Dear Dr. B,
A close friend has been suicidal in the past, and I’m concerned may be feeling that way again. I feel helpless to do anything. What can I do?
Concerned and Helpless
First, recognize that our words have power. Neither you nor your friend are helpless. Christ died to set us free, and because of that, Hope Prevails!
You did the right thing by reaching out when you felt in over your head. That’s exactly what I hope you will encourage your friend to do as well. In an acute suicidal condition, your friend (or you!) can have access to trained professionals by calling a suicide hotline: 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433).
In today’s society, we often feel forced to hide our true feelings from others and put on a happy face either because we fear not being understood or accepted. So often we don’t really know what is going on behind the scenes in another’s life. I think of the suicide of Robin Williams as an example. His public persona was happy and humorous, yet beneath it all he battled deep desperation.
Your note suggested that you aren’t exactly sure if your friend is currently contemplating suicide. Don’t be afraid to ask. In my practice, people frequently say they are afraid to ask their loved one if they are suicidal because they don’t want to make them consider it if they aren’t already. Typically, asking someone how they are really doing won’t make them contemplate it if they aren’t, but it will show them you care.
For those in the pit of depression, it often feels lonely and feels like things will never change. Suicide may end that person’s pain, but friends and loved ones will then be left with immeasurable pain.
Encourage your friend to consult with their doctor as soon as possible. For some, that is a scary or embarrassing proposition. As a friend, you might offer to go to the appointment with them.
Encourage your friend to talk to a trained mental health professional. It’s hard for us to be objective when we are in physical or emotional pain. Just like parenting doesn’t come with a manual, neither does depression or anxiety. But a trained mental health provider can address the issues from professional experience, and make appropriate referrals if necessary.
If this is a close friend whose current emotional state is impacting yours, both you and your friend may want to consider attending a support group for additional support and encouragement.
As Christians, our hope is in the Lord. Consider searching the Bible for scripture which addresses your friend’s current circumstances, and verses that remind your friend of God’s truth and promises.
Pray for and with your friend. Scripture says, “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven” (Matthew 18:19). Praying with and for your friend is powerful. Faith comes by hearing, and just your friend hearing you pray for them may be what God uses to bolster their faith!
Assure your friend of your support. Feeling depressed and suicidal is often accompanied by feeling alone. We all want to know we are worthy, accepted, and loved. Now is a good time to convey that to your friend.
Think back to what comforted and encouraged you during difficult times in your life. 2 Corinthians 1:4 encourages us that, “He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” Comfort your friend in ways that have brought you comfort when you needed it.
Your friend is very lucky to have a friend like you who cares so deeply. On behalf of your friend, I thank you.
Depression doesn’t have to become a permanent part of life.
There is hope.
Hope Prevails: Insights From a Doctor’s Personal Journey Through Depression and the companion Hope Prevails Bible Study help the reader understand how depression comes to be, recover their joy, reclaim their peace, and re-establish their true identity, while knowing their worth, remembering their secure destiny, and being confident that nothing separates them from God’s love.