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5 Things Not to Say to Someone Who's Suicidal — and What to Say Instead

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All my life I’ve battled severe depression. On numerous occasions I’ve been suicidal. It’s a horrible thing for all involved. Here are some of the most unhelpful (and helpful!) things I’ve been told during these times.

1. Don’t tell me:God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.”

First off, you don’t know what my belief system is. Perhaps I don’t believe in God. Or maybe I do, but the pain does feel like more than I can handle. I’m the one dealing with it. I’m the one who has to wake up and face each day. If God dealt me this hand intentionally, it feels like he made a mistake — there are days I truly feel like I can’t deal with it. When you say something like that, it makes me feel ashamed.

Say instead: “I understand you might be thinking of suicideI will do everything in my power to get you the help you need.”

And then actually do it. Make calls to a doctor or my therapist. Take control of an out-of-control situation.

2. Don’t tell me: “Just think of your family. Aren’t your children and spouse enough?”

I love my family with all my heart. When I’m feeling suicidal, I actually think I would be sparing them the pain that is me. Saying something like this makes me feel guilty, but not better.

Say instead: “Your family loves you no matter how you feel inside.”

Talk to me about my family in general – What are the kids into? What do my husband and I enjoy doing together? Remove the guilt and focus on the positives.

3. Don’t tell me: “Things will be different tomorrow.”

You don’t know that — don’t tell me things that sound nice, but aren’t necessarily true. The truth is I might feel 100 times worse tomorrow.

Say instead: “Let’s take this a minute at a time.”

Instead of making false promises, remind me to live just one minute — or one second — at a time. Tell me while you don’t know what tomorrow will bring, you’ll always be there. Offer to sit with me and help pass the time. Let’s watch a movie or some other mind numbing activity. Every minute I stay is a step toward recovery.

4. Don’t tell me: “You’re being selfish.”

Wow. Just, wow. How is that helpful? A person who’s suicidal is in insurmountable pain. If wanting someone to notice me and sit by my side while I fight my inner demons is selfish, then so be it.

Say instead:I want to help you.” 

Tell me I’m not a burden to you or my friends and family. Tell me you’ll be with me every step of the way and really mean it. Ask me what they need.

5. Don’t tell me:Just snap out of it.”

The absolute worst thing to say ever. Depression is a very real medical diagnosis. Would you tell someone with cancer or diabetes to “snap out of it?” Believe me, if “snapping out of it” were a possible solution, I’d do it.

Say instead:I know what you’re going through is real.” 

If you’re feeling suicidal, reach out to friends, family or a doctor — someone to walk on the road to recovery with you. Get help when you need it. Don’t be afraid to reach out.

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

Originally published: December 18, 2015
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