If you haven’t heard already, there is a popular Netflix series that aired last month that talks about an extremely sensitive topic (amongst many) that our teens and tween’s have faced at some point in their life, whether themselves or a friend, and it’s something parents often do not want or think to discuss: Suicide.  

The controversial Netflix Original, 13 Reasons Why, is an American drama-mystery series based on the 2007 novel Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher and adapted by Brian Yorkey  for Netflix. The series revolves around a high school student, Clay Jensen, and another student, Hannah Baker, who committed suicide after suffering a series of demoralizing circumstances, brought on by select individuals at her school. A box of cassette tapes recorded by Hannah before her suicide details thirteen reasons why she ended her life.  

The show has caused a mix of strong emotions and opinions — some wanting it to be removed and claiming it glamourizes suicide and/or too graphic and mature for their children to watch while others praising it for bringing such a taboo topic to light and helping open lines of communications between teens and their parents.  Depression and being suicidal are two mental health problems that are still surrounded by a lot of stigma and misconceptions.

Suicide and Depression are very real. 

Whatever you feel about the new series, one thing is for certain, whether your child watches the show or not, they will be confronted with suicide (either will have felt suicidal thoughts or noticed it from a friend).  The teenage years are so very fragile and turbulent; tween’s, teens and college students are faced with some of their biggest life challenges.  The pressures they face on a daily is immense.  If you think your teen & college years were burdensome, it’s definitely a lot more harder now than it has ever been.  There is no hiding from it.  You cannot protect your child from all the pressures they will be facing in these years no matter how hard you try. 

13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher

I think this show is actually quite brilliant.  It’s raw, yes, but this is life.  This is what our children will be or have been facing.  It covers many of the strains teens face that lead up to having suicidal thoughts like: bullying, rape, dishonest/disloyal friendships, school work stress, not fitting in, body images, etc.  Whether it’s the most popular jock in the school or the quietest scholar in the school, suicidal thoughts can hit anyone.

You can choose to agree or disagree with me regarding this series, it’s fine.  I’m not here to start a debate; that’s not my concern.  My main concern is trying to help someone that is depressed, that feels alone or that may be contemplating suicide.  At the end of the day, we cannot keep our kids away from the realities they will battle. But, we can try our best.  And listening, observing and just being available is the best way to begin.

So what happens when you are faced with a situation when your child, a friend or relative has reached that mountain in their life where the thought of ending their life seems like the only choice left for them? 

A suicidal person may not ask for help, but that doesn’t mean that help isn’t wanted. People who take their lives don’t want to die — they just want to stop hurting.  

Take any suicidal talk or behaviour very seriously.  It’s not just a warning sign — it’s a cry for help.

The best way to prevent suicide is to first notice the warning signs and knowing how to best approach it and respond accordingly when you do.

Suicide warning signs

  • Talking about suicide – Any talk about suicide, dying, or self-harm, such as “I wish I hadn’t been born,” “If I see you again…” and “I’d be better off dead.”
  • Seeking out lethal means – Seeking access to guns, pills, knives, or other objects that could be used in a suicide attempt.
  • Preoccupation with death – Unusual focus on death, dying, or violence. Writing poems or stories about death.
  • No hope for the future – Feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and being trapped (“There’s no way out”). Belief that things will never get better or change.
  • Self-loathing, self-hatred – Feelings of worthlessness, guilt, shame, and self-hatred. Feeling like a burden (“Everyone would be better off without me”).
  • Getting affairs in order – Making out a will. Giving away prized possessions. Making arrangements for family members.
  • Saying goodbye – Unusual or unexpected visits or calls to family and friends. Saying goodbye to people as if they won’t be seen again.
  • Withdrawing from others – Withdrawing from friends and family. Increasing social isolation. Desire to be left alone.
  • Self-destructive behavior – Increased alcohol or drug use, reckless driving, unsafe sex. Taking unnecessary risks as if they have a “death wish.”
  • Sudden sense of calm – A sudden sense of calm and happiness after being extremely depressed can mean that the person has made a decision to attempt suicide.

Now what?  I’m scared, I don’t know what to do or say.  What if I say something wrong?  

If you ever had a friend or family member who was depressed or suicidal, you know that you sometimes have to walk on eggshells.  You don’t know the right thing to say or do and it can be stressful on your part.  I’ve been there.  I have had close friends/family members go through depression and I made sure I researched and I sought professional counsel before talking to them.  Here are some things that you can say to someone who is depressed or suicidal without aggravating the situation.

Looking to break the ice?  Here are a few ways to start:

“I have been feeling concerned about you lately.”

“Recently, I have noticed some differences in you and wondered how you are doing.”

“I wanted to check in with you because you haven’t seemed yourself lately.”

