So a friend reached out to me via Facebook. He had been posting depressing statuses so I told him he could always talk to me and I wouldn’t charge him $100 an hour. Therapy for the depressed seems counter productive. You have to pay someone just to listen to you and be your cheerleader, which is probably a contributing factor to your depression-loneliness.
Everybody saw his posts, yet nobody reached out to him. No reactions, no comments, no messages. It’s incredible how the majority of people actually believe by doing nothing, they avoid blame. Doing nothing is still doing something. Choosing to not react is a reaction. The decision to not make a decision is still a decision. You can’t do ‘nothing.’ ‘Nothing’ doesn’t exist. Everything you do from nonchalance to extremism is still ‘something.’ I can’t drive past a car accident without stopping to make sure professionals are on the way and they’re being helped to the best ability of amateurs until professionals arrive.
Same with suicidal people. I don’t understand how you can just walk by. Maybe people feel inadequate and don’t want to make a situation worse? That’s the first thought that popped into my mind when I saw messages from him. If he commits suicide, I’ll be a person who could have stopped it and it’ll be my fault.
So, being someone who has battled depression, counselled depressed friends, and even lost quite a few friends to depression, I can offer some advice based on my experiences, which may not be relevant to everybody.
1) Before responding, put yourself in their shoes and think of what you would want to happen if you messaged a friend or were depressed enough to broadcast it to Facebook. We’re more alike than people give credit for. Think of what would make you feel better.
2) Stay away from cliches or platitudes. Nothing hurts worse than being depressed and someone giving generic statements about how life is worth living, think of your kids, your mom, dad, etc. Say something unique and personal relevant to what’s causing these thoughts. They’ll be more susceptible to hearing positivity if they feel as if you’re actually listening to them and not just giving a generic anti-suicide speech.
3) Validate. Whatever problems they’re going through are obviously severe enough to cause depressed thoughts. Do not condescend them or dismiss them as trivial. Validate they have every right to feel how they’re feeling. You may not understand the importance of their problems, but that doesn’t mean they’re insignificant.
4) Stay away from too many questions. If a friend is opening up to you, they will tell you what they feel comfortable telling you. Do not ask for details on situations they indulge in. They’re comfortable telling you what they’ve shared. Prying may make their thoughts and feelings worse. Just listen and comment. If you don’t understand something, ask to help clarify, but don’t ask for details about the issues they have.
5) Suggest they seek help. Offer ways they can receive help, instead of just saying they need a professional. Many people who are depressed lack knowledge and resources on where to get help. Inform them! Maybe suggest a specific location or doctor you personally have gone through or heard of. It may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but destigmatize pills. Often times, they’re seen as a ‘cop out.’ They can be beneficial in some cases, coupled with therapy, or assist is treating an undiagnosed mental condition that may be causing the depression. I’m on Prozac and Wellbutrin for anxiety and bipolar disorder (also quitting smoking and Wellbutrin helps). There is no shame in admitting you’re taking medications to help you cope with whatever demons you’re battling. Not everything can be solved with simply talking.
6) If you feel like the situation is escalating or you’re not being as helpful as you had hoped, tell your friend this! Be honest. Tell them you care and you’re worried, but you don’t know how to improve the situation. Tell them you want to seek help for them. If you need to, call the cops (emergency or non-emergency, depending how prudent you feel the situation is). If you feel like there may be an immediate danger, call 911. Calling 911 for a potential suicide is not crying wolf. They have a mental health crisis unit that responds to calls like that. If you feel like it’s not imperative right now, but maybe eventually, call your non-emergency police department. Tell them the situation and ask for help or resources. Whatever they can do.
The worst reaction to a depressed/suicidal person is nothing. Even if you don’t help as much as they need, any sign of showing interest will improve the situation. Depression is an isolating illness that can be quite debilitating and cloud their judgment. Help them in any way possible. Don’t wait to mourn at their funeral. Most depressed people won’t commit suicide, but it only takes one to change hundreds of lives forever and leave an ocean of regret behind.
If you have any advice or personal experience I’ve left out, feel free to comment!