It’s #TimeToTalk Day and the theme this year is the ingredients that make a good conversation about mental health. My ingredient is “Acknowledgement” because when I talk to someone about my mental health, the last thing I want is to feel dismissed and judged. I want to be able to trust that person, have my struggle acknowledged and feel free to be open.
So today I’m going to talk about suicide. Mostly because suicide still provokes a lot of misinformed opinions and whenever someone dies by suicide, it’s apparent that there are so many people who do not understand mental illness/suicide and don’t know how to show support.
Having someone come to you and tell you that they’re feeling suicidal is scary and it’s a lot of responsibility. What you say and do in regards to hearing this news is crucial, as it can either help the person who has come to you or push them away even further.
I’ve compiled a list of things not to say to someone who is suicidal, as well as some things you can say instead to make them feel more supported.
1. “Suicide is selfish”
To see suicide as selfish is to see someone who has depression as not really being ill. Placing blame on to the suicidal person completely diminishes their illness. You have to remember that a) somebody who is depressed or suicidal doesn’t choose to be, just as someone who has Cancer doesn’t choose to have Cancer. b) that most people who consider suicide, feel like they’re doing the people that love them a favour by not being here anymore and c) how would you feel if you were in insufferable pain every single day? Of course ending it all would cross your mind at some point.
2. “Suicide is the cowards way out”
Suicide isn’t cowardly or the easy way out by any means. It’s not something that a person decides in the right frame of mind and it’s certainly not an easy decision, if a decision at all.
3. “Your life isn’t that bad, other people have it worse”
It literally does not matter whether you think someone may have it worse! Mental illness doesn’t discriminate, it doesn’t pick people based on circumstance and not everyone copes in the same way. You also have NO idea what someone may be going through, especially when you’re quick to shut people down like that and invalidate their feelings.
4. “Just be positive”
I’d laugh at this little nugget if it hadn’t have been said to me at the worst possible times. If thinking positive was as easy as it sounds and you could just switch off thoughts of suicide, then trust me, everyone considering suicide would switch them off! No one enjoys feeling suicidal, it’s not a choice.
5. “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem”
God, I hate this one. I don’t know about everyone else but when I was suicidal and attempted suicide, I was looking for a permanent solution. That’s exactly what I wanted and people telling me that my depression was temporary when it was actually a very long term problem for me (4 years of being suicidal and then 9 years of therapy after my suicide attempt) just made me feel like everything I was doing in treatment was obviously not working.
6. “How could you leave me behind?”
They likely have been thinking about this already and have probably been enduring their suffering for as long as possible for their family. Saying this just puts more guilt and shame onto your loved one and does nothing to help their pain. Sure, they may stick around longer because you’ve guilted them into but do you really want that to be the reason they choose to live?
7. “You don’t really want to die, this is just a cry for attention”
If someone is brave enough to come to you about their suicidal thoughts, don’t dismiss them as attention-seeking, you have no idea how much they have been through and what it took for them to get to this point.
What to say instead…
“I’m glad you came to me, I’m here to listen with NO judgement”
Give them a safe space to talk and just listen to them while they speak. No cutting in, no judging them or dismissing their pain. They came to you for a good reason, so don’t give them a reason not to trust you with this.
“I acknowledge your pain, now what can I do to help?”
Reassuring them that their pain is valid and offering help is a great first step. They may already have in mind what they need from you before coming to you but if not, that’s okay, you can help them figure it out.
“Can I help take you to a doctor to get the right treatment?”
If someone is seriously considering suicide then there are treatments and different kinds of professional support available. Offer to take them to any appointments if they need someone supportive by their side and try to gently encourage them to seek professional treatment.
“What practical things can I do for you?”
Try and take some pressure off them by offering to help them do research, cooking and general things around their house. I know that when I was severely depressed, all the small things mounted up around me and it made my condition worse. Just having someone clean the kitchen or bring me a meal I didn’t have to cook myself would have meant the world.
Other things you can do for someone who is suicidal…
- Help them remove any objects that they may have discussed wanting to hurt themselves with.
- Learn more about suicide or any specific mental illness they may have been diagnosed with.
- Help them get outside if they’re struggling to go out alone.
- Remind them they can ALWAYS come to you.
If you think someone may be in immediate danger, call The Samaritans 116 123 (UK) or Lifeline 1-800-273-8255 (USA)