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HELP! My friend is suicidal!

Dear Armchair PsychologistI have an acquaintance who is severely depressed, suicidal, and needs guidance and a strong push in life, which I, for some reason, struggle to provide. He doesn't have friends or family. I have tried helping out but I don't have many resources as I see that he needs a strong push forward in life, rather than some regular help (i.e. dialogue) — I feel like some sort of action is needed in this case since he has been living a Groundhog Day for the last 365 days or so. That push/action could come in the form of losing a loved one, losing all or close to all of his funds, losing a high-paying and long-lasting job before retirement, etc. ... thinking of a positive push with a similarly strong magnitude but can not find any.- Helpless

Dear Helpless,

I am very sorry that you have to go through this tough time with your friend. This is one of the more difficult questions I've had to answer. I can't imagine the dread and worry you must feel and not to mention the heavy responsibility of being the only friend in his life.

It is very common for people suffering from depression to struggle to keep friends. Depression is a very serious and complex disease of the mind. As much as you'd like to fix your friend with a catalyst of sorts that will lead to a "push forward" in his life, this is simply not true. One of my favorite authors, Anais Nin, once said, "We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are."A depressed person is looking through a lens that is fogged by brain chemistry that is not balanced. Although depression is the leading cause of disability in the world, we are still a long way from fully understanding it. There are numerous imaging slides that show what a depressed brain can look like and it's pretty fascinating. For example, in this study published in Molecular Psychiatry, they studied 9000 subjects and found that people who suffer from recurrent depression have much smaller hippocampuses (the area of the brain responsible for forming new memories and controlling emotions.) Apparently, it shrinks the longer one is depressed making it even harder to function properly as time goes on.

Chances are there could be other underlying mental illnesses that are causing your friend's depression and suicidal thoughts, or maybe he's on medication that isn't working? As many as two-thirds of people with depression suffer from Treatment-Resistant Depression (TRD), which means that the first two anti-depressants prescribed, won't work. AFSP is a great resource for suicide prevention, and I recommend your friend gets the support he needs ASAP from a qualified doctor who can begin the arduous path to wellness. As for yourself, here are some helpful steps in how to deal with a suicidal friend. Moreover, I think it's very important that you get support from friends, family, and a qualified therapist, as no one is naturally equipped to shoulder such a heavy ordeal.

The wise Anais Nin also said, "We can't save people, we can only love them."Keep loving your friend, be a good listener, don't shy away from discussing his suicidal thoughts with him as this is widely considered a preventive method. And most of all, my dear Helpless, help yourself by taking good care of your emotional wellbeing.

- The Armchair Psychologist

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