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5 Things to Consider Before Sharing That 'Inspirational' Suicide Prevention Quote

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Sometimes the news isn’t as straightforward as it’s made to seem. Sarah Schuster, The Mighty’s mental health editor, explains what to keep in mind if you see this topic or similar stories in your newsfeed. This is The Mighty Takeaway.

When you’re supporting someone who’s suicidal, there aren’t magic words to make the pain go away. This means as supporters, we can only do the best we can. This might mean just helping someone get through a moment, staying with them until they feel safe, and then making sure they receive the support they need — whatever they need.

While we won’t always say the right thing, there are a few common phrases that — although on the surface, appear to be helpful — do more harm than good.

A picture going around on Twitter features one of these “helpful” quotes. It says, “Suicide doesn’t take the pain away. It passes it to someone else.” Although the phrase may seem harmless, or even helpful, here are some things you should keep in mind before sharing it in the name of suicide prevention.

1. Phrases like this can make people who are suicidal — or who have attempted suicide in the past — feel ashamed of their pain.

Although the pain suicide loss survivors feel after a loved one dies is real, valid and shouldn’t be taken lightly, saying the person who died “passed” the pain to someone else makes suicide sound selfish, or like passing pain was intentional. Although it’s heartbreaking when people die of other causes, we don’t claim that person “passed on” their pain to other people. People own their own pain, and people who are suicidal shouldn’t feel ashamed for wanting to get rid of it. We need to show people there are real ways to cope with and grow from pain — not tell them they need to live with it so others won’t suffer.

2. Guilt isn’t always a good motivator.

Some people say their children, partners or pets are what keep them going when they’re struggling with suicidal thoughts. That is more than OK. In tough moments, people need to hang on to whatever they can. If other people keep them going, that’s beautiful.

But that doesn’t mean we should be guilting people into staying alive. Guilt can’t replace support, resources and love — and thinking of others won’t work for everyone. Plus, many people truly believe people would be better off without them, so a quote like this wouldn’t resonate.

3. Even people who are suicidal deserve to live for themselves.

Twitter user @Layla_Rants shared a quote that sums this up really well:

Suicidal people deserve better than to be told the main reason they should’t end their life is because of how it might affect others. Suicidal people deserve love and help, not guilt trips. Suicidal people deserve to feel like their life is worth living, for their own sake. For their own happiness. For their own experiences. For their own possibilities. For their own future.

The Mighty’s news reporter Elizabeth Cassidy said in her personal experience, the advice “think about the people who love you” only left her feeling worse when she was struggling with suicidal thoughts. Even though friends and family had gotten her through dark moments, it ultimately made her feel resentful towards the people she cared about, like they were keeping her in pain when she wanted relief.

“Because of my previous attempt, I know how people would react. So, yes, it has prevented more attempts, but this mentality hasn’t helped me feel better or given me a productive reason to stay alive,” she said. “If people really want to help me, they should help me identify internal reasons why I should stay alive — not reasons based on others’ emotions.”

4. “Perceived burdensomeness” actually increases the risk of suicide.

Telling someone taking their own life will pass along pain might actually have the opposite intended effect. According to the Interpersonal-Psychological Theory of Suicidal Behavior, feeling like a burden is one of the psychological states that increases someone’s risk of attempting suicide.

If people truly feel they’re a burden to other people, putting more weight on that burden — telling them they have to stay for others — doesn’t get them closer to seeking help or finding peace. Let’s help people who are suicidal heal from pain, not make them responsible for the pain of others. They may feel they’re not up for the task, or truly believe death is a better outcome — even though that couldn’t be further from the truth.

5. People who are suicidal need real solutions.

No two people who struggle with suicidal thoughts are going to be the same. Some might find relief from medical intervention, like getting a diagnosis or starting a medication. Some might need help getting out of an abusive or toxic situation. Others may be healing from childhood trauma, and need skills for what might be a lifelong journey.

No matter who they are or what brought them to this place, people who are suicidal need real solutions. They need to know there is help and hope. They don’t need guilt. They don’t need to feel burdened by the potential, future pain of others. They need to know they’ll be OK — and that the people in their lives are there for them. They need to find their own reasons to stay.

Originally published: July 12, 2018
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