How To Help a Person Who is Depressed and in Crisis.

Today my morning was interrupted by an unexpected visitor.

Expecting a package, I answered the door to find one of my daughter’s friends standing there. They said they had gotten off of their school bus and started to walk…..until they ended up at my house.

Although it was a long story, and not uncomplicated, it boiled down to this- one of their new school friends was feeling suicidal and threatening to end their life. This was told to my daughter’s friend after they intimated that they are feeling down lately and have contemplated suicide. So now, I have a teen in front of me that I love that is admitting suicidal thoughts and I ALSO have a teen I don’t know, out there riding city transit, threatening suicide.

What do you do when people are contemplating suicide?

We reported her friend’s mental state and general location (since they updated us constantly by text- a good sign that they were looking for reassurance and guidance!) to the school, who promised to contact that teen’s parents. We informed the local distress number about their mental state and that she may call. We reassured the friend that we care for them and REALLY want them to be okay. We urged them to call any of the local helplines and gave them information on mental health drop-in centers nearby.

And then, and this is important, we sent the friend a text saying we wanted them to be safe but we had done all we can from our end. We needed to log off and break communication to deal with out own mental health.

THAT LAST BIT IS SO IMPORTANT. It has to be up to the person to survive. You, as an outsider, can only do so much. And it was clearly affecting my daughter’s friend’s mental state. Their anxiety and worry was very high, even though they themselves were already depressed. They needed to do all they could and then take care of themselves.

Depression- not “bad days”- can last a few days or a very long time. It often has no cause or event that preceded it. There is no “why”. Instead, there is only this feeling of being trapped in a dark well of desperate emotion. That feeling that you’re worthless- and so is everything in the outside world. There is this sense that nothing is worth anything anymore. You just want to fall in to the blackness and stay.

Which means, there is no immediate solution. Which makes a depressed person feel hopeless, helpless, and utterly alone.

I’m not a professional, in any way. I am, instead, a person who has dealt with depression and suicidal thoughts since I hit puberty. I was diagnosed with clinical depression and my tests show that I don’t produce enough serotonin. As a friend and mother, I have dealt with people who have confided in me their depression or thoughts of self-harm. I know that I’m not equipped to handle it on my own, so I always recommend a professional’s number, helplines or emergency centers for mental health.

However, at first, I need to keep the person calm. The person needs to know that I understand, don’t have all the answers, and that I want to help. In that way, I feel the depressed person is more open to listening, sharing and seeking help.

Here is what I would have wanted a person to say to me when I was depressed.

How to respond to a person who is (clinically) depressed:

  • Do NOT ask “Why?” or “What happened?” There is no why, no sudden event, no reasoning to depression. It’s a feeling that overcomes with (often) no warning or purpose.
  • Tell the person you are there to listen. Allow a space for silence while they collect their thoughts.
  • At first, if they want to sit in silence, sit with them. If they want to talk about the weather for a bit, or just cry, or watch TV for a few minutes, follow their lead.
  • Tell the person that it does get better. A good metaphor is a wave. You, when depressed, feel you are at the bottom of the ocean but soon the tide will swell and you will back at the top of the wave, breathing fresh air and feeling sun on your face again. And the bottom of the ocean phase feels endless, but it isn’t, because water never stops moving and there will always be another wave. DO NOT give a time frame. Everyone is different.
  • Give them the resources to get help on their own. Tell them where drop-in centers for therapy or group sessions are. Give them all of the helpline numbers. Offer to help them call or to take them in. If they’re a teen, get parents involved, or a trusted teacher or advisor or family friend.
  • Tell them that you love them, every day. By phone, text, letter or carrier pigeon. Tell them every day, once or more a day, that you love them.
  • Tell them something honest about how wonderful they are, as is, without them owing anyone or the world anything at all. Tell them that you can’t wait to see them again.
  • Don’t pretend to have the answers. Just listen. Be a good listener.

That’s all I have to suggest. I have a sheet with phone numbers by the front entrance, in my incoming mailbox, so that I know where it is. It helps to have that ready if someone unexpectedly shows up at your door, asking for help.

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