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How to Protect Your Mental Health Supporting Suicidal Friends (When You’re Suicidal Too)

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Editor's Note

If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

The other day I was talking to a friend and I mentioned to them how a bunch of my friends are suicidal. Immediately, they quipped that I was friends with “The Suicide Squad.” I laughed because that was funny, but later as I thought about it, I realized how true it was. 

Almost every single one of my closest friends are suicidal, including myself. 

It’s not the first time I’ve thought about it. In fact, there have been moments I’ve been extremely thankful for that. When you’re talking to someone who isn’t suicidal, they tend to have very harsh reactions to the knowledge. There’s a dark but needed safety in being around like-minded people. They know the difference between feelings, thoughts, plans, actions. It’s because of that we can confide in one another without guilt or fear, being open and honest about some of our darkest thoughts. That being said, what happens when your suicidal thoughts are getting quieter, while theirs aren’t?

I’m what they call chronically suicidal. While it’s usually passive, there isn’t a moment where it’s not on my mind in some way. Most days, it doesn’t impact my mental health all that much. I’m still able to laugh and smile, but then there are other days where I have to more actively fight the thoughts. It’s only in those moments that I look around at the people around me who offer reciprocated support and wonder if it’s still healthy for me to be there while they’re at their lowest when I can’t afford to feel the same way. How do I support them while protecting myself?

Here’s what I’ve learned: 

1. Make sure that I prioritize self-care…

…before and after the conversation or hangout. After-care is so important, not just for sexual intimacy, but also for emotional intimacy. When you’re trying to stay mentally afloat but you’re listening to someone talk about utter hopelessness and despair, it can be a little hard and it can stay with you. Practicing emotional after-care for yourself, whether it’s deep breathing exercises, meditation, a treat, journaling, etc., is important for refilling your cup after a very heavy conversation.

2. Set boundaries from jump…

…because if you’re a giver, it’ll be very easy for you to give more than what you have to offer which could put you in harm’s way. Maybe this means you only hang out for brief structured periods of time, or maybe it means you tell them explicitly what you don’t have the energy to talk about. Either way, setting boundaries early helps you not overwhelm yourself.

3. Don’t be a hero…

…or as I like to say, don’t internalize their problems as your own. When you’re in a different stage, chapter, phase, or just day in your life than the other person but you’re hearing them talk about struggles you’re not too removed from, it’s easy to accidentally co-opt them as your own. Hear them out, but don’t internalize what they’re going through. I call this the “listen and release,” method.

4. Don’t feel bad if you need to take a friend break from them…

…which sounds counterintuitive to the goal of supporting them while you support yourself, but sometimes you just can’t. Sometimes the most supportive thing you can do for a friend, is not support them. When we surpass the limits of what we can give, and we continue to do so, we risk social and emotional support burnout which can put friendships in jeopardy. Love and want to support them enough that you know how to say “no.”

5. Diversify your friend group…

…that way when you do need to be around people who aren’t suicidal, you can be. This isn’t to shame the friends who are, but we know from firsthand experience how heavy it can be. It’s OK to say that you need different and lighter energy some days, especially if you’re trying to protect your own brain. It doesn’t make you a bad friend, or any less supportive. It falls in line with my fourth point. Love them by loving yourself more.

Being friends with people who are also suicidal has its pros and cons. At the end of the day though, we have to do what’s best for ourselves as much as we want to do what’s best for the people around us. 

Thank you for being you, and we’re happy you’re here. 

Getty image by Ponomariova_Maria

Originally published: August 10, 2022
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