DEAR ABBY: I'm a grad student who enjoys perusing social networks for jokes and stuff. The other day I came across a post from someone who said he wanted to kill himself. Naturally, I kind of freaked out.

I contacted the person to ask him not to and thankfully he didn't. Normally I don't do the whole "Internet friend" thing, but we decided to keep chatting and since then we have become fast friends. I'm not sure how to help this person, though.

He is in the military and fears losing his job if he seeks help. I don't want to pressure him into seeing a professional, since part of what's causing his anxiety is being ordered around constantly, but I don't want him to hurt himself. I know I can't save this person; I can only walk alongside while he figures it all out, but I don't want him to suffer. Please tell me what to do!

- Long-Distance Friend

DEAR LONG-DISTANCE FRIEND: I'll try. Are you sure this person is who he purports to be? Suicidal people don't usually broadcast it to strangers they meet on the Internet. When you say he's afraid that if he seeks professional help he'll lose his job, is he intending to make a career in the military? If the answer is yes, and he doesn't like "being ordered around constantly," he has chosen the wrong career.

You should tell this individual that it's essential he talk to someone about his suicidal impulses who has the training to actually help him with his suffering (your word). If you encourage him to lean on you, it will only prolong his procrastination about standing on his own two feet. For both your sakes, deliver your message clearly and back away. Because you have known each other for such a short time, it shouldn't be too traumatic.

Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Contact Dear Abby at www.DearAbby.com or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.