How to be Helpful Part II

Sea Girl 02 SM

A friend got in touch today to talk about a local and relatively close suicide.

That happens.

People ask me about suicide and tell me about suicides and send me articles about suicide.

Once you out yourself as suicidal, you get a lot of “how’s the suicidal stuff going” questions.

It’s probably not much different than coming out as gay, vegan, left-handed or Republican.  People are curious and, well, they’re curious.

And some people are more than curious.

Some people want to reach out, understand, be helpful, or otherwise be present for your life experience.  And that’s very nice.  It’s a nice sentiment and always a nice gesture when people try to be helpful.

So today my friend got in touch and asked a REALLY GREAT QUESTION.

He asked me “How can I be helpful to my friend who is directly affected by this suicide?”

My friend was worried about his friend.

Specifically, he was worried that a close-to-home suicide might trigger something bad.

I told my friend a few things, some of which he found particularly helpful, so I’ll share my thoughts here:

(1) Offer to be there.

Say you’ll come over. Say you’ll stop by. Say you’ll pick the other person up in a half hour. Say you’ll be at the coffee shop at 3 and ask your friend what you should order for them.  Say you’ll take your friend to the grocery store or out for some sort of comfort food.

(2) Don’t just ask ‘what can I do?

I realize this sounds counter to a lot of what we hear, but reaching out to someone in  mental or emotional pain is a bit different than reaching out to those suffering other types of agony.  If I want to help a friend who has suffered a loss or had surgery or is going through something difficult, I absolutely ask them what I can do.  It’s important to say to a person ‘I want to be helpful …so tell me what would be helpful to you.’ 

Anyone who has ever helped a friend through chemo knows that their ability to eat and their tastes will change frequently.  You would never just bring surprise foods to someone having chemo.

But to be there for the person who is in mental or emotional anguish, you have to be a little more assertive and you may have to substitute your judgment for theirs.  Mental and emotional stress keep the brain from functioning normally. Decision making is usually the first skill to be compromised.

So don’t ask what you can do.  Just start offering things. Offer to do this or do that or come over or whatever.

And prepare for lots of rejection.

Your friend may not want to go for a walk, for coffee, or to see Cherry Blossoms, Your friend may not say yes to any of the other 73 activities you offer.

But your friend might be ready to say yes to your 74th suggestion.

(3) Keep offering.

Don’t expect your friend to reach out to you.  Reaching out is more difficult as an individual sinks lower.  You need to do the reaching out and never take the rejection personally. Just keep offering. You friend may not take you up on your offer on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday, but he might be waiting for your call on Thursday. And even if he never takes you up on any of your offers, the simple act of calling and offering might be one of the actions that helps him get through a tough time.

(4) Don’t ask open-ended questions.

It’s hard for someone in mental or emotional distress to articulate how they feel.  Sometimes they just feel overwhelmingly awful.  If they’re depressed, they probably feel awful AND hopeless.

So don’t just ask ‘how are you doing?’  Ask specific questions the person will be able to answer without remembering how hopeless they feel.

“Did you eat?”

“Have you been outside?”

“Did you sleep?”

Help the person focus on very specific aspects of their day. Specific aspects of one day are far less overwhelming than the feeling that the horrible hell of today might last forever.

(5) Don’t ask if they’re okay.

Of course they’re not okay.

And if you just ask if they’re okay, they might think you’re just being polite.

Or they might lie to keep from being a burden.

Or they might lie to make you go away.

Focus on specific questions that elicit specific answers.

(6) Don’t just tell them to call you.

Remember that someone who’s down probably isn’t going to initiate contact.

Tell them you’ll call later or tomorrow..and then call.

Check in.

Make sure the person knows you’ll be checking in.

Maybe they’ll look forward to your check ins. Maybe knowing you’ll check in will help them feel safe.

Maybe they’ll eventually want to walk to the mailbox or walk around the block so they can report to you that they took a few baby steps and make you proud.

♥ ♥ ♥

So I was talking to my friend on the phone while I was in the woods with the Dog-in-Chief. And I was a bit out of breath.

Perhaps that’s why he asked me if the conversation was hard for me.

I told him it wasn’t difficult and that, to be honest, I was a bit clinical when it comes to the suicide stuff.  Talking about suicide, for me, is like talking about any other aspect of regular life.  It’s way too familiar to be a significant trigger.

But I told him some of my triggers.

And I explained how I avoid certain triggers.

And he said that was helpful information.

Then, not to be nice and not to be polite, but because it was true, I told him that he is, thus far in my life, NOT a trigger.

I think I heard him blush.

As Ellen would say, “Be kind to each other.”

I’ll just add this…”Be kind to each other…and keep trying even if the person says no a billion times.”

Sometimes it’s the billion and one-th time that makes the critical difference.

xoxoxo, d
Giving real life stories value, purpose and power.


  1. This is some unconventional advice and I agree with it, as a suicidal person.

    The most important thing is this: Always remember suicide is a right and that nobody owes you their life. You will feel bad after a suicide, yes, but it’s a different problem. A person’s suicide isn’t about how YOU feel or how they should make the effort for YOU.

    Remember all those people you rejected? Those people who respected your bodily autonomy and consent and you didn’t owe sex to? Same story. Remember CONSENT. No one should a life they don’t want.

    Anyone who refuses to acknowledge my right to die gets dismissed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, Brain in the Jar, I think you’ve hit on something important that it’s REALLY hard to get non-suicidal people to understand. I also think it’s why so much of suicide prevention comes too late. I think one of the keys to suicide prevention is helping a person in pain to be in less pain. But we tend to respond only when the person is out on the ledge. A lot of things happen before a person decides to carry out a suicide. I think we should focus more on helping them earlier. Nobody should have to be in that much pain while living this life.


      1. I don’t think we should focus on ‘suicide prevention’. That’s like ‘sexual rejection prevention’. Consent doesn’t just mean you get to do what you want with your body. It means OTHER people get to do it too despite the fact it might hurt you.

        Suicide is a basic human right. All the efforts put into prevention are immoral and sometimes criminal. A person who doesn’t respect my right to die isn’t worth my time.

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s