secondly, anyone can struggle with suicidal thoughts. Those suffering from drug addiction are especially vulnerable. In particular the U.S. is currently seeing a rise in drug overdoses by almost 18% due to the pandemic. Unfortunately suicide is responsible for one U.S. death every 11 minutes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Not to mention the millions who think about it, make a plan or attempt it.  “It is important to remember that suicidal thoughts, plans or intent must be helped immediately,” Dr. Charlat emphasizes.

Understanding Suicide Risk

To clarify, depression is not a choice. No one wishes for endless days of feeling down, sleepless nights, and feeling as if you are in a dark tunnel. Currently, one in five Americans will experience a mental illness this year. This means one of your friends is struggling, right now. Specifically, consider this: When your body feels pain it talks to your mind. When your mind is suffering who does it talk to?

So, how can you tell if a friend is in trouble? According to the National Institute of Mental Health be on the lookout for some depression clues below.

Signs and Symptoms of Depression
  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood
  • Feelings of hopelessness, or pessimism
  • Irritability
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities
  • Decreased energy or fatigue
  • Moving or talking more slowly
  • Feeling restless or having trouble sitting still
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
Signs and Symptoms of Suicide Risk
  • Expressing feelings of hopelessness or having no purpose
  • Talking about feeling trapped or being in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing or isolation
  • Displaying extreme mood swings.
  • Talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself

(Reference: Suicide Awareness Voices of Education)

How to Help a Suicidal Friend

It can feel awkward to approach the subject of suicide with a friend, but take any of the above warning signs seriously.

Other ways you can help are by:

  • Encouraging self-care and making sure they take care of basic needs
  • Listen to their worries without judgement
  • Ask them what they need from you, then follow through with action
  • Let them know they are not a burden
  • Don’t minimize or invalidate their feelings
  • Point them to helpful resources
  • Be their advocate and get them help

If someone you know is in a life-threatening crisis situation, call 911 immediately.

Suicide Risk Resources:

National Suicide Prevention 24/7 Lifeline 1-800-273-8255

Ayuda En Español (Spanish National Suicide Prevention Lifeline) 1-800-628-9454

Crisis Text Line – Text HOME (or CONNECT) to 741741 to chat with a crisis counselor 24/7 free of charge.

The National Alliance on Mental Health 24/7 helpline: 1-800-950-6264

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) 24/7 helpline 1-800-662-4357



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