If you have a loved one who suffers from major depressive or bipolar disorder, anxiety, BPD, PTSD, c-PTSD etc., and they may even be suicidal or have suicidal ideation, I have compiled a list of things said to me by well-meaning loved ones who sought only to support me. With their words, I was left feeling even worse than I already did. So, I’m giving mere suggestions here in this blog post, based on my own personal experience.
IMPORTANT Disclaimer: I have always known that every person who has ever said any of the bullet pointed list (below) to me, cares about me and just wants me to be safe and healthy. I also realize other key elements — it’s incredibly uncomfortable, painful and challenging for people to bear witness to someone who’s severely depressed and then, to know how to respond. I NEVER FORGET or invalidate someone else’s feelings on this hard and tricky subject. It’s tough stuff.
Here are some of my suggestions on what not to say to a depressed, anxious and/or suicidal person:
- But you have so much to live for!
- Do you have any idea what killing yourself would do to me and everyone who loves you?
- How could you even think of doing that to your kids?
- What’s wrong with you?
- You could have it so much worse. Look at what’s happening all over the world.
- Somebody always has it worse than you do.
- You have so many gifts and talents. How can you forget that and throw them all away?
- Just think positive!
- Why are you being so negative?
- It’ll all work out!
- Suicide is selfish.
- Just calm down.
- You need to focus on other things.
- Why are you this way? There is no reason you should feel this way.
- Get over it.
- It’s been so many years since you’ve had trauma. Isn’t it time to get past it?
- Just go shopping. Shopping helps.
Seriously, it’s not helpful, I promise. For the afflicted person, the above mentioned words can fuel a nasty shame spiral. Your loved one may not even be able to move while in such a fragile and exhausting state. They may hear what you’re saying but may go immediately to being ashamed that they’re NOT “positive,” “calm,” “appreciating what they have,” etc. There’s also a strong chance that the sufferer is well aware of those who love them, their gifts and talents, world events, etc. Human beings can be depressed/anxious/suicidal while simultaneously knowing all these things. In fact, the person suffering may not understand (while very frustrated) how or why they are in such a bad state; emotionally, mentally and even physically.
2nd IMPORTANT Disclaimer: I am not suicidal. If you’re thinking that, no need to think any further. I’m writing this post exclusively to help others.
3rd IMPORTANT Disclaimer: As someone who has a lot of experience with depressed/suicidal loved ones, (outside of myself,) there’s no judgement here. Oftentimes and really, almost always, I myself feel awkward and don’t know exactly how to help another person who’s struggling. I do try, however, not to say the stuff I just mentioned above.
Here are some words/phrases that have helped or might have helped me in the past:
- I love you no matter what.
- As much as we want it to, trauma doesn’t just go away. It pops up from time to time and maybe always will. I will be with you when it pops up and I’ll be there when it’s dormant.
- I didn’t really have much understanding of the impact of trauma until I experienced my reaction to the:
- Polarizing conflicts in our society; political and otherwise
- ^^^^ All of the above^^^^
- Now, I think I have a better understanding of what trauma after effects feel like.
- ^^^^ All of the above^^^^
- Is there anything that helps you when you feel like this?
- I don’t know what to do but if there’s anything I can do, just know I’m here for you.
- I love you and will stay here with you. I am in your corner when you feel shitty and when you feel good… Why don’t I hang here until we both know you are safe?
- I don’t know what to say or how to help you, but here I am, with you, period. I’m not going anywhere.
- I’m going to share some stuff about me…
- Let’s go get some extra help. I am going to be with you and advocate for you until you can advocate for yourself.
- There’s no shame in what you’re feeling/experiencing.
- I love you no matter what. <– I have this one twice, on purpose.
Whether you take these suggestions or not, I urge you to challenge your own biases where mental illness is concerned. As you read this, you may be thinking you’re not biased. If this is actually true, you’re amazing. I can tell you that though I am afflicted myself, I have my own biases where mental illness is concerned, in fact, I often shudder when the subject of mental illness comes up. (Mostly my own.) I do, however, try to follow the guidelines I’ve learned from my own experience.
I hope there’s something in this post that helps at least one reader. In any case, I humbly ask that we try to choose our approach and our words very thoughtfully before we say something to someone who is suffering from the toughest of scrapes. You may very well play a role in helping them get the help they need as they venture into recovery.
Thank you for reading and to all who have been there for me as I struggled, no matter your approach or your words, I thank you and I love you for it.