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HELP! My friend is suicidal!

Dear Armchair Psychologist
I 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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How to Learn Much More From the Books You Read

It is one thing to read and another thing to understand what you are reading. Not only do you want to understand, but also remember what you've read. Otherwise, we can safely say that if we're not gaining anything from what we read, then it's a big waste of time.

Whatever you read, there are ways to do so in a more effective manner to help you understand better. Whether you are reading by choice, for an upcoming test, or work-related material, here are a few ways to help you improve your reading skills and retain that information.

Read with a Purpose

Never has there been a shortage of great books. So, someone recommended a great cookbook for you. You start going through it, but your mind is wandering. This doesn't mean the cookbook was an awful recommendation, but it does mean it doesn't suit nor fulfill your current needs or curiosity.

Maybe your purpose is more about launching a business. Maybe you're a busy mom and can't keep office hours, but there's something you can do from home to help bring in more money, so you want information about that. At that point, you won't benefit from a cookbook, but you could gain a lot of insight and find details here on how-to books about working from home. During this unprecedented year, millions have had to make the transition to work from home, and millions more are deciding to do that. Either way, it's not a transition that comes automatically or easily, but reading about it will inform you about what working from home entails.


When you pre-read it primes your brain when it's time to go over the full text. We pre-read by going over the subheadings, for instance, the table of contents, and skimming through some pages. This is especially useful when you have formal types of academic books. Pre-reading is a sort of warm-up exercise for your brain. It prepares your brain for the rest of the information that will come about and allows your brain to be better able to pick the most essential pieces of information you need from your chosen text.


Highlighting essential sentences or paragraphs is extremely helpful for retaining information. The problem, however, with highlighting is that we wind up highlighting way too much. This happens because we tend to highlight before we begin to understand. Before your pages become a neon of colored highlights, make sure that you only highlight what is essential to improve your understanding and not highlight the whole page.

Speed Read

You might think there have been no new ways to read, but even the ancient skill of reading comes up with innovative ways; enter speed reading. The standard slow process shouldn't affect your understanding, but it does kill your enthusiasm. The average adult goes through around 200 to 250 words per minute. A college student can read around 450 words, while a professor averages about 650 words per minute, to mention a few examples. The average speed reader can manage 1,500 words; quite a difference! Of course, the argument arises between quality and quantity. For avid readers, they want both quantity and quality, which leads us to the next point.

Quality Reading

Life is too short to expect to gain knowledge from just one type of genre. Some basic outcomes of reading are to expand your mind, perceive situations and events differently, expose yourself to other viewpoints, and more. If you only stick to one author and one type of material, you are missing out on a great opportunity to learn new things.

Having said that, if there's a book you are simply not enjoying, remember that life is also too short to continue reading it. Simply, close it, put it away and maybe give it another go later on, or give it away. There is no shame or guilt in not liking a book; even if it's from a favorite author. It's pretty much clear that you won't gain anything from a book that you don't even enjoy, let alone expect to learn something from it.


If you're able to summarize what you have read, then you have understood. When you summarize, you are bringing up all the major points that enhance your understanding. You can easily do so chapter by chapter.

Take a good look at your life and what's going on in it. Accordingly, you'll choose the material that is much more suitable for your situation and circumstances. When you read a piece of information that you find beneficial, look for a way to apply it to your life. Knowledge for the sake of knowledge isn't all that beneficial. But the application of knowledge from a helpful book is what will help you and make your life more interesting and more meaningful.