It is normal to consider all possible solutions to a stressful situation. It is estimated that about 5% of a population in any year will consider the possibility of not being alive. What really matters is whether such thoughts are passing fantasies, or strong temptations to suicide, depending on how distorted the person’s thinking has become due to stress.
It is better to ask direct questions. Remember it is a myth that talking about suicide will ‘put the idea’ into someone’s head. And do not react with shock or a negative reaction as they tell you what they are thinking; stay calm, see how bad things are, and offer strong reassurance that they can be helped to think differently, and that life will be as good as it used to be before they had these negative and hopeless thoughts caused by stress.
If you are worried about a friend who seems very desperate, it is reasonable to ask questions such as “Do you ever wish you did not wake up in the morning?” If your friend answers “Yes”, the next question could be, “Do you actually wish you were dead?”
If the answer is another “Yes”, the next question could be “Have you thought of doing something to yourself to end your life?”
If the answer to the above question is “Yes”, the next question could be “On a 0-10 scale about ending your life, where zero is no such thoughts and 10 is that you are definitely going to do it, how bad does it get at times?” The answer gives you an idea of what your friend really is thinking, and gives everyone involved a guideline as to what should happen next, in terms of getting help.
Finally, do ask them if they have made a definite plan already for ending their life. Ask them to tell you what it is.
For more information, please read “Worried About a Friend?”
Apart from the calm discussion and reassurance advocated above, it is very helpful if arrangements can be made so that the person with suicidal thoughts, especially if they are strong, is not left alone, especially at night. And it also helps if the person can promise you they will not harm themselves until you see them again, and/or have had a chance to organise help for them. This may range from calling one of the suicide support helplines, calling 000, bringing your friend to a doctor or a hospital, or ensuring frequent contact and support until the crisis passes. However, such promises of remaining safe are not guarantees unfortunately.
N.B. If possible, and if the person will allow you to do so, do remove the means they had planned to use to end their lives, whether it be a gun, car keys or stores of medication.