When you see a person who is deeply depressed, often you do not know what to do. Sometimes you try to give a word of encouragement. You hope that it will help the person or at least make you feel better about things.
When I was suicidal in my depression, there were things that were said that were supposed to help me feel better, but they didn't. They didn't help because they were bad, but because they were too simple. Life with depression and suicidal thoughts was not to be fixed simply.
I do not write this to make you feel bad about trying to encourage someone, but to show that sometimes a suicidal person needs more than a quick or simplistic statement.
Here are 10 simple statements that didn't help me in the middle of my suicidal depression:
- "Read this helpful book."
- In my depression, my mind was not even able to read. I would try to read something, and at the end of the page I had no idea what I just read. A book given by another was a nice gesture, but the gesture implied to me that the book was going to make me better. Reading a book would not help a chemical imbalance in my brain.
- Instead: Tell me a story from your life of how the book helped you. Help me go to the doctor, get medications, see a counselor. Be real with me.
- Prayer is a good thing, but the way that I needed prayers answered was by me getting practical help through medications, counseling, etc... not by God just zapping me into being happy again. Saying that praying would make everything better was telling me that I was not a spiritual enough person. It made me think that if I prayed and didn't get better, then God must hate me too, as much as I hated myself.
- Instead: Pray for me yourself, whether on your own or a short prayer when you are with me.
- This comment reinforced my resolve at the time to eat as little as possible. Also, commenting on my outside said to me that there was no understanding of what was on the inside. And on the inside was a deep hatred for myself and life.
- Instead: See me as beautiful no matter what I look like on the outside. Tell me something beautiful that you see in my character.
- There was some good in the world, but I was overwhelmed by the incredible amount of bad that was not going away. I had tunnel vision focused on the bad. Why would I want to live in such a world?
- Instead: Create a little good in the world yourself. Be a friend to me. Put yourself in my tunnel vision with little kindnesses and love.
- Yes, I am a believer in Jesus and knew that I was going to go to heaven when I died, but why would a future hope make me want to stay alive when I was depressed? It actually made me want to die so that I could be home with God.
- Instead: Tell me stories of your hope for living each day. Let me learn new skills to cope with the hard things in life so that I will have hope that I am able to get through.
- There was no guarantee that things would get better. When this was said to me, I just thought that the person was naive and couldn't see the real world around them. I could see plenty of situations that never got better. My pain was so great that I knew I could not take it long enough for things to get better.
- Instead: Be honest about life, and understand how hard life is for me. Sympathize.
- I thought that other people must have been stronger than I was. Just because a certain person did something didn't mean that I could do it too. Hearing that others had made it through made me feel worse about myself because I didn't believe I could do it.
- Instead: Have someone who has come out the other side of depression actually talk to me so that I can see in-person that it is possible to make it through.
- If I was not alone in my suicidal thoughts and struggle, then there was even less hope. If other people were going through the same horrible things that I was and feeling the same hopelessness, then that proved to me that things were even worse in the world than I thought. Maybe we should just all die.
- Instead: Let me know that I am not a bad person for feeling what I am feeling. Help me find a support group or something similar where there is an emphasis on healing.
- To me, nothing seemed worth living for. I had tried all the things that I believed were worth living for, and they didn't work out. I thought that nothing worth living for would work out or was worth the pain of continuing on.
- Instead: Help me learn the tools that can help me make a life worth living so that I can get past the struggle to see what is worth living for.
- This actually made me mad when I wanted to die. I was mad at the people that loved me because they were holding me back from what I wanted, and that was to die. I believed them to be selfish because they wanted me to continue to live with the unbearable depression. They should understand that I needed relief and let me go.
- Instead: Show me, don't just tell me, that I am loved no matter what I am going through by your actions, a hug, a personal note, a kind look. Keep loving me even if I don't want it.
Suicidal depression is not a simple mental illness, so it needs more that simple fixes. Instead of simple statements, in my depression and suicidal state I needed actions. I needed proof of what you were saying and of your caring and love.