September is National Suicide Prevention Month.
As someone who has experienced the devastation of suicide in mourning the loss of friends who have taken their own lives, it’s important to me to recognize this annual awareness campaign. In addition, like many of you, I’ve battled with my own demons and depression over the years, which has included suicidal thoughts. While no one can or should tell another how to think or feel, it’s critical to remember, however – especially in down times – that suicide is preventable. Someone loves and misses you this very moment, and help is available – whether you believe that or not. Furthermore, if you know someone who is deeply depressed because you’ve recognized the warning signs, it’s your humanitarian responsibility to reach out and offer an ear that will listen, a shoulder to cry on, or a hand to hold. Here are a few other ways to help.
1. Educate yourself on depression
While you may be able to spot signs of depression in a loved one, are you confident that you’re well informed on the matter? Depression is a tricky and sensitive disorder, and it will benefit both you and the person suffering from depression if you educate yourself on the potential causes and effects. For instance, onset of depression may be triggered by a specific event or a series of events, like a string of bad luck, and it also may be linked to a brain-chemistry imbalance not connected to an event, according to Psychology Today. Thus, knowing what you’re dealing with before entering the trenches is recommended.
2. Show you care by asking questions
When we’re depressed, we experience feelings of loneliness or perhaps that no one cares about our predicament. But that’s not the case. In fact, friends and family are often eager to help those who are depressed, and one of the first steps to showing your support in your loved one’s time of need is to ask questions.
“Your friend may be so desperate that she’s had a suicide plan in action for weeks, or she could just be under a lot of stress at work,” writes Therese Borchard at EverydayHealth.com. “She could be having a severe episode of major depression, or just need a little more vitamin D. You won’t know until you start asking some questions.”
Some questions to ask may include:
When did you first start to feel bad?
Can you think of anything that may have triggered it?
Do you have suicidal thoughts?
Is there anything that makes you feel better?
What makes you feel worse?
Do you think you could be deficient in vitamin D?
Have you made any changes lately to your diet?
Are you under more pressure at work?
Have you had your thyroid levels checked?
3. Provide support without judgment
The last thing someone who’s already at their lowest needs is to be judged for how they’re feeling or acting. Dealing with a depressed person is not always easy, granted – they’re irritable and sometimes lash out – but it’s in those moments that you should try to put yourself in their shoes. You don’t know what’s going through their head, what stresses they’re facing that brought them to this breaking point, or the painful physical manifestation of depression they may be experiencing. So, just be there for them – without any restrictions or conditions. Let them talk, vent, cry if they need to – all the while being a soothing, reassuring voice and pillar of strength to which they can cling.
4. Suggest seeking a professional who can help
While providing nonjudgmental support is critical to someone who is depressed, you should together recognize that you, as a friend and likely nonmedical professional, can only do so much. If the depression is mild to severe – that is, it’s more than just a “bad week” – suggest seeking professional help. Ask family and friends for psychologist and psychiatrist recommendations – while being considerate to the person in need by keeping them anonymous – and return with those recommendations and your availability to accompany your loved one to the first appointment, if they’re open to the idea.
5. Take matters into your own hands if you have to
If your loved one’s depression is so severe that you’re afraid they may do something drastic, like commit suicide, you have every right to step in and call the proper authorities. Your friend or family member may not like you very much at that moment – in fact, you may become mortal enemy No. 1 for a while – but when the depression is properly treated and that black cloud dissipates, they will recognize that you were acting purely out love and concern and in their best interest. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for advice at 800-273-8255, but if it’s an emergency situation dial 911.