Helping Your Friends and Peers: What You Need to Know

Sometimes, people are identified as being at-risk for suicide based on what is observed by others.  

Individuals at risk for suicide may exhibit noticeable changes in the following areas:

  • Sudden decline in quality of work and/or grades
  • Repeated absences
  • Disturbing content in writing or presentations (e.g., violence, death)
  • Continuous classroom disruptions
  • Continuous seeking of special accommodations or extensions
  • Self-disclosure of personal distress that could include family problems, academic difficulties, financial difficulties, depression, grief, or thoughts of suicide
  • Excessive tearfulness, irritability, or unusual apathy 
  • Verbal abuse (e.g., taunting, badgering, or intimidation)
  • Exaggerated personality traits (e.g., more withdrawn or animated than normal)
  • Loss of a significant relationship
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Unprovoked anger or hostility
  • Making implied or direct threats to harm self or others
  • Comments, social media posts, or academic assignments dominated by themes of hopelessness, rage, worthlessness, isolation, despair, acting out, suicidal ideations, or violent behavior 
  • Marked changes in physical appearance including deterioration in grooming, hygiene, or weight loss/gain
  • Excessive fatigue or sleep disturbances
  • Intoxication, hangovers, or smelling of alcohol/marijuana
  • Disoriented or "out of it"

Sometimes, people who are contemplating suicide are more clear and direct in expressing their hopelessness when speaking with friends, peers, or loved ones.

They may say things like...

  • "I wish I were dead," or "Sometimes I wish I were dead."
  • "People would be better off without me."
  • "Life doesn't feel worth living anymore."
  • "Hopefully I won't be around to find out."
  • "[You/they/etc.] will be sorry when I'm gone."
  • "I've lost all hope."
  • "I can't imagine ever feeling better."
  • "I just can't handle it all anymore."

Other times, people convey hopelessness in ways that are less direct and more ambiguous. This can lead to uncertainty in how/when/if to step in. 

Below are some examples of ambiguous situations that might lead to indecision and a missed opportunity to make a critical difference: 

  • You may wonder if your friend/peer only referenced suicide because they were so upset or in the midst of a crisis. You wonder if they'll be fine once the whole thing passes.
  • Your friend/peer may have qualified their statements by saying that they were joking or assuring you that they did not mean anything by it.
  • Your friend/peer may have posted the message on social media, which makes you think there is likely someone else who is stepping in to help. 
  • You might think that you don't know that person well enough for them to have confided in you about their suicidal ideation; you wonder if they would have told someone closer to them if they actually meant it. 
  • You wonder if your friend/peer said what they said to manipulate you and/or get back at you. 
  • You acknowledge that there have been threats in the past that your friend/peer has not acted on, so you think that they'll probably not act on this one either. 
  • You brush it off as your friend/peer only said it because they were drunk. 
  • You worry that if you do step in, your friend/peer will get in trouble or punished. 
  • You worry that if you step in, it will be the end of your friendship. 

It is important to remember.... Whether vague or clear, direct or indirect, it ALWAYS makes sense to ask. 

Asking someone about suicide is not harmful. There is a common myth that asking a person about suicide can "put the idea into their head." This is not true. In fact, research studies examining this concern have shown that asking people about suicidal thoughts does not bring forth or increase such thoughts. Rather, asking someone directly, "Are you thinking of killing yourself?" can be the best way to identify someone at risk for suicide. 

When in doubt, please call PACS at (603) 862-2090 to request a consultation, in person or over the phone, to discuss your concerns. 

If you believe that an individual is an immediate threat to self or others, you are strongly enouraged to call 911. 

How do I talk to a friend I'm concerned about?