I am not a psychiatrist or a psychologist, but I have been suicidally depressed though I am no longer. Various well-meaning friends have tried a variety of techniques to help me snap out of it. I want to explain what these feel like from the point of view of the depressed person.

There are four components to feeling depressed:

Just Snap Out of It

Talking to a depressed person can be very frustrating. They are so negative. They see everything through a negative filter, seeing only the bad in the world, blind to the good. They are deluded and have silly fears. In frustration you want to shout at them and smack them to just snap out of it.

In the movie The Best Years of Our Lives this is the approach Fred’s wife uses. Fred withdrew from her because she had so little understanding of how it looked from his point of view.

You Should Feel Grateful

The intent is to show the depressed person all the pleasant things they are overlooking, but it often comes across as just more condemnation. This ingratitude is one more reason they have no right to live.

Couldn’t You At Least Smile?

This just piles on guilt. The depressed person does not want to bring anyone else down so deepens the withdrawal.

You Have No Right To Feel That Way

Different people get upset over different things. Logic has little to do with it. If you tell the depressed person they have no right to feel upset over something, they will just see you as insensitive and will withdraw from you. They are not about to share with you only to have their feelings condemned. They have enough self-condemnation going already.

False Promises

Eat this pill, say this prayer, read this book and all your problems will disappear!!! You know perfectly well that is a lie. It is especially important not to lie or exaggerate. To gain rapport and credibility, you will do better with a pessimistic viewpoint. The depressed person is not demanding perfection, just relief from enough of the pain that is making life intolerable.

You Are Selfish

One very commonly used tactic is to say in an angry voice All people who commit suicide are selfish cowards and whining complainers. Since the depressed person has obsessed about suicide, he is in your eyes, a selfish coward — all the more reason to bump himself off.

In a similar way it is probably not the best policy to point out how immature, illogical, self centered and demanding he is being. He will feel a pariah and abandoned — all the more reason to die. If you can’t deal with him, back off and allow others with more patience to.

Think of All The People Worse Off Than You Are

This is a real winner. Contemplating all the suffering in Africa and all the suffering going on around him just makes him want to check out of the entire universe. It is totally overwhelming. Further, it adds to his shame about be unable to cope with his lot, all the more reason to bump himself off.

How Would You Do It?

This helps you gauge how close the person is to actually committing suicide. If they have a precise plan for killing themselves they are closer. It is a great relief for the depressed person to talk about this taboo topic. They may be unwilling to share details fearing you might interfere with their only escape route.

What Are Your Reasons For Staying Alive?

Suicide basically comes down to a balance between reasons for staying alive and reasons for dying. Try to gently get the depressed person to elaborate and come up with more reasons for staying alive. Non judgementally get them to think about other people’s expected reactions to their suicide. Don’t put them on the spot and make them feel stupid for being unable to think of reasons to live. Gently suggest some possible reasons, but don’t demand that they accept them as sufficient or even important. You may have much more effect than you realise when the depressed person goes off later to ruminate on what you said.

The reasons may be rather mundane. He will get to see how some political situation works out, he will get to see some sporting event, he will get to see some invention rumoured in the pipe, he will get to see next year’s model car or computer, he will get to visit some pleasant place, he can visit some friend or relative, he can read some book, he can see some new blockbuster movie coming out. He can look back over the past year and see what he would have missed had he died a year earlier. These can be as minor as freakish news stories. You have to tune your suggestions based on what you know this person has enjoyed in past. Be prepared for them to say that nothing has any interest any more. You still can have a beneficial effect. Don’t demand they agree these activities would be pleasant.

He may miss out on future love. Think of how many times is past it looked as though love would never come his way again.

He may want to stay alive just to support some cause or charity, to speak out for those whose voice is not being heard.

What Are Your Reasons For Dying?

Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
~ Joyce Cousins

You can’t ask these questions right off the bat. If the depressed person thinks you are going to trivialise these, or condemn him for feeling them, he is not going to tell you. He will tell you some more respectable secondary reasons instead. Just listen. Don’t leap in with an immediate fix. Don’t try to argue him out of his reasons before he has even stated them. Show some respect. Don’t treat him like a child who afraid of monsters under the bed, even if you think his reasons are that foolish. Encourage the person to have a good cry, nature’s way of learning to accept the unacceptable parts of life.

If you find out the insoluble problem that the person feels so obligated to solve, you can suggest getting help with it from someone who knows how to deal with those sorts of problem. Here is where you can really help — offer to set up the appointment. To the depressed person, asking for help is extremely difficult, shameful and embarrassing. He would sooner die. Please just trust me on this, even if to you there is nothing whatsoever difficult, shameful or embarrassing, it is to the depressed person.

It is quite ok to suggest practical things you might to do better the situation if you were in his shoes. Keep in mind, his emotional energy is almost zero, so things you might consider fairly easy to do, he will consider very difficult. Don’t demand he do them, but encourage him to take one simple action to better his predicament. You have put in the back of his mind he really has to at least try these ideas before he gives up and uses suicide. Suicide snhould be the last resort.

Look on the Bright Side

Often the person contemplating suicide is facing some major life change, e.g. a divorce, a loss of job, an illness, or a move. They are focusing on all the negative aspects of that change. You can point out some of the positive aspects as well to help counterbalance the negative ones.

Emotional Distance

To help him gain some emotional distance, ask questions like this: What percentage of people would recommend suicide in a situation such as yours? If you knew someone in a similar predicament as you, what would you recommend? You want him to see it is his reaction to the situation, not just the situation that is the root of the problem.

Big Picture

To help him see the bigger picture, ask questions like this: How do you think other people would react to your suicide? Who will be negatively effected by your suicide?

Why Suicide?

In primitive times, suicide was thing you might do in tough times to help your group survive. The intent was to conserve food. In modern times people can feel useless and hence feel a duty to die. Just having a big delicious meal can sometimes defeat that ancient unconscious logic.

Avoiding Being Conned

It has been said that suicide is a cry for help. The person may consciously or unconsciously be trying to blackmail you into offering help. To deflect demands for help you are not prepared to give say something along these lines. Only you know all the facts. You are the one who has to bear the pain. You are the one who has to make the decision. You are the one who has to go through this ordeal. I can help you by…, but I can’t solve it for you.;

How Big A Miracle Would It Take To Make Your Life Tolerable Again?

Here you can help gently dispel some of the blacker delusions of hopelessness by showing how only some fairly small miracles would be needed. Get him to review his life to see that, even for him, such miracles have happened before and so could happen again.


Depressed people isolate themselves. They are starved for warmth. It may be available but they won’t take it. A hug reaches way down inside and says I love you; you are fine with me far better than any words. Reassurance with your hugs that somehow things will muddle through, even if painfully, is probably the most useful thing you can do. Knowing he does not have to face the unfaceable totally alone gives courage. Anything that gets the person interacting with others will help.

The Inner Dialog

Inside a suicidally depressed person will be an exhausting inner conflict between five voices. It can help to let each one speak in turn:

  1. The part that is too discouraged to keep on living.
  2. The part that is afraid to die. The part that does not want to upset others with a suicide.
  3. The part that wants to live, to accomplish at least one more task.
  4. The part that is eager to die to see what happens.
  5. The cellular part. The body that keeps you alive even when you are unconscious. The thing that makes you dizzy looking from a great height.

You can also ask the voices to go off and negotiate unconsciously. You can suggest that the parts of you that want to die, can die, without having to kill your body in the process.

Professional Help

Many people would sooner die that accept professional help. It is really quite nuts to commit suicide without first trying lithium or a variety of anti-depressants to see if they are sufficient to cope. Family doctors can prescribe these. Being depressed is not the same as being crazy, though both involve warped perceptions.

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