Suicide. Does the word make you want to look away? Most people are uncomfortable discussing it, and even more to be faced with it. We hope you never need the tools being provided here, but part of suicide prevention is making sure we all have the tools in the box.
When a friend is going through a hard time, we want to help. We want to be able to smooth things over and fix things for them. When someone admits something as serious as considering suicide, our instinct may be to panic, or to deny what they are saying. That is a very real and human response.
When faced with someone who is telling us they are considering suicide, we might think there is nothing we can do wrong as long as we do something. There is truth to that, but we can ensure that the interaction goes in a more helpful direction by being more aware of the right and wrong things to say.
If someone expresses to you that they are going through a really hard time, that they feel that there is no hope, or that they have thought about ending it all, here is what not to say, and what to say instead:
What not to say:
- People have it worse than you
- This may be technically true, but it is irrelevant. Pain is not comparable, and by saying this, we are only telling them that in addition to their pain, they should also feel guilty for feeling this way.
- You need help
- This may feel like an important solution, and it is probably coming from the most well intentioned place in our heart, but it is more important to recognize that our friend doesn’t need our solutions. They need our ear. That help will only heal them if they come to the conclusion that they need it on their own.
- Stay positive
- The pain our friend is going through does not have a quick fix. When someone has a bad day, staying positive might help to change their perspective. When someone is feeling suicidal, they are experiencing a facet of mental illness, they are feeling hopeless. Staying positive is completely out of reach.
- I know how you feel
- Maybe we too once felt suicidal. Surely, we know the feeling of being sad, even of feeling hopeless. But we are not them, we do not have their exact genetic make-up, life circumstances, and most importantly – we don’t know their pain the way they do. We don’t want to invalidate their pain by telling them we know it.
- Snap out of it
- We all have felt anxious or afraid, and have had someone tell us to just stop worrying. At worst, this is destructive, and at best, this is extremely hurtful. If someone has opened up to us about their suicidal ideation, they are being vulnerable and brave. A response like this could lead them to believe their feelings are a burden.
- It will get better
- As much as we may believe this, and as much as we want to reassure them, we can’t make false promises. We don’t know this for fact. There may be an array of life circumstances that will continue to make their life difficult. But they still deserve to allow themselves to live.
- You don’t seem sad
- Stereotypes would lead us to believe that anyone who is feeling suicidal would wear the signs all over. To the contrary, many of those who have lost their lives to suicide showed the world a happy, successful, easy-going external. It doesn’t matter how they seem. If someone tells us they are feeling suicidal, we need to believe them.
You may be wondering now if anything is okay to say. The key is to not worry about fixing the situation, about offering solutions, or saving the day. What to say is much more simple, and requires you to only stay present and be a willing listener.
What to say:
- I am here for you
- Do you want to talk about it?
- Do you have a plan?
- I’m here to listen, you can say anything
- How can I be there for you?
- Are you having thoughts of suicide?
- Thank you for sharing that with me
The Gelt Charitable Foundation provides affordable and accessible world-class suicide prevention and mental wellness education. To learn more about bringing one of their workshops to your community, visit geltcharitable.foundation/mentalhealth.
The Gelt Charitable Foundation is funded by Gelt Financial: https://geltfinancial.com/.