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

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I wrote post especially for ProHealth and it first appeared there on the 10th September 2018.

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 does not discriminate and we have no idea what’s going on inside other people’s minds. And it’s often the people who seem the strongest that find it 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 able to ask for help.

Depression is a very effective liar. It can convince us that the world does not need us here, that we are a burden, that there is no way we will overcome the pain we feel in that moment. Depression often 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 convinces 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 demons often can never forgive themselves for, let alone forget. The honest truth is: Living with depression is a constant battle, it’s exhausting, and there are times when we don’t have the strength to keep fighting. We often feel ashamed and 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 cannot possibly know what is going on in someone else’s head and 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.

If you notice something positive about someone, tell them. If you admire something about someone, tell them. But most importantly – don’t judge someone or disregard their pain or their struggle just because they don’t appear to be struggling with the same battles you are.

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 a friend could be enough to convince them they are not alone, they are loved and they have a reason to live. You don’t have to discuss mental health; talk about the weather, talk about happy times together. Tell them they are missed. Tell them they are loved.

8 Signs that 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. Knowing these signs may just save a life.

1. Big changes to their sleep patterns.
2. No energy.
3. No interest in their appearance or personal hygiene.
4. Rapid weight change.
5. Alcohol or drug misuse.
6. Withdrawal from society.
7. Increased feelings of sadness, angee, hopelessness, desperation.
8. 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, you just have to acknowledge it, and be their for them when it’s at its worst. Let them know that no matter what they may think of themselves, they’ve got someone who won’t turn away.

You are not alone.

I read the following comment from a member of the public, on an news article about one of the most recent high profile suicides: “Every time I hear of another suicide, I wonder why I keep fighting it.”

If you’re struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts, it does not mean their path will be your inevitable outcome. Just because they took their lives does not have to mean you will. 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. Try to talk to someone, whether that’s a friend, family member, partner or stranger. You are worthy, you do deserve to be happy, and you are loved. Things can and will get better. You will not feel this bad forever. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness – quite the opposite, it shows great strength.

And, if you have a friend who you think is contemplating suicide,the best thing that you can do is just be there for them. Listen to them. Show them you care. Ultimately you want to give the person a reason to live, a reason to fight. By showing that you care, that they are not alone, that is exactly what they need. Take care.

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