This might seem like a really heavy topic, but that’s why it’s important to talk about. If your friend called you expressing that they were suicidal, would you know what to say to them? The topic of suicide has the burden of misconceptions attached to it meaning that people develop misinformed opinions because they just don’t understand mental health or how someone could feel that way.
If someone ever does come to you saying that they are suicidal, it’s going to be scary no matter how prepared you are especially if it’s someone you care about deeply. The important thing is to stay calm and make sure they feel listened to. Acknowledge their feelings and do not say these things.
1. “It’s The Easy Way Out”
Let’s just get this straight, suicide isn’t the “easy way out” for anyone. It’s a stressful and hurtful decision for the person making it, that is if it’s a decision at all. Often people feel as if it’s the only option they have. This often happens at the lowest point of someones illness so they aren’t in a good state of mind.
2. “You’re Being Selfish”
This is a very dismissive statement. You might as well be telling the person that their illness doesn’t exist. This person hasn’t CHOSEN to be ill and definitely aren’t acting with selfish intent. Most people who are suicidal believe they’d be doing their loved ones a favour by taking that step, so this is definitely not the right thing to say.
3. “You’re Doing This For Attention”
Another dismissive statement. This, even more so, feels like you’re telling someone that their illness doesn’t exist. If someone has mustered up the courage to talk to you about their illness I urge you not to be dismissive about it, listen to them and even if you don’t understand at least tell them you’ll always be there.
4. “It’s Not All Bad”
Here’s the truth. It is for them. Or at least they feel like it’s all bad in their state of mind. Or they feel as if the world would be a better place without them. Mental illness has no mercy and can hit anyone at any time no matter how great their lives seem from the outside. Don’t invalidate their feelings because you think they have it good.
5. “Can’t You Just Be Positive?”
No. No they can’t. This is often a go to phrase for people because they don’t know how to respond. They’ll tell you about the “positive” things in your life and hope it helps. It doesn’t. It’s not easy to turn off the suicidal feelings, it won’t happen because someone has told them to be positive and it won’t happen overnight. They will feel unheard and unsatisfied if you say something like this, despite reaching out for help.
There are things that I would recommend saying to someone who has confided their feelings to you in this manner, as stated above make sure that the person feels listened to and appreciated.
1. “I’m Sorry You Feel That Way, What Can I Do To Help?”
I’ll be honest, there probably isn’t much you can do, however the overall thought of someone genuinely being there and listening to them will help reassure them that they aren’t being a burden. Even if they don’t have anything in mind, you can help them get more professional help.
2. “Thank You For Sharing, I’m Here For You”
Be a safe space for them. If they have come to you it’s very likely that you are a comforting presence in their lives, and this will validate that. Let them talk, no interuptions. Let them trust you, even if you don’t know what to say.
3. “Do You Want Help Cleaning/Shopping etc?”
Taking the burden of a mundane task away from the person might take one weight off their shoulders. I know things like cleaning and shopping can be a huge worry when someone is severely mentally ill so something as small as that can do the world of good.
Other Things You Can Do To Help
- Do your research! The more you know, the more you can help.
- Help them remove objects they have thought about hurting themselves with from their homes.
- Encourage them to leave the house, sometimes going outside can help so much!
- Keep in touch. They might not think to phone you, but you can phone them.
- Suggest therapy! They might not have thought of it. You can even get online psychiatry from Betterhelp. There is a brilliant article they wrote here: https://www.betterhelp.com/advice/psychologists/is-online-psychiatry-effective/
If you’re expriencing suicidal thoughts, you aren’t alone. There are numbers you can call. In the UK you can call the Samaritans on 116 123 and in America you can phone Lifeline on 1-800-273-8225
If you want to read more articles on Mental Health you can find one here: https://jodiepaterson.com/2017/07/16/living-with-depression/