May is Mental Health Awareness Month. And though this may sound ironic, it’s time we talk about suicide. More specifically, let’s talk about how to be a positive support when someone in your life is affected by suicide.
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death and is one of just three leading causes that are on the rise. Interestingly, Researchers found that more than half of people who died by suicide did not have a known diagnosed mental health condition at the time of death. So why an article during mental health awareness month? Well, this is not an article about the factors that contribute to increasing risk of suicide. Nor is it about prevention. It’s about things you can do, but more importantly NOT DO, when someone in your life is impacted by suicide. Because, chances are greater than not, you will know someone whose life has been shaken by suicide. And, while mental health may or may not have been a factor in the suicide, the wellbeing of survivors will be tested.
As a culture, we are better at accepting and understanding that mental health is as important as physical health. We are better at diagnosing and providing support for mental health issues. But the stark reality is that sometimes, just as with physical health issues, sometimes mental health is not curable. Sometimes people lose their battle with depression and anxiety.
In support of Mental Health Awareness Month, and in memory and support of those dear, this post is about things NOT TO DO and TO DO when it comes to suicide affecting someone you know.
What NOT to do
Be a Positive Support
In general, when speaking of suicide, PLEASE, don’t use the word “commit.” Commit is pejorative. People commit crimes, sins. People “die by suicide,” or they “lose their battle with depression,” just as someone may die from heart disease or lose their battle with cancer. The common denominator is they had a serious illness that they were actively fighting. Other acceptable ways to describe are “attempted suicide” or “completed suicide.”
Also, don’t make misguided comments to the family…
What NOT to say
“Everything happens for a reason.”
“Be strong. This too shall pass.”
“You can still have another child.”
“They are in a better place now.”
“When you’re ready, you can always get a dog.”
“It’s been a year, it’s time to move on.”
Sure, these comments have the intention of comfort. But mostly they comfort the speaker from the pain of the reality of the situation. Many shudder to think, “This could happen to me too.”
Also, don’t NOT speak about it. Not speaking about it doesn’t make it less real or less painful. Sometimes, silence, feeling ignored, is the worst. Say their loved one’s name.
What TO DO
And reach out to the family. Say “I’m sorry.” Or “How can I be helpful?” Or “I feel so helpless, but I care about you.” Or even, “I have no idea how to say any right thing here.” Or simply, “I love you.”
Commit to Supporting for the Long-Haul
When a loved one dies of cancer, community often responds with support of meals, errands, care for other kids in the house, etc. When a loved one completes suicide, sadly, the equal response often lacks. Don’t let discomfort get in the way of providing support.
Reach out weeks after the funeral. When life has moved on for the rest of the world, the survivors’ life still feels shattered. Support will be necessary for many months after, especially around holidays and anniversaries. Keep asking how they are. And brave their experience of grief. This is one of the most complex of griefs to bear. Keep checking in. Keep offering support. Keep showing up.