Friend is Depressed and Suicidal

Reader’s Question

I have a friend who is extremely depressed. He feels as though everyone hates him. In the past, he has made up lies basically to get attention. Now, even after he has admitted it and apologized, everyone deems him a liar and talks about him behind his back. He feels the need to put so much pressure on himself and takes on so many responsibilities, it’s suffocating him. Yesterday, he had a complete mental breakdown and wasn’t in school today.

I am talking to him now, and he says he feels no emotion and wants to move as far away as possible. This friend is a 16-year-old junior in high school. I’ve known him for at least 5 years now. He has just steadily declined into this depressed shell of what was once a kind, likeable person. He cares so much, yet he won’t seek help for himself. He’s attempted suicide more than once. I’m one of the only people he confides in, and I am really the only person who stands up for him anymore. I’ve been helping him and guiding him and giving him advice, but I’ve run out of options and now I don’t know what to do. I really want to help him; I am afraid of what he might do to himself.

Psychologist’s Reply

From the sound of it, you are a caring, loyal friend. It is difficult to watch someone you care about go through such a hard time. You mentioned that your friend has attempted suicide and is depressed, and you are the only person he confides in. Being the only support for someone who is depressed, even suicidal, is tough. It might have started to feel as if you are your friend’s only lifeline, or that you are responsible for him. While it is great that your friend continues to communicate with you, you are likely feeling ill-equipped to deal with clinical depression and suicidality. Ultimately, you are not responsible for your friend’s safety and welfare. With that said, friends can make a difference. I imagine that you are already being of tremendous help to him just by being his friend and sticking by him during this time.

Without meeting him, I am unable to offer specific ideas about your friend’s situation. The American Association of Suicidology suggests that to be helpful to someone who is suicidal, it is important to listen, be non-judgemental, available, and willing to speak openly about suicide. For more information about how to help someone who is suicidal, check out www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org. This website is associated with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255), which is a hotline available 24/7 in the US for both suicidal persons and those concerned about them.

Again, it can be stressful to be in a caretaking role for someone who is experiencing chronic mental or physical problems. To prevent a feeling of being burned out or resentful, you might find that it helps to take a break, have fun, and be with others who are a support to you.

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