As a person who writes, records podcasts, lectures, and even performs stand up about mental health and mental illness, I often find myself in conversations with people from all walks of life. Some are those I’ve known a long time, while others are folks I’m just meeting. We talk about subjects that many could never imagine opening up about: depression, medication, therapy, surviving suicide attempts, and the loved ones we have lost. We discuss topics of conversation that I grew up experiencing, yet believing were too taboo.
In middle school, high school, and into college, I often found myself in a fight for my life as I struggled with depression and addiction. Between the ages of 13 and 22, I spent time in inpatient rehab, outpatient rehab, emergency rooms, a psychiatric hospital, ambulances, and many offices of therapists. Safe to say, there were days I didn’t think I would make it through.
Despite all of the professional interventions—and the support of my friends and family—there were still so many moments where I did not think my life was worth living, and ultimately resorted to self-harm and suicide attempts. But that support and those interventions were necessary in keeping me alive.
Today, when I speak to groups about mental health and addiction, there are always questions about how to support the people in our lives who have tried to hurt themselves, or who we worry might hurt themselves.
The answer, of course, is complicated. Here’s what I tell them:
1. Always encourage them to seek out the help and services of mental health professionals.
2. Listen to your friend or loved one. Really listen to what they’re dealing with and acknowledge their struggles.
3. Reaffirm that you are there for them (as much as you can be).
From my experience, the last one is crucial.
When I used to feel suicidal, I felt so detached and numb. But having people vocalize their support—friends, family and therapists—made such a lasting impact, even though I didn’t realize it at the time.
But once I began to recover from addiction and depression, I vividly remembered all of the times people had tried to intervene; all of their attempts at letting me know that I mattered. Over and over, they reassured me that things could get better and that I was loved.
Make sure those people struggling in your life know how much they matter to you—and then tell them again.
When you are in the thick of a depression, and feeling suicidal, it can feel impossible to even imagine how life can change for the better. But it does, and it will. Although life is almost always complicated and often trying, and although it might feel like the world is constantly knocking us off our feet for its own amusement, we have to find a way to remember that this life always has the potential to be beautiful and rewarding and funny.
The people I’ve met who talk about their struggles with suicidal thoughts and ideation and attempts, often tell me how glad they are to still be here. Because beyond those seemingly endless rough patches, they found support, healing, and even jobs, hobbies or missions that have fostered a feeling of self-worth.
So tell them to hold on.
Tell them there is hope.
Tell them that needing help doesn’t make them weak.
Tell them the help they deserve exists.
Tell them they are not alone.