When someone you know is feeling suicidal or struggling with thoughts of suicide, it can sometimes feel difficult to know what to say. Loved ones often strive to come across as caring, but sometimes things said with the best intentions can still come across as insensitive.
For loved ones who want so badly to know what the “right” thing to say to someone who is feeling suicidal, this one’s for you.
While knowing what you shouldn’t say to someone who is feeling suicidal is definitely important, we didn’t want to just leave it there without discussing what to say instead. To open this discussion, we asked members of our Mighty community to share one thing that didn’t help them when they were struggling with suicidal thoughts, and what they wished others had said instead.
Here’s what they had to say:
1. Don’t say: “Suicide is selfish.”
“Please do not tell someone who is suicidal they are selfish. It’s probably the worst feeling in the world when you are accused of being selfish.” — Mackenzie W.
“I hate when someone tells me I was selfish because I attempted suicide. When we reach that point, we aren’t being selfish — we feel hopeless, we are tired of the pain, we feel worthless [and] we just want it to stop. These feelings can’t be ‘shaken off’ or gotten over as I have been told to do… It isn’t something that just ‘passes.’” — Melissa B.
“Acknowledge my feelings. Tell me how much I matter to you.” — Tanya W.
“I think every person is different in terms of what they need to hear in those moments. As long as you don’t say anything that puts them down anymore. Like telling them to go do it or that it’s selfish. I think any positive attempt to stop someone from taking their life is a [try] worth making. Talking someone out of suicide is not an easy task. Its hard to know what the right words to say are… To me, the most important thing [is] engaging that person in conversation when they are feeling their most vulnerable.” — Sarah C.
2. Don’t say: “There are other people who have it worse than you.”
“I actually hate it when someone tells me I’m not depressed [enough] to even think about suicidal thoughts or [when they say] ‘others have it worse.’ It only makes me feel more worthless that some people think I am not entitled to my feelings and thoughts just because my reasons are not as bad as the others.” — Tris N.
“Invalidating my pain makes me not able to talk about it, which makes me worse. And quite frankly, how bloody dare you draw my illness into a comparison game! You would never tell someone they couldn’t be happy because someone else was happier.” — Vicki M.
“The best thing anyone said to me was something along of the lines of ’Is there anything I can do?’ or ‘How can I help you?’ I don’t need judgment. I need someone willing to sit with me and be there for me. At times that looked like someone just sitting in silence with me, or listening to me scream and cry. Other times it looked like someone driving me to the ER and sitting with me until I was taken back.” — Shelby H.
“What I’d love to hear: I understand you’ve been to hell and back but you will get through this and I am going to be there with you every step of the way.” — Rebecca H.
3. Don’t say: “I get sad too sometimes.”
“Please do not say, ‘You’ll get over it, I get sad too sometimes.’ People don’t realize being suicidal is more than just a feeling. It’s the numbness that forces you to harm yourself in order to feel something.” — Bree N.
“Instead say, ‘I’m here for you. You’re not alone. It’s OK to feel the way you do and I’m sorry I can’t understand better. Please know I do care for and love you. If you need someone, I’m here.’” — Bree N.
“I hate when people say someone lost by suicide has taken the ‘easy’ way out. Unfortunately, I have [attempted suicide] and it took literally everything in me to do it. It’s by no means easy at all. Also, the years of suffering are not easy at all. Its a long hard process and is by no means easy at all in any way!” — Travis C.
“Express to them how much you care and offer your love and compassion. Stay with them. Hold their hand. Just the simple presence of someone they feel safe with could make a huge difference, and it’s even OK to not say anything at all. Just be there. If you feel that they will proceed with the act of self-harm, get them medical attention immediately.” — Sandy S.
5. Don’t say: “Oh, don’t say that.”
“Don’t tell someone not to say that thought. Sometimes expressing that thought aloud can make a massive difference in their life. By not allowing them to express themselves, you can invalidate their feelings and experiences which can have very negative consequences.” — Emily J.
“Instead of saying that [say:] ‘What can we do to help your feelings become more positive? I’m sorry you feel trapped, how can I help?’ [Those words] would be ideal for me.” — Karlee B.
6. Don’t say: “Are you doing this for attention?”
“You must never call them ‘insane’ or ‘irrational’ or even ‘attention-seekers.’ When a person reaches the stage of suicidal thoughts/trials,(s)he has gone through so much already and all the rationality has gone…” — Tasneem M.
“Help them out by reminding them they are important in your life and they mean so much to you and life is far more spectacular and worth living than death.” — Tasneem M.
7. Don’t say: “Tomorrow is a new day.”
“I understand the intent here, but for many people, recovery is a very slow process and the idea of living another day is painful itself. Chances are, they could feel much worse tomorrow. For many people, suicidal ideation is fleeting, but for many others it lasts much longer.” — Lily C.
“Sometimes all is needed is understanding, no judgments and someone to just listen.” — Sharni B.
8. Don’t say: “You have no reason to feel like this.”
“’Your life is perfect. You have no reason to feel like this.’ To me this was the absolute worst. I’ve become great at hiding things from people so most of them don’t believe me when they find out about my struggles. They only see what I allow them to see and it hurts that they don’t understand.” — Jessica E.
