By: UCF RESTORES Suicide Prevention Expert David Rozek, Ph.D., ABPP
Suicide prevention is a topic that should be discussed more often and not just within September (i.e., Suicide Prevention Month). World Friendship Day, recognized this year on July 30, 2021, is another perfect opportunity to discuss how you can have an impact on the mental health of the loved ones in your life. Suicide prevention is often thought of as something that mental health clinicians focus on, but did you know that peer support is often the first line of defense?
As friends, you are likely to notice a change in behavior long before a mental health clinician would because you interact with and know your friends! When you notice that something is different, that is a perfect time to check in with them and see how they are doing. Now, it may turn out that your friend tells you everything is fine and not to worry. That is okay! Being there and checking in, on its own, can be tremendously helpful. If you continue to notice that your friend’s behavior, mood, or even texts are different than before, keep reaching out to them. Something as simple as sending a message of “I’m thinking of you” or “I hope all is well” would be perfectly fine. Even sending a fun meme, GIF, or joke allows for your friend to know you are thinking of them but does not necessarily require a response.
When a friend does open up to share about stress and other issues going on in their lives, many people are not sure what to do. Be human! The easiest response to this is to listen and reflect back on what you hear. You do not need to solve every problem or even give advice. Simply listening and having a conversation that validates how tough life can be is a great starting point. If you are concerned about your friend and are worried that the situation needs professional attention, it is important to encourage your friend to seek professional help. Even working with them to find a therapist can go a long way.
Friends and peers are really a foundational piece of suicide prevention. The simplest things, like reaching out to check in on your friends, can have a significant impact on those friends’ lives. So, next time a friend or peer pops into your head out of nowhere, send them a message to let them know you were thinking about them. It will brighten their day, at the least, and who knows when your friends will randomly reach out to you!