13 Ways to Talk to a Suicidal Friend*

  1. “I Love You”  
    Three words, when said with sincerity, has a huge impact for someone who is depressed or suicidal.  It reminds them how much they are valued. 
  2. “I don’t know what you’re going through but we can find help for you.” 
    Never say that you know what they’re going through, because you really don’t.  In many cases, being depressed or suicidal is a case of mental and emotional overload.  This just means that the coping mechanism of a person can no longer handle the problems or stressors in life.
    You, as someone who is detached from the person’s problems and emotions, can help look for professional help or create a more effective support system.  
    Let the person know you want to help so he/she won’t feel so helpless.
  3. “Let me help you feel better.”
    This statement is a very general thing to say to someone who is suffering from depression or suicidal feelings.  You can say it as it is to let them know that you want to help ease even a little of their pain.  You can also attach other statements like: “I’m here to listen.” or “I will keep you company.”
  4. “We can get through this together.” 
    Don’t just say this, believe this.  You have to let the person know that you trust him/her to make it through the pain and suffering.  You should also emphasize that he/she is not going to be alone in recovery.
  5. “You are not crazy or stupid!” 
    It is safe to assume, that even if it is a false notion, depressed or suicidal people can’t help but question their sanity.  They may even sometimes wonder if their brain still works.  You can help put a rest to these questions by telling them that you believe that they are not crazy or stupid.
  6. “When all this is over, I’ll still be here and so will you.”
    A reminder that you’re there to walk through this with them side-by-side and that they will survive this.
  7. “I believe your pain is real.” 
    The pain these people feel are not just in their heads; they are not crazy.  But because of the lack of education, observers, friends, and family may think that the pain is made up.  If you truly believe that someone you know is experiencing real pain, then let him/her know.  Hopefully, the person will feel more secure with you and will open up about his/her problems.
  8. “Take as much time as you need to heal.” 
    Recovering from depression or suicidal thoughts does not happen in a snap.  It takes time and it cannot be rushed.  You should let the person know that he/she doesn’t have to rush getting better.  That way, he/she won’t feel guilty about taking on fewer responsibilities.
  9. “Take time to take care of yourself.”  
    People who are depressed or suicidal will sometimes try to fulfill obligations even when they are emotionally and mentally drained.  There comes a time when they just have to stop and take time to take care of themselves.  If you notice that it takes someone more effort than usual to get through life, maybe it’s time you remind him/her of the obligation to care for him/herself.
  10. “You’re not alone.”

    People who are suicidal or depressed often feel alone in their pain and suffering.  If you say this statement to them, you give them even a bit of comfort.  You are letting them know that the people in their lives are not deserting them.
  11.  “Don’t worry about your pain hurting me.”  
    Sometimes, someone with depression or suicidal feelings will be hesitant to talk about his/her pain.  He/she is afraid that you will get hurt or affected by his/her problems or troubled thoughts.  Let the person know that you can handle it, but only if you are absolutely sure that you can
  12. “I’m not going to leave you or abandon you.”  
    Most likely, this person has felt a sense of betrayal or loneliness.  They need to know that you will be there and they can trust you.  If you say this, make sure you mean it.
  13. “I don’t know what to say.”  
    Don’t know what to say?  Tell them the truth. Not knowing what to say and telling them that is way better than making lame jokes or making a quick subject change or not saying anything at all, all of which can be hurtful. Maybe you don’t need to say anything anyway. Maybe you just need to listen. Allow them to unload despair and ventilate anger.  No matter how negative the conversation goes, the fact that it exists is a positive sign.

Please remember I am not a medical professional just a loving mother, daughter, sister and friend that has seen what depression can do to those I love.  I have felt depression in my personal life as well and have fought it with support from loved ones.  I also remember how it felt when some of those around me ignored my warning signs and neglected to check in on me.  I remember someone close to me once saying: “What do you have to be sad about? You’re pretty, smart, and live a great life!”  That actually made me feel worse.  It’s very difficult; an ugly (yet often quiet) illness that should never be ignored.  
Just because someone is smiling on the outside, it doesn’t mean they’re okay.

Need help?  Visit suicideprevention.ca for the help and resources you need to help you or someone you know.  (Please note: this referral is in no way affiliated with Netflix Canada)

Be well.  And take care/be there for one another.

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post as a Netflix Canada partner. All opinions expressed are entirely those of the author.  


7 Comments on 13 Ways to Talk to a Suicidal Friend #StreamTeam

  1. I watched this and I’m glad it’s opened the dialogue , we need to keep lines of communication open not bury our heads in the sand

  2. This is a really great post. I’ve watched the show on Netflix and I found myself so angry while watching. Like someone could have helped her. I wish she wouldn’t have done it.

    • Thanks for reading, Cheryl. I know the show has had its share of negative feedback, but I really think they were trying to speak to teens in a way they will truly relate. It’s such a sensitive topic but it’s definitely something that needs to be talked about. The rate of teenage suicide is scarily alarming.

  3. This indeed is raw, I have tears. While I have never suffered from depression, I have family members and friends who have. It is often so difficult to know what to say and where to start the conversation. Thank you for sharing this important subject. And I will give this show a watch too.

    • Thank you, Elizabeth. Yes, it’s a very sensitive subject and one that many find very difficult to talk about. It’s especially tough for those that see loved ones suffering and just don’t know where to start.

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