Sadly suicide is in the public discourse right now. The suicides of public personalities Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain have shocked many. Don’t underestimate the pain. They probably didn’t want to die. What they probably wanted was to escape the pain they felt inside. Sadder still is that they aren’t the only ones who thought about or committed suicide recently.
If one has never suffered from depression or suicidal thoughts, it can be an incomprehensible foreign concept. It’s easy to underestimate the pain. Depression so great that your life is not worth living is worse than a dark cloud, it’s a thick, suffocating blanket of anguish with no end in sight.
WHAT MAY BE HURTFUL
The phrase ‘it’s lying to you’ is going around right now as a way to reassure someone who’s depressed. It’s too simple. Depression is insidious. It’s full of shaming, denigrating, harmful self-talk that is often cloaked in the truth. A chronic illness can be so painful you’d do anything to stop the pain. An addiction can be so overwhelming that it destroys the choices, the life he or she wanted to live. Don’t underestimate the pain that person feels inside. Telling a depressed person that depression lies to them, may devalue their pain. It may reinforce negative feelings. Their feelings that no one understands, that no one will ever understand and that there will never be any relief are real.
Depression, especially when there are thoughts of suicide, is an expression of severe pain. Don’t tell them that life isn’t that bad, you have no idea how deep their pain is. Don’t make their depression or thoughts of suicide about how you or anyone else will feel. Don’t try to guilt trip them. Don’t dismiss their pain with the ‘this is temporary’ line.
WHAT MAY HELP
So what do you say to someone who is depressed or suicidal? First, don’t panic. Don’t call 911 unless the person has taken an overdose or is in imminent danger. Think. What would you tell someone who disclosed they have cancer? It’s okay to say you’re scared by the possibility of them dying. But set those feelings aside for the moment. Don’t ask them what they need. They may not know. Say “I am here for you and I’m not going away.” And mean it.
Listen to what he or she says. Listening is hard when someone is in pain. Don’t guess at or underestimate their pain. Let them tell you their story. Be realistic and supportive when you respond. “I don’t know when you’ll feel better.” “I don’t know how to help you but that doesn’t mean I’m going away.” If they ask for help, offer to dial the Suicide Prevention Lifeline number for them. Then stay with them while they talk.
By listening, by staying with the depressed or suicidal person, you are showing them that they are worthwhile. Every person matters. Listening makes a difference. Being present matters.
If you are depressed, don’t underestimate the pain. Don’t wait until you’re suicidal. Please pick up the phone. Call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline toll-free at 1-800-273-8255. Or tweet The Lifeline @800273TALK. Reach out to someone.
Suicide and depression are scary. Sharing painful feelings and thoughts is scary. Take it one step at a time. Don’t underestimate the pain. Reach out to your friends and family. Tell them they matter. Know that YOU matter.