When Someone Tells You They Are Suicidal
You’ve probably heard it said, “There are two ways to respond in any situation: either in fear or in love.” If we are honest with ourselves, we can usually identify which feeling is motivating our response.
Imagine someone you love tells you they want to die. What emotion rises up in you? It is a scary scenario for sure. So how would you respond? Most of our reactions will originate in fear, unless we take the time to think and intentionally respond in love.
In this article, We want to highlight some commonly heard responses and point out the potential harm that can come from those. And hopefully we will prepare you to respond in love if you’re ever in this situation with a person who is suicidal.
Here’s Our Best List of What NOT To Say:
“Don’t you know that I would be devastated?” Or “How could you do that to me?”
Although this is a very natural response, heaping guilt upon someone who already feels guilt and shame can make the situation worse. Be aware that it may actually compound their pain and push them further into their depression.
Someone who is experiencing excruciating pain wants to escape it. A person who is suicidal most likely does not want to hurt anyone they love. They probably are devastated by the thought of it, but they just want their own pain to stop.
“You’re just looking for attention.”
Yes. Yes, they are. Please give them the attention they need and do not shame them for looking for it. They may be scared that they might carry out their plans, scared of the intensity of the pain, or scared that no one will understand. They may not know how to properly ask for what they need, but please do give them supportive attention without shaming them for needing it.
“You have so much to live for.” Or “Your life is not that bad.”
These responses convey a lack of understanding.
It is not necessarily about the problems they are facing. Rather, it is about the pain they are feeling. So acknowledge their pain, even if you do not think it is as bad as someone else’s. Imagine this: You and I are both mugged. You get stabbed in the leg and I get stabbed in the chest. Even though my injury is life-threatening and yours is not, we are both still in pain. I cannot tell you that you are not in pain because my injury is more serious. Be careful not to compare pain. If it hurts, it hurts. The circumstance is not the issue, the pain they are experiencing is the issue. So, focus on validating the fact that their pain is hurting them so badly that they want to die.
“Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.”
We hear this a lot and see it in memes online, and it brings two things to mind:
First, let’s not refer to suicide as a “solution”
And second, many people have lifelong struggles with depression, bipolar disorder, and borderline personality disorders. These are not actually “temporary” problems. People who suffer with these illnesses must learn to function in the world with their brokenness. Be aware that their struggle with mental illness may not, in fact, be temporary. So with compassion, be aware that some people may struggle for a long time. You can help them live a fulfilling life by being a consistent support and a loyal friend.
“You have your whole life ahead of you.”
To you, this may be a hopeful thought. But think about this for a moment: for someone who is struggling to get through today without hurting themselves, the thought of having to do this for a whole lifetime is horrible. Instead, you might say, “You will not always feel the way you do today. I will help you get through this.”
This list is based upon things people have told us over the years, our own research, and frankly, our own opinions. If you have something to add to our list, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to hear from you! And you might be thinking, then tell me what I should say! Well, we already wrote that article. You can read it here.
Thanks for caring about people. You’re awesome.
Written by: Kerry D’Ortenzio