6 Things You Should Never Say to Someone Who’s Suicidal
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If you are feeling depressed or contemplating suicide please remember that you are not alone.
America: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Australia: 13 11 14
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This is only a short list of a few countries, however there is always somebody to reach out to.
Suicidal ideation, also known as having suicidal thoughts, is when someone is thinking about or planning suicide. This mental health condition can affect people of any age, and while some have higher risks than others, anyone can fall victim to suicidal thoughts and feelings. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “In 2019, 12 million American adults seriously thought about suicide, 3.5 million planned a suicide attempt, and 1.4 million attempted suicide”. Because of how widespread and common it is, you may have a friend or loved one who also is or has been suicidal. Hearing them express their loss of will to live can be heartbreaking and a lot to let sink in, but there are certain things we shouldn’t say when we respond and communicate with them, as to not trigger or hurt them. That being said, here are 6 things you should never say to someone who’s suicidal:
1. “You Don’t Seem Suicidal”
Following the well-known principle of not judging a book by its cover, just because someone may not seem suicidal doesn’t mean their feelings are unreal. Because of the embarrassment, humiliation, and shame someone suicidal may feel, they might put up a front that portrays them as the opposite, or they might distance themselves from family and friends to hide their struggle. However, this doesn’t mean that someone suicidal would like to be disregarded for how they feel when they open up to someone, especially since it can be hard to do. This is why it’s important not to deny their feelings based on what you believe, as this can make them feel misunderstood and can even discourage them from opening up to you and others in the future.
2. “Don’t Be so Negative”
Another important thing not to say to someone suicidal is that they shouldn’t think or feel negatively. Like many others, while you might think that always “looking on the bright side” of things is a great way to go about life, you shouldn’t try to force this mentality on someone suicidal because it downplays the difficulty and severity of their struggle. Telling them to not be so negative also makes them feel at fault for being suicidal, when in fact that’s not the case at all. Being suicidal isn’t something that has a quick fix, and this includes trying to change your attitude in a day. While you may have good intentions behind your words, it makes you sound like you’re trying to “solve” their mental state with a simple “fix”, when in reality it would require much more than that, such as extensive therapy with a mental health professional.
3. “Get Over It”
Being told to get over something you’re upset about is an experience many of us know well. It can make you feel invalidated and humiliated, and this especially goes for someone who’s dealing with suicidal thoughts and feelings. Telling someone who’s suicidal to “get over it” does little to help how they feel; anyone living with thoughts of suicide would wish for nothing more than to be able to “get over it”, but such harmful thoughts can’t be shifted that easily. This phrase could also be very hurtful to them since they might receive your words as a lack of consideration for how they feel, and would be making it seem as if you’re clumping their condition in with any other ordinary life occurrence, like failing a test or getting rejected from a job you applied to. It’s important to remain wary of our tone and word choice when talking to someone suicidal, and to remember that it isn’t our place to disregard their feelings and tell them to move on from whatever’s upsetting them.
4. “There Are Other People Who Have It Much Worse”
You should never tell someone who’s going through a hard time that their situation isn’t as bad as other people’s, let alone say this to someone who’s suicidal. By doing so, you downplay their feelings and struggles. Just because there may be other people who have worse problems, that doesn’t mean someone suicidal isn’t entitled to how their problems make them feel, nor should should it make them seem less severe. We also shouldn’t measure a suicidal friend or loved one’s struggles next to other people’s struggles because even when they explain to us how they feel, that doesn’t mean we’re always able to fully understand what they’re going through on the same level as themselves. As much as possible, we have to remember to avoid phrases that would invalidate how the other person feels.
5. “You Have so Much to Live For”
When talking to someone suicidal, while you may think they have a lot of things in life to be grateful for, they don’t exactly see it your way, which is why this phrase isn’t as reassuring as you think. People who are suicidal often feel gradually-developed emotions of emptiness and hopelessness that can be hard to tackle and treat themselves. According to Mayo Clinic, “Most often, suicidal thoughts are the result of feeling like you can’t cope when you’re faced with what seems to be an overwhelming life situation”. That being said, telling someone suicidal that they have much to live for is ineffective because after intense stress and lack of success in solving their issues, most people will have already reached a point where nothing seems worth living for anymore.
6. “You’ll Hurt Your Family and Friends”
Telling someone suicidal that they’ll end up devastating their loved ones by leaving them behind is another thing you shouldn’t do. Just because someone is suicidal doesn’t mean they don’t also care for their loved ones and haven’t considered how they would feel, but guilt tripping them into not leaving their family and friends doesn’t help them feel any better about their struggle. People who are suicidal are already dealing with the weight of their problems and struggling to find the will to keep living. So, making them feel guilty about their feelings with the thought of their actions being a burden to others does little to show someone suicidal proper comfort and sympathy.
Suicide is a fragile, sensitive topic for many, but as long as we’re thoughtful and considerate in the way we communicate, it shouldn’t be a topic that we shy away from. Talking to someone suicidal is something that requires us to be thoughtful, considerate, and supportive. Not only does this apply to people who are suicidal, but the same respect and sympathy applies to anyone who expresses their feelings to us. Was this article helpful? Let us know in the comments below.
“Fast Facts.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 23 Mar. 2021, www.cdc.gov/suicide/facts/.
Freedenthal, Stacey. “10 Things Not to Say to a Suicidal Person.” Speaking of Suicide, Speaking of Suicide, 3 Mar. 2015, www.speakingofsuicide.com/2015/03/03/what-not-to-say/.
Schimelpfening, Nancy. “The Worst Things to Say to Someone Who Is Depressed.” Edited by Rachel Goldman, Verywell Mind, Verywell Mind, 7 Aug. 2020, www.verywellmind.com/worst-things-to-say-to-someone-who-is-depressed-1066982.
“Suicide and Suicidal Thoughts.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 18 Oct. 2018, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/suicide/symptoms-causes/syc-20378048.
Team, Choices Psychotherapy. “5 Things NOT to Say to Someone Who Is Suicidal and How to Respond Instead.” Choices Psychotherapy, Choices Psychotherapy, 7 Sept. 2020, choicespsychotherapy.net/5-things-not-to-say-to-someone-who-is-suicidal/.