I’ve seen it all across social media today. “Check on your friends.” “Check on your strong friends.” “Check on your happy friends.” “Check on your sad friends.”
As the friend who has lived suicide ideation, yes. Please check on your friends. But also, please be the type of friend someone you love can talk to about suicide.
There are a few things I needed to be true of my friends before I was ever in crisis in order for them to be someone I could turn to when I really needed them. In that vein, here are a few things you can do to help your friends open up to you.
Be vulnerable with your friends.
I can’t tell you how many times I said “I’m fine” or “things are going well” while I was drowning. I do know the people who got even a glimpse into what I was actually feeling during that time were people who had been vulnerable with me in the past. The people I wanted to turn to were people I knew were imperfect and had gone through their own struggles. It didn’t matter to me that their struggles had looked different from mine, it just mattered that I knew they, too, were real people with real emotions.
Be a safe space for your friends.
Being someone your loved ones can trust starts well before they are in crisis.
It starts with showing the people you love that you are a judgment-free safe space, no matter what they’re bringing to you. The people I felt comfortable talking to about suicidal thoughts were people who had proven time and time again there was nothing I could tell them that would shock them, make them uncomfortable, or make them love me less.
It also starts with being someone who takes mental health issues seriously. If I talked to someone about my suicidal thoughts, I had likely also talked to them about burnout, depression, anxiety, and my postpartum struggles. Show your friends you understand the seriousness of mental illness. Show them that you care about their mental well-being, that you care about their mental health needs, and that you support them in their journey towards mental wellness, whatever that looks like for them.
Being a safe space for your friends also starts with being mindful of the things you interact with on social media. While I’ve seen so many really insightful and helpful posts on social media in reference to suicide in the past day, there are always harmful ones too. If you “like” a post on social media talking about how suicide is selfish, your friends will see that and they will know you’re not a safe place for them to talk about their struggles with suicide.
Make sure your friends know you love them.
Tell your friends and family you love them. Show them you love them. Yes, it is important that you do both. It takes actions for someone to truly know they are loved, but it’s also just nice to hear it sometimes.
Showing your friends you love them doesn’t have to be huge, demonstrative actions that take all your time, energy, and attention. It can be as simple as reaching out on a regular basis, making time for them, and caring enough to remember what’s going on in their lives and what they enjoy.
My sincere hope is that none of these things feels earth-shattering or groundbreaking. I hope these are things you’re already doing with your friends. In which case, let this be an affirmation that what you are doing to build up your friendships now are the types of things that will matter if your friend is ever in crisis.
On the other hand, if you feel a conviction that these are not things you’ve already been intentional with in your friendships, it’s okay. I hope this can be a gentle suggestion of things you can be doing, in addition to checking in on your friends, so that they can feel they have someone to talk to should they ever need it.
Lastly, I want to add—and this is important to remember—it’s not all on you, friend.
You can’t force someone to come to you; if your friend is in crisis they have to be ready and willing to tell people what they’re struggling with. Their safety and well-being is not your responsibility; you can offer them love and comfort and support them in getting whatever professional treatment they need, but they have to be willing to accept the help.
I’m really glad that when I needed it there were people I could tell who supported me in getting the help I needed and I hope that together we can be those people for the ones we love.