Suicide: Let's talk about it #3 - How to respond to a suicidal confession

24 April 2019

Knowing how to respond when a friend/colleague confesses they are feeling suicidal can be difficult. Francesca shares her experience and how betraying a friend's trust, in seeking support for them, is the best option in safeguarding the individual.

sunset over field

I was approached by my course mate yesterday. She looked a bit down and pale. At first I didn’t pay too much attention to it. I thought that she might have been a bit stressed due to exam prep.

After a few hours of studying in the library, she asked me if we could step outside to talk – she said it was  urgent.

We headed out, sat on a bench and she confessed that she had been feeling suicidal recently as her emotional life was crumbling and she had become numb to the world. Plus, she could not cope with her academic commitments, as she felt burdened by the pressure she had put on herself and the fear of letting her family down. She was overwhelmed and was totally unresponsive to friends. She looked very serious and hopeless. I was puzzled and I did not know what to say. I clumsily tried to hug her and cheer her up but all attempts in making her feel better failed.

I accompanied her home that evening and made sure that she felt comfortable. I didn’t want to leave her alone so I asked her flat mate to keep her company and sleep in the bed next to hers that night.

I went home feeling very concerned and powerless. I knew that I had to act quickly but at the same time I also had to be discreet. I had no idea what to do or who I could talk to.

The following morning, I went to see her after breakfast and we went to class together. She looked very under the weather and her mood had not shifted. She joined a group of friends for lunch and so I knew she would be safe with them for a few hours.

I felt the urge to do something to help her but, at the same time, I did not want to betray her by telling this secret to friends who may gossip about the situation. After class, I sat down and started looking through the UCL Student Support pages for help, which provided very useful information on suicide prevention, awareness and support. But I still felt the urge to speak to someone in person so I decided to go to the Student Support and Wellbeing Reception in the Student Centre to talk to an adviser who could provide support. This felt like the best thing to do and I decided that this situation was best handled by a professional.

The adviser I spoke to was very understanding and really appreciated that I had chosen to disclose this sensitive issue to her. She knew what steps to take and she reassured me that she would deal with the situation with care.

I felt relieved after sharing my concerns with an experienced member of staff. I felt that they could provide the kind to support that my friend needed. I could not have envisaged the appropriate measures to put in place with such confidence and promptness.

Even if I initially felt like I was breaking my friend’s trust, I then realised that the wellbeing adviser had the expertise to master that situation and that I couldn’t have solved such an overwhelming issue by myself.

I now feel that my friend is protected and taken care of. Should I find myself in a similar position again in the future, I know that although breaking someone’s trust can be difficult, it’s always more important to safeguard the life of the person in need.

Francesca Masiero, PhD student in Italian in the School of European Languages, Culture and Society (SELCS)