To help someone with depression is not easy, and made worse by today’s bullying culture and ‘false kindness’ of bullying people saying they care, when they don’t. It’s often said that Sweden has the highest suicide rate, this is not true, Scandinavians are the happiest on earth overall, often because there is no social media culture (no disrespectful people tweeting condolences to bereaved families of celebrities), the governments protect people from cradle to grave, there is little organised ‘you’ll go to to Hell!’ religion and a quiet intelligence. It also helps that Danes cycle as much as the Dutch, there’s a real outdoor life.
We have pretty high suicide rates compared to most countries, with it being the top cause of death for men under 45. Of course it’s often hidden. English rose actress Lucy Gordon appeared happy the day before she took her own life. As did the actress who played Aunt Em in The Wizard of Oz (due to physical pain, she wrote a letter to God beforehand, asking for forgiveness). Recently, a former Aussie model who campaigned for victims of depression wrote of how when people asked her how she was, she ‘talked’ as suggested. Then ‘they ran’. She committed suicide soon after.
So how do you help? First, know that suicide is complicated, so don’t blame yourself if you can’t help always. But often it’s a build-up of many factors (people who attempt suicide say they don’t want to die, it’s more they want the pain to stop). The key word is often ‘trapped’ rather than ‘depressed’. TV presenter Caroline Flack was self-harming long before her suicide – but no doubt the bullying of someone who was by all accounts very nice and kind, likely sent her over the edge.
Things Not To Say to Suicidal People
- I understand. No, you don’t. Each person has a decades-long history. You don’t know of their traumas, loss, grief, lack of self-worth, pain (emotional, physical or spiritual) or guilt. You may not be as sensitive, so pain affects them more than you. If you don’t understand, you may be a narcissist, so don’t judge those who aren’t.
- Read your Bible. God and religion can often help. But don’t start preaching your own beliefs to someone who may not even like you, let alone your faith. People who are suicidal are usually (unless they are fire-breathing atheists) already thinking about the afterlife. So they don’t need your non-qualified research on the subject.
- Pull yourself together. This is a brain-numbing stupid thing to say. You would never say this to someone who had cancer. So don’t be unkind enough to say it to someone with serious depression. Often it’s enough for someone who is suicidal to get up, have a shower, put some clothes on and manage a bit of breakfast. People with depression are very brave, not cowardly.
- People are worse off than you. Great – now you have added guilt to someone’s depression. People who feel suicidal are well aware there is terribly suffering in the world, you don’t need to inform them. When people are struggling to stay alive, they don’t need to be made to feel selfish or a failure. Not everyone can be a superhero.
Irish writer Marian Keyes has a lovely cheering smile, but spent years suicidal. She tried meditation, yoga, therapy, medication, angel healers. She even visited an astrologer who told her she should move to Peru! She’s sort of better now, but says the way paradoxically for her to start to heal, was acceptance. That she would always be prone to feeling low, and just learn coping mechanisms, rather than be happy-clappy.
Most people who get depressed are empaths, they feel the pain of others. The shocking news is that there are only around 5% of the population who are classed as such. So if you are one, it seems like you will have trouble convincing the other 95% how bad things are anyway. One person who understood was Spike ‘funniest man in the world’ Milligan. He suffered terribly from depression, and wrote books to help others.
Where to Find Help
- Watch It’s a Wonderful Life (free on Vimeo). This wonderful film with James Stewart is about a suicidal man, who wishes he had never been born. Clarence (his guardian angel) jumps in the river (knowing George will jump in to save him) then grants his wish. He learns how if he had not rescued his drowning brother – he would not have saved 20 people in the war. His wife would have been an old maid. And his kind boss at the chemist store (who almost sent the wrong drugs to a boy, due to being drunk over the grief of losing his son), went to jail for 10 years, because George had not corrected the mistake and kept it to himself, out of empathy. It’s a super feel-good film.
- Your GP. This is free, but not always the most helpful course, as most just dole out pills or have you wait months for therapy. If you can afford it, you could possibly go to a private therapist quicker. Or if you have no close family or friends to talk to, try someone local who can help for free: a priest, vicar, imam, volunteer counsellor? The Silverline has volunteers to chat to older people and you don’t have to be suicidal to call Samaritans though they are often overwhelmed with calls. Papyrus offers help for young people, and Support Line has a helpline, for people at risk of abuse.
- 7 Cups has mixed reviews, but is worth a shot if there’s no-one else to help. Founded by a psychologist (named after a Zen poem), it has 300,000 trained vetted volunteer listeners who will happily listen to your problems. They won’t give advice, but they will listen. And sometimes that’s all someone needs.
- Maytree Clinic (London and soon Manchester) offers a free house where suicidal people can stay for a few days with trained volunteers. They get a home, bed, food, garden and chats with kind people who don’t judge. It has prevented a few suicides already, but only a few can stay at a time. It would be great to roll this out nationwide.
- Attending a retreat centre may help. These are mostly run by monks and nuns who live in buildings with vast accommodation and beautiful grounds, but little money. So they offer affordable simple digs and if you help with washing up, you get to stay for a few days to feel at peace. Most accept people of all faiths and none.
Books to Help Suicidal People
- Walking on Sunshine is an illustrated little book by Rachel Kelly, a journalist who lived a wonderful life in London, with her perfect family, perfect home and perfect job. Then the wheels came off, and she found herself on suicide watch in hospital. Now better, she offers 52 suggestions to help keep you in the moment on bad days. Her favourite is reading poetry.
- The More Or Less Definitive Guide to Self-Care is not just some pretty book churned out by a publisher taking advantage of buzzwords. This is a very good A to Z of 200 tips from asking for help to burning negative thoughts to catching some zzzs.
- Dealing with Depression is a book of simple tips by a woman who just retired from 40 years as a clinical psychologist in New Zealand. Her advice: sleep well, take time out, reduce caffeine & alcohol, cook healthy food, exercise naturally, value friendships and meditation.
- Spirit Stories are books by a Catholic priest who has suffered such severe depression that he once considered suicide. These hopeful compassionate books are also by a gifted writer.
- Better to Live: How I Learnt to Survive Depression (a book that Stephen Fry says could save lives) is by Alastair Campbell. No matter what your politics, this has good reviews all-round. Some have told him he should not write on happiness if he has depression. He replies that, often being profoundly depressed, means he is qualified to try to help others find happiness.
- Time to Talk is a book on how to encourage depressed men to share their feelings. Even though we live in a super-connected world, most men don’t open up about depression, which is why it’s presently the leading cause of death for men under 45. Alex Holmes shares his experience as a young black man, and offers a love letter to all men who have lost their way, and to the women that love them.
- OCD, Anxiety and Related Depression is by a man who battled OCD for decades, and brings tools to recover with insight from psychologist Lauren Callaghan.
- How Can I Help? is written by a clinical psychologist, offering ways to help others who are suffering from anxiety, stress or anxiety-based depression. Do they need your help, but you’re not quite sure what to do? Are you wondering how best to support them? This no-nonsense guide shows how to help the person you love, along the path to recovery.