In my darkest moments I realize I need help. The pit becomes too deep, too inviting and I am at risk of being lost. It isn't always easy to open the door and reach out to someone and ask for support through the darkness. Taking that step, feeling dependent on another, and the burden of verbalizing what is wrong when there is little energy left can be daunting and seem almost not worth the ordeal. When I grasp for someone's help there are some words and actions that push me further down into that pit, leaving me feeling hurt, angry, and more alone and the door shuts in my face as I no longer feel comfortable opening up to that person. When someone reaches out to you, that person is trusting you with their hurting soul. You never know when you may be the last person they reach out to, exhausted from the pain.
There are three things that I think we should never say in response to another when that person is hurting and seeking support. Such statements are very harmful and close the door to open communication and support as what is meant to help change someone's mood and thoughts instead dismisses and invalidates that person's experiences, feelings, and thoughts thereby creating the opposite intention and worsening the situation.
1. There Are People Worse Off
Sure, there's someone always going through something worse but that doesn't make the pain one is feeling any less deep. If such a statement is going to be productive and helpful for an individual, the individual needs to be the one to come to this realization. Coming to such a realization on one's own allows one to experience gratitude for their situation versus another, not necessarily increased happiness or reduced depression. Being told that others have it worse so be happy is just like telling someone be sad because others have it better than you. Regardless of the situation or the cause or expected length of it, it doesn't mean that person is going through any less of a deeply painful time. This ignores what the person is feeling and invalidates what they are experiencing as a bothersome, emotionally difficult moment.
2. You're Being Selfish
Selfishness is a subjective label. Actions that may be necessary can be bothersome to others resulting in others to feel that one is being selfish. For example, taking time for self care is absolutely necessary for everyone but does require limiting time for others and other activities which may be hurtful to another. Telling someone they are selfish for their feelings is not helpful, especially if that person is having suicidal ideation. It can be very difficult to appreciate the effects of one's actions on others when they are fighting depression. Labeling, judging, and insulting someone during such a difficult time is not what is going to get someone to change their mood. Listening, supporting, and helping find solutions is what will help an individual with emotional hurt. Try telling that person how you feel about him/her rather than calling that person selfish for their thoughts and feelings. If that person is talking to you about those thoughts and feelings, odds are that person isn't happy having those thoughts and feelings either but needs some help to get to a better, healthier, safer place emotionally.
3. That's a Cowards Way Out
When interacting with someone struggling with suicidal ideation, telling that person that their thoughts of suicide or death wish is cowardice isn't what is going to change their thoughts or decisions. Instead, it leaves the individual feeling judged and dismissed. No one likes to be judged and what is considered cowardice is subjective so that person may completely disagree. Such a statement sends a defeating, negative message to that individual, particularly including a message of decreased self worth and failure as a person - which only increases depressive feelings.
Listen to what that person is telling you. Most of the time when someone seeks support that person is just wanting someone to listen to them, not fix all their problems. Talking about our feelings allows us to process our thoughts and feelings so that we may work through an issue. It's very difficult to complete this process without someone to listen to us and listen to us as many times as it takes. We typically require talking it out more than once as each time we are able to sort through the pieces a bit more and learn something new about ourselves or make a step closer to resolution.
Try to understand what that person is feeling and going through in the moment. When we seek support, we want to be heard and understood. You don't have to agree with the person's feelings, just try to understand what they're experiencing. Empathizing also helps us feel a sense of belonging and in turn this helps us feel safer, less alone, and more apt to rediscover hope.
3. Don't Give Up On Them
Depression is exhausting and draining on the individual with depression but is also on others who are around someone with depression. The answers always appear clearer and easier to someone without depression. With depression, the mind becomes clouded with doubt and hopelessness and it isn't something that can be snapped out of quickly. Depression takes its time and will hold on for years if we let it. The individual needs to process and cope with the issue causing depression. It is much easier to do this though with support and help from others. Try not to become frustrated with the many ups and downs a depressed individual will go through as they sort through and begin to recover from the depression. Take some time for yourself so you're taking care of yourself as well.
If you or someone you know is depressed or at risk of suicide, please reach out.
Life isn't always easy but together we can survive it.