“Never ever say ‘You have nothing to be sad about.’ Yes, it may be said with the best intentions, but it belittles somebody’s issues so much and makes them feel [ashamed] for feeling that way.” — Mollie O.
“Tell them they’re not alone and reassure them they have your support. Check up on them and don’t make them feel isolated.” — Mollie O.
9. Don’t say: “Think of how your family would feel.”
“‘Imagine the pain of your family members.’ That just totally and completely invalidates the [person’s] feelings.” — Julia F.
“’Don’t you think about your kids at all? Don’t you care about them?’ There are days when they are the only reason I am still here, but sometimes my mind becomes such a dark place that I become convinced they will be better off without me.” — Mijenou M.
“Something more helpful would be to ask what they need, what can they do to help and validate their feelings by empathizing rather than saying how selfish and horrible it is.” — Julia F.
“When I am in this place, I could use a hug, not your shock and disbelief at my perceived ‘lack of caring’ or ‘selfishness.’” — Mijenou M.
10. Don’t say: “Push through it.”
“My dad always tells me to just not think about it and push through it. He says that’s how he does it, so it works. But that doesn’t work for me, it comes up on me so slow I never see the meltdown coming.” — Sierra K.
“The one thing I do like is being told I’m strong and I have beat it before and will again.” — Sierra K.
11. Don’t say: “I don’t want to talk about this.”
“’I don’t want to hear about it. I don’t want to talk about this.’ I don’t either. The last thing I want to say to a loved one (and I’m sure one of the reasons many don’t reach out) is that I don’t want to live. I know what people will hear: I love you, but that’s not enough. This shadow is heavier than you, it’s darker than the light you bring. But it’s not that simple. It’s never that simple. It’s not a math equation. It’s the human mind, which is infinitely complex. It always hurts to know you want to leave people who would miss you. But it can reach a point where that knowledge is purely academic. Where the weight of things, it squashes everything else…” — Lacey M.
“If I talk, I need you to listen. You don’t want to hear it or talk about it? I don’t want to live it. That’s sort of the point…” — Lacey M.
12. Don’t say: “But your life is so good!”
“Don’t say, ‘But your life is so good!’ It might seem good to you, but there’s a reason a suicidal person is struggling. It doesn’t matter if you think our reasons are valid or ‘big’ enough. The point is that our reasons are making us suicidal, and it might be irrational, or seem silly to you, but to us — it’s huge and it hurts. Telling us we shouldn’t be suicidal despite our ‘good’ lives just adds to the guilt we already feel.” — Jessica C.
“Just say ‘I’m right here, I’m with you,’ and mean it with your whole being.” — Laken S.
13. Don’t say: “Don’t be silly.”
“If someone comes to you telling you they feel like no one wants them and you reply with: ‘Oh that’s silly,’ even if you didn’t mean it in a negative light we’re going to take it as such…” — Santana M.
“Don’t tell them their feelings are ‘stupid’ or they are overreacting to something.” — Kim L.
“Maybe instead ask them what has them feeling this way… Don’t tell us it’s silly.” — Santana M.
“Instead remind them these feelings aren’t permanent even though they can’t feel this is true. [Tell them] you will hold onto enough hope for both of you until they come out the other side of this very dark place. And just be there without complaining.” — Kim L.
14. Don’t say: “You’re not praying enough.”
“[Please don’t say:] ‘You have so many things to be thankful for. You need more faith in God. You’re not praying hard enough.’” — Rhonda M.
“Instead try saying, ‘I don’t understand what you are going through, but you won’t be alone. I’ll go through it with you.’” — Rhonda M.
15. Don’t say: “Have you taken your meds?”
“For me, having people list off things to do on my own that may help (listen to music, take your meds, go for a walk, put on a fun movie, call a hotline, etc.) are the least helpful. It can feel minimizing, like assuming I haven’t already tried everything or that my pain is as superficial as me just needing to watch a comedy off Netflix. It also continues the isolation.” — Katie N.
“[Tell them] you love them no matter what. I’ve been suicidal since I was 8. I recently went through a depressive episode where I came to closer to suicide than I have in a long time. The one thing that kept me from doing i, was the one person who checks in on me all the time. The one person in my life who shows me love the way I need to be shown. The tangible, provable love that my brain needs to understand that I am loved, not ‘Oh you are loved by so many people.’ Depressed people need active love, and lots of it!” — Matthew G.
16. Don’t say: “You need to relax.”
“‘You need to relax and breathe instead of letting the drama get to you.’ We ‘know,’ OK?” — Jennifer D.
“Instead [say], ‘Im glad you brought this to my attention. I will do what I can to get you the help you need.” — Christa R.
17. Don’t say: “It’s all in your head.”
“That’s the worst because people who don’t understand mental illness really do believe your suicidal ideations are manipulations for attention or that it’s simply a matter of an attitude adjustment or new outlook on life. Please educate yourselves if you know someone with mental illness.” — MaryLou W.
“It’s better to ask if I’m safe. To show you care and not question me for my thoughts. You can’t always control it.” — Chayene B.
“I wanted to hear: I am here for you. I’m not going anywhere. You are not alone. I will help you through this. I love you. That’s it.” — Reg D.
If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.
Thinkstock photo via John Takai.