Suicide is a complex and serious issue that affects millions of people worldwide. It’s a leading cause of death, and the impact of suicide can be devastating for families, friends, and communities. As a society, our views on society are shifting and we’re having more conversations about it than ever before. Still, some of our well-intentioned comments can be harmful and even dangerous for people who are suicidal or those who struggle with suicidal ideation. Here are some common things people say that we should never say to suicidal people.
Things aren’t that bad
It can seem like the obvious move to shift a suicidal person’s perception and help them see that things are not as bad as they seem. All this does is invalidate the person’s pain and can even make them feel lonelier and unheard. Things may not seem that bad to you but they do to them and that’s their reality. That’s what matters.
Closely related to this is the statement, ‘other people have it worse.’ This one also invalidates the person’s feelings and experiences. It doesn’t matter how badly others are suffering, when you’re suffering you feel it regardless. All that statement does is guilt and shame someone for what they’re dealing with.
A related one you shouldn’t say is ‘but your life is so good.’ Suicide is complicated. It may look from the outside like their lives are good or it’s not that bad, but their experience is different. Reminding them of all the reasons why their lives are good will not work to make them feel better. It may feel like you’re minimizing and invalidating their experience.
You’re being dramatic or overreacting
Telling someone who is suicidal that they’re being dramatic, or overreacting is dismissive and minimizes their distress. You are not experiencing the despair they’re feeling so you don’t get to invalidate their experience like that.
You’re just being desperate for attention
This is an incredibly common response when people express suicidal thoughts or ideation. They are immediately branded attention seekers. The reason this one is so pernicious is because of the tiny kernel of truth it may hold. Maybe someone is indeed looking for attention in a desperate cry for help. That’s a good thing.
Another related one that’s far more vicious is, ‘you’re not serious, if you were, you’d be doing it not talking about it.’ This is beyond insensitive. You don’t what they’re feeling so refrain from kicking them while they’re down. It also just telegraphs to the person that you don’t care which can only push them further off the edge.
Just ignore the thoughts they’ll go away
Ignoring thoughts does not work. It also does not address the problems that could have brought the person to that point.
Suicide is wrong or sinful or stupid
Suicide may very well be wrong and a sin according to your beliefs, still, this is not the time to bring that up. What you need to do when someone talks to you about being suicidal is to listen to them and find ways to help them, not further judge them for how they’re feeling. Other related statements that just shame and guilt people in the same vein include ‘how could you even think of that?’ Related is ‘are you going to do something stupid?’ There’s nothing stupid about struggling with a mental illness.
Suicide is a temporary solution to a temporary problem
Technically, this may be true, but when you’re feeling trapped and depressed, the problems don’t appear temporary and yes, people sometimes desperately want it to stop even if it’s a permanent solution.
How could you be so selfish?
Our society is somehow convinced that people who die by suicide are selfish. How? When depression is so intolerable, so debilitating that people feel the only way out is for them to no longer exist. They usually try and hold on as long as they can. What’s more, many suicidal people believe their loved ones would be better off without them making it the farthest thing from selfish.
You’re too depressing to be around
All you’re doing with this statement is affirming their feelings of worthlessness and confirming that people’s lives will be better without them.
These statements can be especially damaging when said to someone who has gathered all their courage and revealed to you something that this society considers shameful only for you to dismiss and invalidate their painful experience.
How to support them
Say “I’m glad you told me,” and thank them for trusting you with something so serious, so personal. Recognize what it must have taken for them to share.
Take them seriously. If someone says they have suicidal thoughts take them very seriously. Listen to them to get an understanding of what they’re thinking, and where they’re at. Say, “tell me more about how you’ve been feeling.” Ask how frequently they have those thoughts and whether or not they’re getting worse
Let them know that they are not alone. Tell them they are not weak or selfish for thinking and feeling the way they do.
Whatever you do, don’t threaten to call the police or any other authorities on them. You can talk about getting them professional help but no threats.
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