How to Help a Struggling Friend: Suicide and Mental Health

September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Nearly anyone, regardless of age, gender, or race, can struggle with mental health conditions. It's important we take the time to come together and shed light on this difficult and highly stigmatized topic.

Visit the GUIDE, Inc. website for more information.


Often, the fight against suicidal thoughts is a silent one. Usually, suicide is the result of an untreated mental health condition. In fact, 90% of people who've died of suicide experienced symptoms of a mental health condition, and nearly 46% of those individuals were diagnosed.


Throughout this month, we reach out to individuals affected by suicide loss by sharing resources to foster discussion on suicide prevention and by connecting struggling individuals to treatment services. Usually, people turn to their close friends during times of emotional distress, but sometimes it's difficult to recognize a friend's struggle.


Signs That a Friend is Struggling


Life's demands can become stressful and taxing. Often, it's difficult to tell if someone's dealing with everyday problems or a larger, overarching issue. In some cases, a friend might require professional help. If your friend is coping with emotional distress or a mental health condition, they might display some of these common signs:

  • Depressed or apathetic behavior (neglecting obligations, avoiding social interactions)

  • Lack of coping skills (irritability and extreme reactions to day-to-day challenges)

  • Severe anxiety (excessive worrying, frequent panic attacks)

  • Addictive tendencies (increased and/or self-destructive use of alcohol, drugs, etc.)

  • Extreme "highs" (rushed speech or thoughts, inability to stay still, impulsiveness, sleeplessness, etc.)

If a friend expresses these behaviors, they may require your support with emotional distress. It's important to note - if their behavior seems to become more intense or persists for long periods of time, your friend might require professional help or treatment services. (Use this resource for more information!)


What Should I Do?


Your response to someone's signs of emotional distress might vary based on your relationship with them. For example, you could be a key source of comfort for a close friend of many years. On the other hand, a recent acquaintance might be more hesitant to accept your support. In that case, your role might be to let someone else - a trusted adult, perhaps - know about your concerns. In most cases, communicating these key points is appropriate:

  • Let them know they are not alone

Emotional distress leaves you feeling isolated. Remind your friend that you're here to help. Sometimes, even share an experience where you felt a similar way. However, avoid over-discussing your problems, instead focus on listening to their experience. A simple text or a voice mail to remind them of their importance to you is a big help.

  • Things can improve

Seeking out support, whether from family, a counseling center, or a medical professional, is the first step towards feeling better. Your friend might be feeling hopeless, so tell them that mental health issues are treatable and manageable!

  • It's OK to ask for help

An individual's culture or background plays into their perception of seeking help. Maybe, they grew up in a household where discussing one's mental health was stigmatized and shunned. Stress that asking for help is not a sign of weakness.


Conclusion


Initially, your friend might request that you "back off" and react to your support negatively. Respect their boundaries, but don't ignore their struggle. For some people, it's difficult to entertain the possibility of having a mental health condition. Try to express patience, and continue providing comfort. (Use this resource for more information!)


Furthermore, taking on the burden of your friend's emotional distress can be draining on you as well. Be mindful of your own mental health. Most importantly, remember that you're not a therapist or medical professional. It's not your job to provide treatment. However, continue to support your friend as they begin receiving treatment for their issues. (Use this resource for more information!).


If your friend intends to harm themself or someone else, don't attempt to deal with the situation by yourself. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) immediately. They will assist you on the next possible course of action for you to take to help your friend.


Additional Resources


To learn more about warning signs for suicide, use this link.

https://www.activeminds.org/about-mental-health/signs-and-symptoms/warning-signs-for-suicide/


To learn more about self-care tactics, use this link.

https://www.activeminds.org/about-mental-health/self-care/

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