National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
Today, hearts grieved around the country as we all learned of the death of Chester Bennington, frontman for the band Linkin Park. Like many millennials, I have memories of rocking out to Linkin Park in my bedroom growing up and of depending on their music to make it through some of my toughest moments. Little did I know that Bennington was suffering from the same depression that gripped me.
As the news of Bennington’s death has spread, so have the messages that always surface after the suicide of a celebrity. “Copy and paste to raise awareness about suicide,” “I’m always here to talk,” and “It gets better” pop up again and again in our Facebook feeds in the few days and weeks after a celebrity’s tragic death. People wonder aloud why anyone would feel the need to take their own life, and lament that people hadn’t done more during the celebrity’s lifetime to perhaps prevent such a tragic ending.
I’m here to tell you that there is more that you can do and that you can do it right now. As someone who suffers from a serious mental illness, I’ve been around the block when it comes to depression and suicidal thoughts. Many times I have wished that people would reach out or do more. I realize that the reasons people don’t are valid. Many people are either too uncomfortable to help a person struggling from mental illness, or they simply don’t know how they can help. My prayer is that this post can give you some ideas for how to reach out to someone suffering from mental illness and help them walk through it.
Know the signs
The best way to know when someone needs help is to be acquainted with the signs of depression. This list from the Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a good checklist of symptoms. Be on the lookout for:
- Difficulty concentrating or trouble remembering things
- Insomnia, or on the other side of the coin, sleeping too much
- Loss of interest in activities previously considered enjoyable
- Giving away of possessions, particularly treasured possessions
- Overeating or loss of appetite
- Thoughts or talk of suicide
- Self harm
If you or someone you love is exhibiting several of these signs, especially the last two, please seek professional help immediately.
Help them help themselves
If someone you love is showing several of these signs, please don’t just tell them they need help, but actively help them seek it. One of the lies depression tells is that nothing will ever get better and seeking help won’t work. Another symptom of depression is lack of motivation, or feeling easily overwhelmed by simple tasks. One of the most loving things you can do for someone suffering from depression is make an appointment with a psychologist or therapist for them. If you can, drive them to their appointment so that a) you know they go and b) they don’t have to face it alone. If your friend is actively suicidal, take them to the hospital and stay with them through the intake process. Being admitted to the mental hospital can take hours- I’ve spent all night awake in hospitals. One of my fondest memories is of my friend Callie staying up with me all night, watching Parenthood on the hospital TV, until I was admitted to the psych ward around 4 AM. Whatever your friend isn’t strong enough to do on their own, help be their strength.
Don’t run away
Sometimes, hearing that someone you love is struggling with depression can be overwhelming and scary, especially if the person is struggling with thoughts of suicide or suicidal actions. It may be your first impulse to pull away. Please, please, please let your faith be bigger than your fear. One of the lies depression tells is that you are worthless, no one loves you, and that you are a burden. It can be the final, most devastating blow to open up about your illness and only feel rejection in return. If someone you love tells you they are struggling, after ensuring that they are safe, please pull them closer. Tell them how loved they are. Express to them how much they mean to you and why. Let it be known that they have an important and necessary place in your life. If helping a struggling person is too much for you to handle on your own, don’t be afraid to lean on your own support system. We are all stronger when we work together.
Take them seriously
When a loved one tells you they are suffering from depression, take it at face value. Don’t counter their claim with “Oh, but you seem so happy!” or “But you have so much to live for!” Alternatively, don’t tell them to “snap out of it,” “look on the bright side,” or “cheer up.” If your loved one could will themselves into feeling better, they would. You may be tempted to say “There are people who have it worse than you” or even, “I’ve been depressed, and you don’t have anything to be depressed about/don’t seem depressed/etc.” No one chooses to be depressed. Take your friend’s illness seriously and encourage them to take the right steps to get better.
Growing up, my parents never understood me. I don’t mean that in an angsty, teenage, “No one gets me!” kind of way. My parents truly did not understand why I was so angry and depressed one day and focused and motivated the next. It wasn’t until I was in my twenties and diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder when my parents began to research about my illness and finally begin to understand what made me tick and how they could help me. My wonderful husband has also educated himself about my illness and it has helped our marriage in countless ways. If your loved one is struggling with a mental illness, learn everything you can about it. Find out how your loved one thinks and attend therapy appointments with them to help understand them better. Check out books from the library and research on the Internet. The better informed you are, the better support you can be for them.
One of the hardest things about depression is the utter lack of motivation it causes. I have had days where I couldn’t even make it out of bed, much less clean my house, cook for my family, or run errands. If someone you love is struggling with depression, one of the kindest things you can do is help them with things that may be difficult for them. Come over and do a load of dishes or another chore that is obviously needed. If you are heading to the grocery store, ask them if there is anything you could pick up for them. Offer to take their family a meal, particularly if they are/have been hospitalized.
I’ve heard it said that mental illness is the “no-casserole illness.” Please, let’s break this cycle. People suffering from mental illness are just as much in need of help keeping on top of day-to-day life as people who are physically ill. Whatever you would do to make life easier for a friend going through chemotherapy or who has been sick in the hospital, please do for your friends hospitalized or suffering from mental illness. They need it just as much.
Depression is one of the most isolating experiences. Your sick brain screams at you that you are unloved, unwanted, unwelcome. Speak truth to these lies by including your depressed friend. If going out is too difficult for your sick loved one, get takeout and have a night in. If your loved one is feeling suicidal, offer to stay with them until they are feeling better- sleeping on the couch or opening your guest bedroom to them, if necessary. I can’t tell you how many nights I have slept in my parents’ guest room until my depressive episode has subsided. Come up with a suicide prevention plan alongside your loved one, their therapist, and their psychologist. If you can, be a part of their suicide support system. Even if you can’t be that involved, let your loved one know you care. Send them an “I love you” text, or post an encouraging scripture on their wall. Let them know that you are thinking of them and praying for them. Show your sick friend that their illness is a liar, and speak God’s truth over their life. Loved, wanted, welcome, worth dying for.
There are so many more things you can do to help a friend struggling with depression. A quick Google search will yield hundreds of results. Please continue this conversation in the comments. If you are a person struggling with mental illness, tell us what you wish others would do to help you, or what others have done in the past that was beneficial. For those of you looking to help a loved one, tell us what you need help with or ask how you can better support your loved one. Let’s make the comments a community where we can build one another up and together, help prevent suicide in our communities.
If you yourself are struggling mental illness or suicidal thoughts, here are some numbers you can call and get help right now. I have called several of these hotlines myself in the past and they are all great volunteers who have been trained on how to help you. Most are available 24/7 and they are all completely confidential. Trust me when I say they would love to talk to you.
Suicide Hotline 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433)
Alcohol Treatment Referral Hotline 1-800-252-6465
Crisis Pregnancy Hotline Number 1-800-67-BABY-6
Drug Abuse National Helpline 1-800-662-4357
Eating Disorders Awareness and Prevention 1-800-931-2237
National Child Abuse Hotline 1-800-4-A-CHILD (422-4453)
National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-SAFE
National Domestic Violence Hotline Spanish 1-800-942-6908
National Prayer Line 1-800-4-PRAYER
National Runaway Safeline 1-800-RUNAWAY (786-2929)
National Sexual Assault Hotline 1-800-656-HOPE (4673)
Post Abortion Counseling 1-800-228-0332
Teen Hope Line 1-800-394-HOPE
Trevor Hotline (LGBT+) 1-866-4-U-TREVOR
Youth Crisis Hotline 1-800-448-4663