It can be very scary to have a friend or a family member who has expressed suicidal thoughts in words or actions. In my brief comments here, I want to offer a simple starting point for how to help someone with depression when suicidal thoughts are part of the picture. At the same time, I don’t wish to imply that this is a simple matter. If you or someone has regular or frequent suicidal thoughts an evaluation by a professional is always the best starting point, even if you have to go alone. Living with a person who experiences depression with suicidal thoughts is a very tough challenge and I don’t recommend facing it alone.
Nevertheless, there are a few things to keep in mind as you think of how to help someone with depression. First, it’s important to regularly express to the person that they matter to you. Second, it’s usually good to ask them how often they are having suicidal thoughts. Don’t worry that bringing up the topic is going to give them ideas. If you have any reason or hunch that they are thinking about suicide then the thought of suicide is already there. It’s usually best to bring it right out in the open and put it on the table. This usually clips the wings of suicidal thoughts because they are no longer have the power of being a dark secret. If they say they are having suicidal thoughts, then you should follow up with the question, “how often?” Regardless of what they answer, if they are having regular suicidal thoughts you should take the opportunity to tell them that it would mean a lot to you if they would be evaluated by a professional. Usually people say, “but I would never do it.” My response to that is usually, “whether or not you would carry it out, the ongoing presence suicidal thoughts are proof positive that you have a serious mood disorder that needs treatment. So the third step for how to help someone with depression and suicidal thoughts is to urge them to see a physician, counselor, or therapist to be evaluated.
There is so much more to say about this topic, but these three steps are usually a good starting point.