Suicidal Friend Whose Parents Won’t Help

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

What can I do? During the middle of my sixth grade year, I was introduced to “JL” through a close friend (“CS”). Back then, she would say very little to me and acted as if she resented my existence (later, I would learn that she was jealous of the time “CS” spent with me). No matter what I did and no matter how many things we had in common – mainly, our struggles with self-injury, depression, suicidal thought, etc – “JL” continued to block me out. As a result, very little came of us knowing each other. We basically learned to coexist at the lunch table, making only minimal communication.

Much to her dislike, however, the way she acted never once got in the way of “CS” and I’s friendship. In fact, by the time May came near, we could not be separated. Unfortunately, this closeness with “CS” also meant I had to spend more time with “JL”. This time spent near her allowed us both to figure out just how similar we were in terms of our emotional health. “JL” and I both self-injured, felt depressed, suffered from paranoia, had family issues and wanted to kill ourselves. This common struggle would become the building blocks of our friendship.

Now, fast forward to the beginning of Summer. I was in the midst of a very serious depression. It had gotten to the point where I couldn’t get myself out of bed 99 percent of the time and had written out a detailed plan for suicide. The day before I was going go through with it was the day “CS” called asking me to sleepover. I saw the visitation as a way to say goodbye, so I built up the strength to go. To make a long story short, while over there she introduced me to a band whose music would be the thing to give me hope to keep going. This group became my reason to get up every morning and I felt the need to tell everyone about how much I loved them: including “JL”.

That phone call with “JL” telling her of my new musical discovery would be the start of our friendship. I learned that she too had been significantly impacted by this band and found their music to be of great comfort. We began discussing favorite songs, how the lyrics related to our lives and other fan-like topics. By the end of the conversation, however, we had spilled our life stories out to each other.

That spilling out of stories and many conversations that would follow made me realize just how hard things have been for her. Both of “JL”‘s parents were heavy drinkers through her early years and her two older siblings abused drugs in high school. She told me that those two sisters, when their parents were at the bar, would lock her younger sister and her up in a small room while they partied with friends. If “JL” refused to go into the room, one of the sisters would chase her with knives. Things were getting worse in the household, and – after many years of heavy drinking/smoking – the mother developed terminal cancer. She passed away when “JL” was seven.

After her mom died, everything fell apart within the family. Unable to deal with the similarities between “JL” and the mother, her father got “JL”‘s hair cut short, bought her only male clothes and refused to let her play with “girl toys” (all this in an attempt to make “JL” seem less like her Mom). The oldest sister got arrested after “accidentally” (she says) burning her youngest child and ended up being sent to prison (she is still there). The other older sister got deep into drugs, gangs, etc and was kicked out of the house. In the midst of this, “JL” locked herself in her closet for weeks and started blaming the younger sister for the mother’s death (and family problems that followed).

According to “JL”, she has felt angry and depressed ever since. Events that have happened since then – such as the drug addicted/gang involved sister joining the army and one of her father’s girlfriend’s kids sexually harassing her for a short period of time – continue to make this worse. Most recently, her father got remarried and punishes her for so much mentioning life before this new step mom (even the good memories). “JL” feels unloved, unheard and alienated in that household. There have been multiple times where she’s tried to overdose on Advil, thankfully never taking enough to do any damage.

This all brings us to the present. For the past couple years (basically, since I became friends with her), “JL” has been rapidly going downhill emotionally. She is reckless, doing things such as crossing the road when it is not safe; goes into destructive (self-injurious, ripping apart paper, throwing things, etc) fits constantly; acts quite violent at times; and, is more suicidal than ever before. To make all this harder for her, she has very few friends left: her moods, thoughts and destructive actions all make it very hard to be around her. Not to mention that when she gets like that, she will literally run away from you and not let you even talk to her. She keeps pushing everyone away.

At the start of this school year, she began acting up so bad one time that one of her friends called 911, in fear that “JL” would kill herself (she was threatening). Luckily, she went to the hospital somewhat willingly and cooperated with all the tests (ex: hair sample) and questions. When I first heard she was there, I felt so relieved. For the first time in ages, I didn’t have to worry about her safety or if she would be alive by time I next spoke to her. For once, I could breath easy when thinking about “JL”.

Unfortunately, that peace of mind didn’t last. Her step mother arrived a few hours later, yelling and cursing at both “JL” and the hospital staff. She was pissed off that she had to drive all the way there (about 30 minutes) to pick “JL” up and argued with the hospital’s psychiatrist until they allowed her to go home. In the end, “JL” was punished and nothing ended up being solved. For me, this instance was the last straw in my tolerance of her parents. They now clearly knew she was suicidally depressed and yet refused to seek any treatment for her. Even after “JL” begged to see a therapist, they did nothing: not even bringing her to the free support groups close by.

I feel completely and utterly helpless. My friend needs treatment of some sort and even she knows this (heck, she says she’s jealous of the fact I have a psychiatrist). Today, when I asked her if she thought she could keep herself from severely inflicting harm on herself, the answer she gave was “No, I don’t think so.” In school, they tell us that if our friend is in crises we should tell an adult. But what do you do when the adults already know and yet refuse to help correct the problem? I’m so desperate to help her that I have even considered calling Child Protective Services (CPS), reporting that psychiatric-related medical neglect is putting “JL” in danger. I know this will probably make things harder on the family, but I feel it’s all I have left to help her.

As you all know much more about these things than I do, I’m asking what my options are. Is it best if I call CPS reporting her parents? Or, instead, are there are other things in place to help in these situations. Maybe a law allowing her to be kept at a hospital until she is stabilized, despite the fact the parents would rather bring her home. Even if there’s nothing I can do, any advice would be welcome at this point.

Thank you for reading.

PS: I’m sorry I made this so long, I just wanted to be as detailed as possible.

A. This is a very difficult situation. Your friend’s life is at risk. This is not a situation that you should be dealing with in isolation. I understand that adults and mental health professionals have been involved in the past and that there has been no positive resolution. Is there anyone else you could speak to? For example, what about school counselors or other school officials?

My advice for you is to immediately go to someone at the school who could assist you with this issue. You could tell that individual about your friend’s personal situation. School professionals are trained to deal with these issues. They are in a position to call Child Protective Services if they had reason to believe that your friend was being abused. Take some of the pressure off of yourself and tell a teacher, a school nurse, school counselor, the principal, or anyone who will listen to you at the school, so that they can take action. Another option is to call Child Protective Services and ask them for their advice. That is one way to handle this situation but I think the best approach is to do what I said, which is to tell someone at the school who is in a position to take the proper action. If you feel that your friend is suicidal and you have reason to believe that she is going to kill herself, then you should call emergency services.

This is a very complicated situation which should be brought to the attention of an adult at the school. I know it is difficult to see your friend in so much pain and anguish and to feel that there’s not anything that you can do to help her. She needs professional help and she may need to be taken out of her home and placed into a residential treatment facility so that she can receive the proper treatment. Please immediately go to a school official and tell them what you know. If they can’t help then call Child Protective Services. At that point, there is little more that you can do. Even if it was your mother or sister, there would be little more that you could do. You are not alone. There are many friends and family members who have done all that was possible for a loved one and now they must simply hope for the best. You are a good friend and person. I wish you and your friend the best of luck.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 12 Nov 2009

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2009). Suicidal Friend Whose Parents Won’t Help. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 29, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2009/11/12/suicidal-friend-whose-parents-wont-help/