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Helping a Suicidal Friend?

Joan Jerkovich - April 14, 2014 7:00 am

My friend always dumps his negative energy on me.  I know he’s been down but when I make suggestions for him to go to counseling he won’t go.  The other night he called me to say he was feeling suicidal.  He talked about this for a while but ended our conversation saying that he didn’t think he would do it, commit suicide, right now, but maybe he would in two or three years.  Then he ended our conversation.

I was really worried about him, and if he didn’t live out of state, I would have driven over to his apartment to check on him.  Instead, all I could do was keep trying to call him.

He didn’t answer his phone all night and I was worried sick!  I finally got through to him the next day and he said he had just turned his phone off and went to bed.  He was sleeping while I was beside myself with worry.

I’m starting to resent his dumping all of his negative energy on me, not doing the things he can to help himself, and with this last incidence of him turning his phone off, I feel like I’m doing all the work in this friendship. I want to help and be there for him but it’s difficult for me. What should I do?

When someone talks about suicide, you must always take that seriously. You need to encourage them to get help, see their Doctor, or if things are immediately dangerous, go to the Emergency Room.  If the situation is dire and you have a real sense that this is very serious, arrange for someone to be present with your friend.  Someone needs to go to their home or apartment to check on them, sit with them, and encourage them to go for help. Take action to get them the help they need, but understand that if your friend should commit suicide, you can’t blame yourself.

Joan’s story…I say this to you with a great sense of compassion, sadness and knowing because I’ve been there.  I’ve had two dear souls in my life who were seriously suicidal at different points in their life.  I felt responsible for their safety. It was scary.

My husband, Dr. J., who is a psychiatrist, helped me wrap my head around the fact that they may follow through and end their life, but I needed to prepare myself to not take personal responsibility for their actions.  Thankfully, neither followed through.  One was a very toxic relationship for me that, for my own self-preservation, I had to end.  The other got mental health treatment, is doing very well, and is a precious and enriching soul in my life.

Now for your question.  In listening to your story the thing that screams out to me is a feeling that what is missing from this friendship is boundaries, Boundaries, BOUNDaries!  You need to set some boundaries, as this person seems to be using your care and concern for his safety, dare I say (?) in a manipulative way?  I may be reading in to this and could be wrong, but who talks about not committing suicide “right now”, but maybe in two or three years?  Doesn’t that strike you as odd?  That’s the piece of this that tips me off to thinking his threats may be manipulative.

Also, right after he dumps this scare on you he turns his phone off for the night?  What’s that all about?  My instincts would tell me that most people who were truly suicidal would keep that one life-line (phone contact with you) available.

Boundaries are needed here.  Keep encouraging him to get professional help for his depression and suicidal feelings, but if he chooses not to help himself, take a step back. Make a decision on how much you will be there for this friend.  Make a plan for how much contact you will have with him, how much time you will devote within this friendship to “be there for him”, how much time you will be his “non-professional counselor”, and how much time you want to get back to the fun stuff of laughter, shared experiences and “me” time where this friend is there to support you with your life challenges. Boundaries, my dear.  Boundaries!

Embrace your Personal Power with Life Coaching~

  • What do your instincts tell you about how serious his suicide threats are; and whether or not there is an element of manipulation in his telling you this “only to turn his phone off for the night” after dumping this nuclear threat of annihilation on you?
  • What else may be playing out in this dance of relationship between the two of you?
  • Have you struggled in other areas of your life with setting personal boundaries?
  • How can you find a balance between being a good friend and taking care of your emotional self in this relationship?
Joan Jerkovich, BCC Board Certified Life Coach

Joan Jerkovich, BCC
Board Certified Life Coach

 
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