How to Talk to a Friend in Crisis

a woman supporting her friend

Crisis events can happen to anyone at any time. You might find yourself unexpectedly faced with helping a friend or family member go through a highly stressful moment in their life. Sometimes a supportive presence is all it takes to make a difference. You can help your friend by being there and listening to what they need. 

Providing Support While Taking Care of Yourself

You want to be there to support your friends and family the same way they have helped you through the process of recovery. However, it is best to make sure you look after your well-being while keeping them safe. You cannot help them if you do not take care of yourself first. 

Talking to a friend during a mental health crisis can be triggering and stressful. You might need your support system to help you, and there is no shame in delegating crisis intervention if you feel incapable of handling the stress. Even if you want to be there for your friend or family member, you need to put your health and safety first. Coping with a crisis involves critical thinking and problem-solving skills, which can be tricky to manage if you feel overwhelmed. 

How to Identify a Friend In Crisis

Some people have difficulties asking for help or even recognizing when they are in crisis, making it challenging to know how to respond to a friend who may be exhibiting signs of distress. Recognizing the red flags that indicate a developing crisis can help you understand when to step in and provide much-needed support for your loved one. Below are some common warning signs: 

  • They repeatedly talk about feeling hopeless, helpless, or like a burden to others
  • They mention suicidal thoughts or feelings of being trapped in their life
  • Increased self-isolating and risky or reckless behaviors
  • Changes to mood, sleep patterns, and loss of interest in activities
  • Depression or increased anxiety
  • Talking about leaving or saying goodbye to friends and family

How to Help Friends With Suicidal Ideation

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) recommends doing the following to help individuals struggling with suicidal ideations: 

  • Ask if they are planning to harm or kill themselves. “Studies show that asking at-risk individuals if they are suicidal does not increase suicides or suicidal thoughts.”
  • Remove any items they might use for self-harm or move them to a safer location.
  • Actively listen to what they have to say about their feelings and concerns. “Research suggests acknowledging and talking about suicide may in fact reduce rather than increase suicidal thoughts.”
  • Help them connect with resources like crisis lines, mental health professionals, or even spiritual advisors. Find someone they trust who can help them process their emotions safely.
  • Stay in contact with them after the crisis event. “Studies have shown the number of suicide deaths goes down when someone follows up with the at-risk person.”

What to Say During a Crisis

Every crisis is unique, so there is no script you can use that will apply to everyone in every situation. However, there are some things you can say or avoid saying to deescalate tension and stress in the moment. 

The following are things that you do NOT want to do or say: 

  • Blaming language
  • Making assumptions about the situation
  • Making ultimatums
  • Minimizing what they are going through
  • Turning the problem into how you feel or how the current crisis will affect you
  • Forcing them to tell someone else about their thoughts or feelings

Active listening allows you to focus on what your friend is saying and can help you understand how they feel. You want to make sure they know you care and are listening to them. 

The following are helpful suggestions that you can say to your friend during their mental health crisis:

  • “How can I help?”
  • “What do you need?”
  • “I’m sorry.”
  • “I care about you, and I can see this is very difficult.”
  • “Are you thinking about hurting yourself?”
  • “How do you feel?”

Practice Self-Care and Use Your Support System

After the crisis is over, reach out to your support system and use self-care to ensure your mental and physical well-being. Watching someone you care about go through a stressful experience can be traumatizing. A few ways you can practice self-care include:

  • Attend an extra therapy session
  • Talk to trusted friends and family about the experience
  • Contact a non-emergency crisis line and talk about how you feel
  • Write a journal entry or use other methods to express your emotions
  • Take time to practice mindfulness and relaxation techniques

Crisis Resources in the United States

In the United States, you can dial 9-1-1 if you or someone you know is experiencing a crisis that may endanger themselves or someone else. Non-emergency crisis lines for individuals in emotional distress include the following: 

  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Treatment Referral Helpline, 1-877-726-4727 available 24/7
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255 available Monday through Friday from 8 am to 8 pm (EST)
  • Crisis Text Line, text “HELLO” to 741741 available 24/7
  • Disaster Distress Helpline, call or text 1-800-985-5990

You care about your friends and family, and when they experience a crisis, you want to be there to help them get through it. Suicidal thoughts and self-harming behaviors are common mental health issues in the United States, and you might have a friend or loved one who struggles with suicidal ideation. You can provide encouragement and support by being present and showing compassion. Many resources exist to support individuals in emotional distress, and you can connect them with a crisis line or call for help if you feel that they are in danger of hurting themselves or others. At White House Recovery and Detox, we will teach you valuable coping skills that can help you stay calm during a crisis. By looking after your own mental and emotional health, you can assist others in overcoming painful situations. To learn more about the treatments and services we offer at our facility, call us today at (800) 510-5393.