How can you help a friend who may be contemplating suicide?

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Content Notice: Talk about suicide and suicidal ideation

September is Suicide Awareness Month. If you suffer from depression and suicidal thoughts please know you are not alone. You are worthy. You deserve to be happy. You are loved.

There has been a lot of talk in the media recently about suicide after some high profile, seemingly happy and successful (whatever that word means) people took their own lives. Although it’s good to talk about mental health, it can also be triggering for many people who are already struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts:

How can people who seem to have it all fall victim to this debilitating mental illness? If someone who is successful, popular, rich, and well-loved can lose the battle with depression, what chance do I have?

The reality is, depression doesn’t discriminate, and we have no idea what’s going on inside other people’s minds. Often, it’s the people who seem the strongest that find it the hardest to ask for help. Vulnerable people do not always look vulnerable. It’s easy to believe that fame, professional success, wealth, or adoration can protect people from pain, but that is not true. Depression doesn’t care if you’re great at what you do. Mental illness doesn’t just affect those without opportunities and resources.

Depression is an effective liar – we don’t always feel capable of asking for help.

To better understand those of us with depression, you should know the kinds of thoughts that run through our minds. Depression can convince us that the world doesn’t need us here, that we’re a burden, that there’s no way we will overcome the pain we feel in that moment. Depression makes us feel like a failure. We are often ashamed to discuss the thoughts that go on in our heads. Depression tells us we are worthless and unloved. It convinces us no one cares; it tells us that no one would miss us if we died.

Depression, anxiety, and other disorders can completely warp one’s view of reality. What you might consider a minor mistake or a fleeting moment of human weakness are crimes that those battling these inner demons often can never forgive themselves for, let alone forget.

The honest truth is that living with depression is a constant battle, it’s exhausting, and there are times when we don’t have the strength to keep fighting. Sometimes, we don’t want to reach out and ask for help, or we don’t feel we are worthy of being saved.

How can we reach out to someone who may be struggling with suicidal thoughts?

If a friend isn’t able to open up about their struggles, how can we help them? If someone is too afraid or in too much pain to ask for help, what can we do?

The truth is that you can’t possibly know what’s going on in someone else’s head, so it makes it incredibly hard to know how to help. But, we can start by being kind to each other. Tell your loved ones how much they mean to you. Tell them how much you value their presence, how much you would miss them if they were gone. One kind word could make someone’s day or even save someone’s life.

For instance, if you notice something positive about someone, tell them. If you admire something about someone, tell them. But most importantly, if a friend reaches out to you for help, don’t judge them or disregard their pain and struggles just because they don’t appear to be struggling in a certain way. 

If you have a friend who has dropped out of your social circle or has been absent from social media for a prolonged period, call them and say “hi.” A few words from you could be enough to convince them they aren’t alone, they are loved, and they have a reason to live. You don’t even have to discuss mental health; talk about the weather or happy times together. Let your friend know you miss them.

How can we tell if someone may be suicidal?

Even if a loved one is unable to reach out for help, there are signs we can be aware of that could signal they are struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts. These include:.

  • Changes to their sleep patterns, either too much or too little
  • Lack of energy
  • No interest in their appearance or personal hygiene
  • Rapid weight changes
  • Alcohol or drug misuse
  • Withdrawing from society
  • Increased feelings of sadness, anger, hopelessness, and desperation
  • Sudden emotional outbursts

Keep your eyes open. Look for the signs in the people you love. You don’t necessarily have to understand their pain, but it’s helpful when you acknowledge it and remain available for them when they are at their worst. Let them know that no matter what they may think of themselves, they’ve got someone who won’t turn away.

To those struggling with suicide, you are not alone.

Recently, I read the following comment from a member of the public on a news article about a high profile suicide:

“Every time I hear of another suicide, I wonder why I keep fighting it.”

If you’re struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts, it doesn’t mean your path will have the same outcome as someone else that you may hear or read about. Just because you are having suicidal thoughts does not mean you have to, or will, act on them.

If you are reading this and you are feeling suicidal, please try to find the strength to reach out and ask for help. Talk to someone, whether that’s a friend, family member, partner or stranger. You deserve to be happy and things can and will get better. You won’t feel this bad forever. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness— quite the opposite, it shows great strength.

If you have a friend who you think is contemplating suicide, the best thing that you can do is be there for them, listen to them, and show them you care. Ultimately, you want to give the person a reason to live—a reason to fight—by showing that you care.

Jo Moss is a 43 year old ME/CFS, Fibromyalgia and Mental health awareness campaigner. She has battled with poor health all her life but has learnt a lot along the way. She uses her blog ‘A Journey through the Fog’ to try to help others who are also suffering and to raise awareness of invisible illnesses. She writes about all aspects of her health and aims to give practical advice about coping with a chronic illness, based on her own experiences. You can follow Jo on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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