"I'm going to kill myself."
"I have nothing to live for."
We see these words posted from time to time and our immediate response is to reach out and help. I have been amazed by the compassion, care and tenacity of Adisc to help its members through rough times in their lives.
It takes a lot of courage for a depressed or suicidal people to come forward and share these feelings. They can be genuinely scared that the person hearing these thoughts may not grasp how 'close to the edge' they really are, or that they will judged negatively. The first response is critical and can play a significant part in whether the person chooses to get help, or goes in the opposite direction. Just listening is probably the most important thing you can do, letting the person vent, and giving options of help available in IRL is preferable to thinking you will solve the crisis for the person.
There have been several threads recently where survivors have stated some of the things they found most offensive that were either said to them, or statements heard that represented a poor understanding of how to help a person in a crisis situation. I wanted to post some of these statements along with reasons why they may have an adverse effect on a depressed person.
You can't do it. You've got so much to live for.
It may appear to an outsider that that the person has everything, but the pain can lie underneath the material possessions. A mental health breakdown cannot be satisfied by material possessions or status. Depression does not distinguish income, gender, or talent and render them immune, especially if the cause is physiological. Just think of the high profile case of Robin Williams. It's something that can affect any one of us. This statement can also convey a sense of disbelief and not understanding.
You just have to pick yourself up by the bootstraps.
I think this would probably be the statement that most rankles the feathers of anyone who has suffered from depression, and deservedly so. It offers a simplistic response without providing any real help. It appears judgemental, and does nothing except make the person feel guilty and lazy. It avoids the complexities of what it takes to work through depression, and leaves the impression the depressed person is at fault for feeling this way and not doing anything to help themselves.
I assist people on social assistance who often get bashed with this statement. They are there after ending up unemployed at late stages in their lives, leaving domestic violence, or they are in groups that have high rates of unemployment and disabilities. I recall a real estate person saying to me "I used to discriminate against people on welfare. Today I'm on it." You can't judge others until you've walked a mile in their shoes.
Suicide is a cowardly act.
I think this statement offers no help except to add shame to an illness that requires treatment. In addition to dealing with low self esteem, situational crises, and an inability to see any positive changes ahead, the person has just been given a harmful label with this statement that he or she just doesn't have any courage.
Think of how your family would feel.
There's nothing wrong with talking to a person about their relationship with their family, but this can just add more guilt and negativity on top of how they're already feeling. In many cases, the person feels that they are a burden to their family and ending their life would be relieving them of that burden. Also, the family itself may be adding to the depression, and this could be seen as blaming the person by supporting a family who may not have been sensitive to the person's issues.
You think you've got it bad. Other people are a lot worse off/
Things could be a lot worse.
These statements is often made to give the perspective that there is always someone worse off. It doesn't matter! It's not a competition. Comparing them to someone else who is coping better will likely only worsen the person's sense of self worth. It's like comparing a person who lost his job to a person whose spouse just died, and summarizing that the second person is worse off. It doesn't change the fact the person lost his job and finds his own personal situation intolerable. It could also appear to be minimizing the depressed person's feelings since the other person's problems are seen to be more important.
Suicide is a selfish act.
Again, it is a judgemental statement and it just pours more guilt and shame on the person.
Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
I know this statement means well, but I've rarely seen a case where depression has been a short term problem. Even in a situational crisis, such as eviction, loss of employment, or loss of a loved one, the effects can be devastating and lead to a long term change in the quality of life, permanently altering the quality of life, income, and status of an individual. For younger people, even a breakup, or failing in school, can lead to a very depression, and young people, limited in their years, do not see these problems as temporary. Also, the word 'solution' still implies that suicide is a way to end the suffering, albeit not the best.
You keep talking about doing it, but you haven't done it.
What if you were to say "You keep talking about, but you haven't done it... yet?"
The fact is that many people who have been successful in committing suicide have made previous attempts, or threatened to do it often enough that people stopped taking the threat seriously. A statement worded this way can be seen as a challenge to a suicidal person to either do it or shut up. It can simply shut down communication. There could be alternative ways of addressing an ongoing threat, such as setting up rules and parameters, but this type of 'challenge' should be avoided.
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Adisc is a very diverse group so it is natural that we will provide different kinds of responses in these situations. I'm just posting this thread to offer some suggestions based on past threads and experiences. I wouldn't mind hearing people's thoughts on this, or other statements that could be added. I may put in a request to have an adapted version of it added to the Suicide Prevention Article.