Do you know someone who has been struggling with suicide or depression? If they are thinking about suicide or has attempted it, you want to know what to say to your friend, but nothing seems quite right. I’m not a professional, but here’s a list of things I’ve learned, personally, from battling depression and suicide attempts.
*Please don’t make the mistake of assuming all depression cases are the same and can therefore be treated the same. These are just a few things I think might be helpful when dealing with the topic of suicide or depression.
9 Things Not to Say to a Suicidal Person or Someone with Depression
1. I know exactly how you feel.
Every scenario is different. Two people can have the exact same experience at the exact same age in the exact same way and handle it differently. This statement doesn’t offer any help—it just assumes what we’re experiencing is common, and we shouldn’t make a big deal about it. A great thing to say instead could be, “I have no idea what you’re going through, and I can’t imagine how hard it is, but I’m going to go through it with you and I’m so sorry you’re hurting.” The only person who knows how we feel? God. I know my view of my depression changed once I realized that God wasn’t disappointed with my depression or even judging me for it; instead He weeps with me. He grieves with me.
2. Just promise me you won’t kill yourself.
Many people say this with the best intentions, but it’s important to understand how it’s received. When you say this what we hear is “I don’t care if you get better; just don’t kill yourself because that will make ME feel bad about it.” This doesn’t make us feel like you care. Instead of putting the focus on “not dying,” help people who are struggling find things they want to LIVE for.
3. Do this; it worked for me.
Depression isn’t a one-size-fits-all struggle—it has many faces. That’s why it’s so hard to talk about. Simply reading the Gospel more and a solid prayer session might help some people, while others need medicine and counseling. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t encourage us to try different remedies, just be careful not to put all expectations into one solution.
4. You have a mental disability.
This one is personal for me, and I can’t imagine that I’m alone. On my first attempt to get help, I went to a doctor’s office, and said I wanted help with depression. She said, “We don’t work with mental patients.” This confirmed all of the thoughts in my head. I must be a freak. I was so humiliated. When you’re depressed, it is SOOOOO HARD to finally open up and ask for help—especially with the stigma of mental illness. Compassion and sensitivity isn’t a handicap, it’s a gift; treat it as such. Sometimes this gift requires medication for us to be able to use it to its full potential, and sometimes it requires extra help through counseling—and that’s okay. Treat your friends with depression like they need help harnessing their super power, not curing their handicap.
5. You should go do this (by yourself).
Acquaintances say, “Go see a doctor,” whereas friends say, “LET’S go see a doctor.” God has given us the church body to love and support one another, so what does that look like with depression? Why send someone who feels alone to get help, alone? Take ownership over the hearts of those closest to you! Love them with your lives, not just your words. If you’re going to fail in helping someone with depression, fail trying, not spectating. I know for a while I locked myself in my room and didn’t eat for days at a time. The truth is, suicides typically don’t happen in crowds. If the door is locked, break it down. Be present.
6. Suicide is the most selfish thing you can do.
This one gets me. I’ve been told this a lot. I attempted suicide and was told this in the hospital while having my stomach cleaned out from all the Percocet and aspirin. It blows my mind how, in my lowest moment, people tried to shame me. I just tried to kill myself and their takeaway? It was an inconvenience, and I was selfish. For many people, the depression they’re fighting is a result of the selfishness of those around them. Do you have any idea how hard it is to actually take your own life? How insane you have to be to be able to hurt yourself to a point where there’s no return? How much it sucks to think of death and get an overwhelming feeling of peace? A person on the edge isn’t thinking about themselves or others; they’re just simply not thinking. That’s what depression does to you. It steals your logic and your joy and leaves you with demons that no one has the strength to fight alone. Before calling it selfish, try being selfless and fighting for the person who’s struggling.
7. There are a lot of people who have it worse than you.
We have this faulty notion that offering up a stark comparison will bring helpful perspective, but that’s a lie. Don’t look down on someone because you THINK you’ve been through something worse. I have seen families in third world countries who love each other in ways I’ve never experience, and I’ve also seen wealthy people literally tear up about their own emptiness. Everyone’s worst day is their worst day. There are no levels of tragedy, only levels of pain.
8. Happiness is a choice.
No it’s not. This would mean you could either control the events around you, or you can turn off your emotions whenever you want. While diamonds may be cleaned with warm water and a soft rag—they’re formed with fire and pressure. We grow through the hard times more than we ever could through the easy ones. One of the things I love about Jesus—He was authentic and compassionate. When He heard Lazarus was dead, “Jesus wept.” Think about that. He knew He was going to raise Him from the dead, but seeing those around Him grieve affected Him so much that it brought Jesus to tears. Telling someone happiness is a choice just isn’t true. In fact, if we skip passed our pain and grief, we miss out on an opportunity for God to comfort us.
9. You just need to fix it.
I’m about to contradict everything you’ve ever learned from culture–ready? You don’t have the power to fix your weaknesses… only Jesus does. Stop putting the pressure on yourself for something only God can achieve. Depression is too big to battle alone. God will give us more than we can handle, but He’ll never ask us to handle it alone. Yes, you can start exercising and eating better and making new friends and all of these things might help for a moment, but they won’t heal the root problem. You need Jesus. He’s the only thing that sustains.
Call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline for immediate help.