Someone recently asked me, “I’m worried about a close friend who has a history of depression. She just went through a bad breakup, and seems to be really struggling so I worry that she might be suicidal. How can I help her?”

One of the most important factors in dealing with suicidal tendencies is timing. When people are in so much pain that their only relief is ending their life, buying some time for that feeling to pass can be a lifesaver. Buying time means doing anything to keep them from acting to harm themselves in that moment of pain. Here are some things that we can do for friends/family who may be feeling suicidal or experiencing hopelessness as a result of some triggering event such as a bad breakup, personal loss, etc.:

  • Offer to help and offer frequently so as to make it easy for them to say yes when they don’t have a lot of strength to initiate and reach out for help on their own
  • Reach out to other family/friends to build a supportive community of loving and helpful people around them. If you do not live near the person or see them regularly, this community can also help inform each other of how the individual is doing
  • Listen and watch for sign of hopelessness – it is one of the clearest indicators of someone who is considering harming themselves.
  • Listen well – it’s hard to watch someone we are close to go through tremendous pain, and sometimes even harder to keep ourselves from jumping in and trying to problem-solve. This can be a mistake. What someone needs most in that moment is someone to listen to them and to hold them emotionally.  
  •  Provide “self-care” – people going through severe depression often isolate themselves and do not have the energy to care for themselves. Do the “self-care” for them. Make a date to go for a walk together. Bring them a home-cooked meal. Take care of arrangements that would get them on their feet, etc.

Lastly, in this age of texts, Facebook, and far-too-busy lives, there’s no substitute for a direct connection when someone is suffering deeply. Pick up the phone and call. Meet up for coffee. Visit for a weekend.

What have you done that has been helpful to someone? What has someone done for you to get you through a tough time?

Here are some local resources that may be helpful if you have questions about what to do if you suspect someone is suicidal and resources/hotlines to provide them. 

San Francisco Suicide Hotline 

Bay Area Suicide and Crisis Intervention Alliance 

AuthorRuth Lieu