A family member of mine attempted suicide this weekend. It IS devastating. I feel terrible as I SHOULD have seen the signs, but of course hindsight is 20/20. My question to you - as a survivor and overall bad ass woman, what are the best ways to support someone who is going through something like this? What do you recommend? I know it's all individual, but I can't help but ask you, as you've walked in those shoes. Thank you so much for your brave posts - they mean a lot to people, even those who may not have the courage to say so.
I’m sorry it took me almost two weeks to answer your question. While I did have an immediate reaction, the more I considered it, the more my Virgo mind swirled and questioned my own intuition. I got stuck in my brain, but ultimately I returned to the answer rooted in my heart. What follows is my personal opinion. There is no one definitive answer to this complicated question.
When a friend or family member commits suicide, or even attempts it, the natural response can be to blame yourself. “How did I not see this coming? This is my fault. I should have been there for her.” Could’ve. Would’ve. Should've. Getting lost in past possibilities won’t do anything to move you or those affected forward. We can be self-obsessed humans, quick to blame ourselves for the actions of others. Please know, the actions of your friend or family member have nothing to do with you. And the harsh truth is this, no matter what you do or say, your friend or family member may still commit suicide. At the end of the day, our decisions are our own.
To support anyone who has just attempted suicide or shows any other signs of depression, here are some tips:
- Listen. Without judgment. Simply listen and be present.
- Validate their feelings, but try to stay away from advice, unless asked. With the stigma surrounding mental health, it is normal for people to question the physiological reality of depression in the first place. We are left feeling isolated and misunderstood in a society that questions the validity of our mental state.
- Don't claim to understand what they feel or what they are going through. Every situation and every person is different. I know that other people's claims of empathy frustrated me. Unless they themselves had spent time in a psychiatric hospital, sedated themselves with antidepressants, or flirted with, they couldn't possibly relate.
- Express your love. A text can go a long way. Don't assume you’re being ignored if you don’t receive a response. Mental illness, like physical illness, can be physically exhausting. Sometimes communicating with friends or family members can be overwhelming, especially after a suicide attempt.
I wouldn’t advocate this tactic for everyone, but some of my angels have been my ride-or-die best friends who have showed up at my door unannounced. They’ve found me teary eyed in a fetal position on the floor, or hiding underneath the covers afraid to face the day. They never tried to educate me on what to do. They simply let me cry, told me I was going to be ok, and watched 90s romantic comedies with me.
Questions and phrases to stay away from:
- “What's wrong?”
- “Happiness is a choice. Change your mind.”
- “Can't you just snap out of it?”
- “Are you sure you're not just being dramatic?”
Still, the worst thing you can do is nothing at all. While you may be uncomfortable acknowledging the elephant in the room, or you may be afraid of choosing the wrong words, the fact of the matter is inaction poses the biggest threat. If you can’t muster the courage to speak up, praying and sending positive thoughts to your depressed loved one does help.
Let me know if you have any other questions. I am here for you.
PS. Be kind to everyone you meet, because you never know what goes on behind closed doors.