Words carry weight. If we want to take steps to reduce the stigma of mental health, a good place to start is to look at our vocabulary – even if what we say comes from anxiety or good intentions.
“What we say to someone matters in life, and when we talk to someone who is struggling with thoughts of death and death, our choice of language is even more important,” said Dan Rydenberg, CEO of Voices of Awareness. for suicide. ” Education. “We want to be compassionate, caring and sensitive.”
This is especially true when talking to a loved one about self-harm or suicide. What we say can have a direct impact on how safe a person feels when talking about what they are going through (either for you or in general) and how difficult it is.
Below are some harmful phrases that people often use related to suicide and advice on what to say instead.
7;s so much to live for” or “you’ll be fine if you fight.”
These answers are intended to be words of encouragement for someone, but the statements “may not be true for them,” said Racine Henry, a therapist and owner of Sankofa Marriage and Family Therapy in New York.
A by-product of suicidal ideas or thoughts of self-harm is the belief that the world will be better off without you; one may not think that there is something to live for or that things will get better (even if it is not).
“There are so many other people who have worse.”
Comparisons of people’s pain are useless at best and harmful at worst. It’s like telling someone who’s having a heart attack, “Well, there are people dying of cancer right now.”
Statements like this are “humiliating and disparaging,” Reidenberg said. “They minimize the pain of others and are reprehensible.” They completely ignore how mental health problems are real health problems.
“It’s selfish” or “it’s crazy.”
The same goes for calling suicide selfish, crazy, or another negative term, Reidenberg said. This minimizes and does not acknowledge the real pain your loved ones or friends are experiencing.
“We want to get rid of our own addictions to suicide and mental health and be right there for them in this moment of complete darkness and despair. We don’t want to judge anyone, “he said.
Here are positive and helpful ways we can talk about mental health, self-harm, and suicide.
First, we should not be afraid to talk about these topics. If you believe that someone is fighting, lifting them will not increase the risk.
“The most important piece of advice is to have a careful conversation. The evidence has made it clear that talking about suicide does not lead to suicide, “said Colleen Carr, deputy director of the National Suicide Prevention Alliance, at HuffPost. “Instead, talking openly about suicidal thoughts and feelings can increase hope and help someone on the road to recovery.”
When we talk to someone who is considering self-harm or suicide, or has a history of these thoughts, we really need to acknowledge their experience. Something like, “I’m sorry you’re in such deep pain, and I understand that you desperately want pain relief,” may be valid, Henry said.
“The best thing you can do to help is just to be there and let that person know you’re there to help and supports them, ”added Laura Horn, chief program officer at Active Minds, a non-profit organization that supports students’ mental health awareness and education. “For many people, the feeling of support is exactly what they need.”
Horn suggested using the VAR (validation, evaluation, forwarding) method for these calls:
V: Reaffirm their feelings by letting them know that what they are experiencing is OK and that you trust them.
A: Appreciate their honesty and courage, as speaking can be difficult for many people. Realize that what they are doing is difficult.
R: Refer them to resources and other professional support. Let them know there’s help (here’s a great list of places to start).
We also need to learn – and convey – that a conversation will not suddenly shift the tide. Tell someone who lives with thoughts of self-harm that “you don’t have to be happy tomorrow and you’re not wrong about how you feel right now,” Henry said.
Finally, we need to incorporate compassionate mental health into our daily lives. What we say certainly matters when we talk to someone who is going through a difficult time, but it is also important in our daily conversations.
We can do this by removing mental health terms and colloquial terms from our vernacular. For example, not to say “I want to jump off a bridge” or “I’m going to kill myself” when something goes wrong. We would not use another fatal disease as a dramatic way to emphasize – mental health problems deserve the same attention.
The way we talk about mental health will certainly not solve suicide or self-harm (for this we need a systematic review of our health system, access to food, housing systems, access to treatment … the list goes on). But it will make it a little easier for people to feel comfortable coming forward about how they are feeling. This is always a good place to start.
If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide prevention line. You can also send an SMS to HOME on 741-741 for free, 24-hour text line support for crisis situations. Outside the United States, please visit the International Suicide Prevention Association for a database of resources.