Disclaimer: If you believe your friend is legitimately suicidal, call the police immediately. Most likely, your friend will be taken to the nearest hospital and interviewed by a mental health professional. The professional will decide if he or she should receive additional treatment.
I’ve conducted crisis intervention with adolescents dozens of times, and several times with adult friends. Throughout these experiences, I’ve heard many professionals and friends say ridiculous things, (and I’ve been guilty of some of these statements). This article lists nine common remarks and reasons you shouldn’t say them.
Often, people need you to listen and respond with short phrases such as “I understand,” “I see,” or “I’m sorry”. Most of the time, it’s better to remain silent than to give your opinion.
1. “It’ll be okay.”
If you say this, expect the response: “How do you know that?” or a similar sarcastic or angry comeback. To this person, it is not okay now and will not be okay in the future.
2. “This shall pass.”
The reason to avoid this remark is the same for the first statement. In addition, this comment has been used so many times it’s considered cliché and impersonal.
3. “I told you this would happen.”
Whether the person just experienced a breakup, bankruptcy, or a drug overdose, this comment doesn’t help anyone and it sounds arrogant. Even if you did predict this event, don’t say it.
4. “Don’t be sad.”
This person believes that he has a reason to be depressed, and that’s probably true. Denying feelings is never a good idea. Rather, acknowledge the feelings and try to empathize. Try a statement such as “If that had happened to me, I’d feel sad, too.”
5. “I’ll be here when you’re healed. Take all the time you need.”
When the person is healed, she won’t need you to talk her out of suicide or help her in a crisis. Reassure her that you are here now and willing to listen if she wants to talk.
6. “Pull yourself together.”
If he could pull himself together, he wouldn’t be suicidal.
7. “Try to have a good day.”
People not near the situation use this remark when they are looking for any reassuring comment. The person is not going to try to have a good day and usually feels lucky if he or she can get out of bed.
8. “When I was your age…”
It’s a good idea to empathize, but don’t begin a long story that’s not productive. A statement such as “I had a really terrible breakup last year, so I understand how hard it can be.” is helpful, whereas a statement like “When I was your age, Bobby Jones broke up with me and I was devastated and cried myself to sleep every night.” is selfish. Feel free to give advice, but don’t place the focus on you for more than a few seconds.
9. “It’s your decision, but…”
This is a horrible remark, regardless of what you say after “but”. You should be giving the person reasons to live. Telling her that it’s her decision to die usually encourages the person to act on the impulse.
There are many things you don’t want to say to a suicidal person. Usually these statements are insensitive and impersonal. Try to be a good listener and use simple, comforting sentences instead.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is always available by telephone at 800-273-TALK and now offers online chat from 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. eastern standard time.