I went to bed last night watching video clips of Robin Williams on the Tonight Show. He was the funniest comedian while I was growing up. I saw him on Mork and Mindy (nanu nanu means ‘goodbye’ in Orkan). His movies were the funniest: Patch Adams, Mrs. Doubtfire, Hook, Aladdin, Popeye, Good Morning Vietnam, Flubber, Night at the Museum, and so many more. But my favorite line of Robin Williams was in Dead Poet’s Society. His character, John Keating, tells his students, “Seize the day boys. Make your lives extraordinary.”

Sadly, Robin Williams committed suicide and died at the age of 63. He was known to have bipolar disorder, depression, and a history of drug abuse. 90% of all suicide victims have psychiatric problems.

The fact that Williams was so successful and so loved shows that depression, emotional problems, and suicide can happen to anybody. If you have a loved one who has taken their own life, please know that this is a decision they made for themselves. However, in an effort to stop the next suicide, I want to share some advice.

In his book, Why Suicide?, Jerry Johnston shares 5 critical steps friends can take to help prevent a suicide.

1. Don’t Back Away

Suppose your friend starts to act strangely. You sense that some dark influence is creeping into the person’s brain and you want to back away. Please don’t. When your friend has depressive or even twisted thoughts, that’s the time to make yourself more available and interested than ever.

2. Be a Detective

I’m not suggesting that you stalk your friend or steal a glance at a  personal diary. But I am saying to be on the lookout for problems or potential problems. The best way to accomplish this is by encouraging your friend to talk whenever you sense something wrong.

Being a good detective demands a knowledge of suicidal warning signs: withdrawal, moodiness, depression, aggression, alcohol & drug abuse, abnormal sexual activity, eating disorders, abnormal gift giving, trauma, personality change, and threats of suicide.

3. Listen Carefully

Your suicidal friend must know that someone is truly willing to listen. Chances are your friend will feel that no one is tuned in, so you’ve got to show that you are.

Many suicidal people have the inability or lack of opportunity to express their unhappiness, frustration, or failure. They find that their efforts to express their feelings are either totally unacceptable to others, ignored, or met by defensive hostility. This response drives them into further isolation, reinforcing the belief of something being terribly wrong.

4. Say the Right Things

If you sense something wrong, ask. Asking a person about suicide will not plant the idea in their mind. In fact, it says, “I’ve been paying attention to you and I see something’s wrong.” If they are not suicidal, they will still respect the caring and concern and be more liable to come for help when in trouble.

Here are some right things to say:

  • With everything happening in your life and with the way you’ve been feeling, it’s normal to feel like ending it all. It’s not crazy. Have you thought about it?
  • I didn’t know how serious things had gotten Let’s talk about it.
  • It sounds like you are feeling totally hopeless. I understand how you can feel like ending it all. Have you told anyone else? We’ve got to talk to someone about this.
  • I don’t want you to do anything to hurt yourself. I don’t know how we can change the feeling, but I know there are people who can help.

It is important to know what not to say:

  • You’ll get over it. Things will be better tomorrow. (things may not be better tomorrow)
  • You don’t really feel that way. (Yes, the suicidal person does feel that way)
  • You’d never really do it. (How do you know? Over 38,000 Americans commit suicide every year – more than killed in auto accidents)

The bottom line is: Don’t criticize, judge, ridicule, minimize, or promise anything you can’t deliver.

5. Take Action

A suicidal threat is not like the alarm on your clock radio. You can’t push a snooze button and wait a while longer before doing something. Immediate action is called for.

Tell your friend about the sources of help (suicide hotline, counseling, etc). If a specific suicide plan has been revealed, remove the instruments of the method if possible (50% of all suicides involve guns). Get your friend to make a binding agreement with you. Pray before, after, and during your visit with your suicidal friend. If your friend refuses to get help, contact the police.

Do you have any suggestions on helping a suicidal friend?

You can also read some of my similar articles: If a Christian Commits Suicide, Is He Still Saved? 3 Positive Ways To Deal With Depression.