World Mental Health Day is held every year on October 10 with the intention of creating a better understanding of mental health disorders. The theme of World Mental Health Day 2019 is “Working together to prevent suicide.” In recent times, suicides have grown by epidemic proportions. Identifying signs and timely help can save lives. Sadly, mental health is a poorly understood concept today despite rising awareness and decreasing stigma. Oftentimes, one don’t know how to effectively deal with someone with problems like depression, anxiety or suicidal ideas.
The language we use to communicate with a depressed, suicidal person can make a world of difference. One wrong thing you say can make them feel worse and push them to the brink. But the right thing can help them immensely. Here are some things you should never say to a suicidal or depressed person. Even if you have the best of intentions, these tidbits of advice may hurt someone with depression more than they heal.
Don’t tell them to shake it off
When you tell someone to just shake off their depression, you trivialize their condition and deny their pain, according to Debbie Plotnick, the vice president for mental health and systems advocacy at Mental Health America, in Alexandria, VA. For people with depression, “cheering up” is not a simple task, and it’s important to recognize that they probably wish they could, too. These are the hidden signs that you could be depressed.
What to say instead: “I’m sorry you’re not feeling well. Is there anything I can do to help?”
Don’t downplay their condition
Why it’s harmful: Telling someone that the pain they’re feeling is “all in their head” diminishes the fact that depression is a serious health condition, and reduces it to something that can be fixed just by changing their thinking habits. “If someone is feeling unwell in some way, it is within their person, not just their head,” Plotnick explains. Here’s what psychologists wish you knew about depression.
What to say instead: “I will try my best to understand.”
“You Are Overreacting”
The last thing they want to hear is someone trivialising their feelings. If they are talking about death and hopelessness, chances are they are already tormented enough. By saying they are overreacting, you will make them feel worse about themselves. Instead, lend an ear to what they have to say.
“You Will Be Fine”
In the throes of depression, for the suicidal person, it’s difficult to envision a day when things will be “fine”. Such words may be said with the best intentions but they often have the opposite impact. Be empathetic instead and give them the reassurance that you are there by their side.
“Suicide is For Cowards”
There’s a misconception that suicide is for cowards who don’t have the “courage” to face life’s problems. Everyone has different capacities for dealing with mental distress and it’s unfair to judge them by that. It also takes tremendous courage to talk about suicide and to seek help.
“Think about your parents!” Such statements put suicidal people in a fix and make them feel worse about themselves. They may have been enduring such feelings for a very long time for the sake of their family. At this point, they need to feel loved and not accused.
“If You Were Serious, You Wouldn’t Be Talking About It”
The worst thing while dealing with a suicidal person is thinking they are not serious about suicide. Talking about death could be a last-ditch effort for help. They may open up, thinking someone can help them out of it. Such statements are hurtful and can push the person to take the fatal step.
“They Are People Doing Much Worse”
Sure there are people undergoing worse trauma but they aren’t a yardstick for anyone. Like we said before – each of us has different thresholds for tolerating mental distress. Just because someone’s life is much worse doesn’t mean the person’s struggles are any trivial.
Don’t be dismissive
Why it’s harmful: People with depression are aware that life isn’t fair, says Theresa Nguyen, vice president of policy and programs at Mental Health America, in Alexandria, VA. Reminding them of this fact doesn’t help them cope with their illness. Instead, try some of these psychologist-recommended ideas to help your loved one get through their difficult time.
What to say instead: “I can see that you’re struggling, and I really admire/respect you for pushing through this.”
It takes a lot to save a life, mainly because most people don’t show signs of their suicidal ideas. But if someone has been talking openly about death and hopelessness, it’s your duty to salvage the situation with the right action. Take care to not hurt or trivialise their feelings; speak to their family and help them get professional help right away.