You have noticed that someone you care about is withdrawn, sad, and seems weighed down by something. They are not engaged in life – it’s like they are not there anymore. You are worried and wonder what is happening.
It is possible that your friend or loved one is depressed, and may be suicidal. What you have noticed are possible warning signs, and you are right to feel concerned. But what do you do next?
The answer is simple: talk to them.
It is natural to feel uncomfortable or scared when asking someone about depression and suicide. Be brave. Asking someone about their well being is a sincere and powerful sign that you care — something people struggling with suicide need to hear. When you reach out, you also offer them relief from isolation and the opportunity to talk, an important way to release bad feelings.
HERE ARE SOME WAYS TO START A CONVERSATION ABOUT SUICIDE, FROM HELPGUIDE.ORG
“I have been feeling concerned about you lately.”
“I have noticed some differences in you recently and wondered how you are doing.”
“I wanted to check in with you because you haven’t seemed yourself lately.”
QUESTIONS YOU CAN ASK
“When did you begin feeling like this?”
“Did something happen that made you start feeling this way?”
“How can I best support you right now?”
“Have you thought about getting help?”
WHAT YOU CAN SAY THAT HELPS
“You are not alone in this. I’m here for you.”
“You may not believe it now, but the way you’re feeling can change.”
“I may not be able to understand exactly how you feel, but I care about you and want to help.”
“When you want to give up, tell yourself you will hold off for just one more day, hour, minute—whatever you can manage.”
When speaking to a person you suspect is suicidal, how you approach the situation is also important. Here are a few helpful tips adapted from metanoia.org:
Just be there
Let the person know you care, that he or she is not alone. The right words are often unimportant. If you are concerned, your voice and manner will show it.
Be sympathetic, non-judgmental, patient, calm, accepting.Your friend or family member is doing the right thing by talking about his/her feelings. Listen to them.
It is okay to say, “I don’t know what to say, but I am here for you.” Unless you have struggled with depression and suicide, do not say, “I know how you feel.”
Reassure the person that help is available and that the suicidal feelings are temporary. Let the person know that his or her life is important to you.
Take it seriously
If the person says things like, “I’m so depressed, I can’t go on,” ask the question: “Are you having thoughts of suicide?” You are not putting ideas in their head, you are showing that you are concerned, that you take them seriously, and that it’s okay for them to share their pain with you.
Argue or debate
Avoid saying things like: “You have so much to live for,” “Your suicide will hurt your family,” or “Look on the bright side.”
Do not act shocked, lecture the person on the value of life, or say that suicide is wrong.
Refuse to be sworn to secrecy. A life is at stake and you may need to speak to a mental health professional in order to keep the suicidal person safe. If you promise to keep your discussions secret, you may have to break your word.
Try to fix it
Do not offer ways to fix their problems, give advice, or make them feel like they have to justify their suicidal feelings. It is not a problem to be solved — it’s how badly your friend or loved one is hurting.
You can’t fix someone’s depression. Your loved one’s happiness, or lack thereof, is not your responsibility.
If someone you care about is suicidal, talk to them, and encourage them to seek professional help. Counselors and psychologists have the training and knowledge to help people suffering from depression and suicidal thoughts.