After my last post, my friend James reached out to me quickly. His mother’s depression has worsened over the last days, leaving her in even more misery, with the wish to die on her lips. I have been in this situation so often, I don’t dare to count them. But I managed to survive at least to this day. Depression is a very dangerous disease with a shockingly high death rate. The mumbling of, “I want to die”, is a serious sign that needs attention. It can take a long time of suicidal thoughts, till a sufferer manages to put them into words. How the surrounding reacts to that words can make a key difference. So if a friend turns to you to say, “I have suicidal thoughts”, please listen carefully. Try to imagine, that what that friend actually is saying is: “I am suffering for a very long time now. I am not sure, if I can hold on any longer. The dark shadow in me tries to convince me, that death is the only solution to end this suffer. I am starting to believe this voice. I have an emergency. I need your help. Immediately.”
So my advice on how to react to someone, who confesses suicidal tendencies is this:
Take it seriously, without panicking. It is an emergency, there is no room for panic and really no room at all for accusations of any kind. Suicidal thoughts are a common symptom of depression and depressive episodes. They will go away eventually, like all the other symptoms of depression. Even I, with my chronic depression don’t suffer all the time of this symptom. But the sufferer needs to see that their struggle is taken seriously by other people.
Take your time immediately to talk about that problem. Don’t put that issue on hold. Your friend needs your help now, no matter what they say. Take your time for a talk and then find time to look after your friend in person. Make room for your friend, just as you would, when your friend fell down the stairs and needs help. You wouldn’t let them lie there for hours and days, you would get there immediately to pick them up and check on their wounds.
Try to get your friend professional help. You can call a psychologist or a helpline, you can bring your friend to a hospital. Talk to your friend, maybe they just didn’t manage to get help on their own. Maybe they just need you to accompany them. Try to talk calmly to get to a solution together.
Show all the love you got. Moments like this are those moments where you have to forget protocol. Even if you usually never hug, now is the time to break that unspoken rule. Don’t be shy to hold a hand or to take your friend in your arms. This is an unusual situation and it needs unusual gestures.
When times are really tough, don’t let the depressive person decide, if they need someone to stay with them. Organize other friends and family members to look after the suffering person. Let them see, how much you all care. But don’t forget to always ensure the patient, that it is your decision to take this time. Depressive patients blame themselves for everything. Try to always free them from guilty feelings.
If your friend has a recurring depression, suicidal thoughts can be there for so long, coming back and back and back that it can be quite tiring. Please, try to still take it seriously. You might think that your reaction makes no difference, because you see no improvement, but if you react annoyed it can hurt your friend strongly. This pain might drive your loved one over the edge. Please, be careful with that and try to fix it, if it happened that you let your frustration be seen.
Caring about a depressive loved one can be very exhausting — especially emotional. Take care of yourself! Make breaks, when you need them. Treat yourself to some luxury, do something for your wellbeing. Whenever you are in a situation, where you have to care for others, don’t forget to care about yourself. Especially if a loved one needs you, they need you to stay sane and healthy.
And here is the letter, that I sent immediately to James’ mother after I had received his message. I hope it helps her to know that she is not alone with this horrible disease. And that she will get better. Because depression can hold on for long, but not forever. The symptoms will disappear at some point. This point could be even today…
James told me about your struggle. He told me that it is months now, that depression holds you in bed, filling you up with its grey darkness, washing away all the nice feelings. He also told me, that you now are haunted by suicidal thoughts, which is a special burden, that I sadly know quite well. I know the immense pain that leads up to the wish of ending – ending the pain and this horrible cruel state you got trapped in – to wish to end all just so that the torture would stop.
Don’t let depression fool you: It is not your fault, that you are in that state. We both have an illness that is not controllable by force. All that talk about guilt that depression fills you up with is just lies. You can not just decide to feel better, because if that would be an option you certainly would choose it. It is also not true that you are lazy or weak, what depression might tell you. Depression hides behind a mask and pretends it is your normal inner voice, but it is not. Don’t listen to that horrible voice that tries to put you down. You are sick, but you will be healthy again.
I was so often trapped in that situation, unable to move, unable to feel anything else than hopelessness, filled up with guilt and shame and fear and lies, suffering from immense pain, only wanting to die… But I was so often there that I know for sure that it can be over suddenly. It can take months or weeks or days, but maybe just hours – you’ll never know. I had a knife at my throat, not able to control my hand and suddenly it was over. I was tired, but clear again. Things like that happened to me again and again. I never felt like: Oh, it is slowly getting better – no it was just – boom – gone in one moment. The same can happen to you. It can just be over tomorrow or maybe next week. Hold on, when it is over you will feel good again. You will feel love and joy and curiosity again.
I train myself in better times by asking me, if I want to die, when I feel free from depression’s shadow. And the answer is always no! I want to live! I want to see, what my children are up to in the future, I want to breath more of fresh mountain air, I want to cuddle with more cats and more ponies and with the people I hold dear. On every good day I make a note to myself saying: I want to live! I carve it into my memory, so I can still read it, when the pain hits me and depression tells me all these lies about me being worthless or a burden to others and deserve to die therefore. What nonsense! Not even the most useless human being would deserve to die for that. I would never think something like that! That is how I know for sure, that this thoughts are depression’s whisper of destruction and not my usual logic. Yes, I can be a burden to others, but that also does not make me a creature that deserves death. I myself like to care for others, especially if I feel love for them; not for a second I have ever thought: “Oh, to care about my loved ones is quite exhausting; oh I know there is only one solution. Death to them all!” I would never ever think that, so why should they think that of me? That would be absurd!
This is the way how I dismantle depression’s lies. I will still feel the pain, I will still feel the hopelessness, because depression controls my feelings, but I now know, that it is here, messing with my mind and emotions. It makes it easier for me to know.
Another thing I do – and I have to say, this can be very hard – is to say someone that I have suicidal fantasies. Telling someone can work like a magic spell – if it is the right person. For over two years your son was my go to person, when I was in need of telling someone about my darkness. He did a great job. He just needed to say things like: “You are not alone. I am thinking about you”, and I felt better immediately. He also saved me in one of my darkest hours, by showing that he really cared about the difference of me being alive or dead instead. Reaching out for help is so difficult in these times, but it can save you. I reached out to James and he helped me through a lot. It was nice to have a companion on my path through that misty darkness. He also asked me a lot (a lot!) of questions about depression in the hope he can help you better through your dark times. It was the reason we became friends in the first place.
Stay strong, my dear friend, have patience with yourself. Strong episodes can last for long, but they always have an end. I too need to hold on. I know better times will come for both of us. I will dream of a nice hike together with you again. And now rest with ease, just wait, the storm will pass,