A person sits on a bench and appears to be upset as they lay their head into their hands.
If you see someone struggling with depression, anxiety or mental health issues, take time to listen to them without judgement. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Life is a journey. This may sound cliché, but it’s quite true.

Often on our journey, we encounter various hardships and stressors that might cause us to stumble—job loss, chronic medical conditions, physical pain, addiction, loss of a loved one, regret, trauma, isolation, racism, abuse.

Maybe there are things on that list you can identify with. Or maybe someone you know is struggling with one or more of those things.

Maybe it’s just a general feeling that life could have, or should have, turned out differently.

I would be remiss not to mention the current unrest and challenges in society. There’s a great deal of uncertainty out there.

Depression, anger, anxiety and other emotional reactions to stressors are normal.

In fact, they are a necessary and appropriate response when we feel let down, lost or frustrated.

But when these stressors begin to barrage us, we can start to lose hope that things will change or get better.

Hope can sometimes diminish slowly amid an ongoing battle with depression, or it may disappear quickly during moments of high emotion and impulsivity.

Far too often, there is no conversation about that dwindling hope.

Sometimes we hold it in and isolate our bodies and our feelings from others, failing to reach out for help. Sometimes others don’t reach out to us when we need them.

Fighting stigmas

People avoid conversations about mental health for a variety of reasons.

One of the most common relates to the stigma surrounding the topic, especially as it pertains to suicidal thoughts.

To some, it’s a taboo subject.

But the truth is, there needs to be much more discussion—open, honest discussion—about the physical and emotional pain that can result from mental health struggles.

We can’t do our best work if we’re trying to problem-solve alone while depressed. Depression is very biased—it can trick us into thinking we are seeing things more accurately than we really are.

Ultimately, those who try to solve problems alone while struggling with depression may think suicide is the only way out.

When we’re depressed, it is of utmost importance that we talk to others. We should also take time to engage friends or family who are going through hard times.

Here are some common myths about talking to someone who you suspect is battling depression, intense anxiety or hopelessness:

  • Talking about suicide could encourage them to follow through with it.
  • Once suicidal, they will always be suicidal.
  • Someone who is suicidal is determined to die.
  • People who talk about suicide are not really intending to take their lives.
  • Most suicides happen without warning.
  • Only people with mental health conditions are suicidal.
  • People who are struggling don’t want to talk about it.

No topic highlights our dependence on each other more than suicide.

We should not leave people to their own devices if they’re struggling with anxiety or depression. Be willing to involve a mental health professional—they can serve as a trusted, supportive source to help keep our loves ones safe.

Even as it applies to ourselves, we can reach out for help if we’re struggling. This ensures we’re not carrying the burden alone.

Candid conversation

When someone makes a comment relating to “giving up,” “losing hope,” or “ending it all”—or anything like that—we should take those comments seriously and be ready to talk about it.

Here are some tips for engaging in conversation with people on the topic of mental health and suicide:

  • Allow the individual to openly and honestly discuss current struggles. Found out what’s causing them to lose hope.
  • Listen and validate what they are going through and show you are hearing their perspective on their current struggles.
  • Do not put any pressure on yourself to solve the problems they are having.
  • Ask how their current struggles have impacted their hope for the future.
  • Do not be afraid to ask if they have had thoughts about suicide.
  • Encourage and assist with helping them connect to urgent or general outpatient support if they are having suicidal thoughts.

One of the hardest parts about these conversations is self-awareness about your potential role.

Remember: You’re not there to solve the other person’s problems or erase their struggles.

The hardest part has always been the conversation itself.

Don’t let silence be the status quo. If you know of someone who is struggling with suicidal thoughts, take time to speak with them and connect them to a mental health counselor who can provide additional help.

We all need each other. Suicide prevention is truly everyone’s responsibility.