Stop Asking People to Reach Out When They Are In a Mental Health Crisis

Featured Image: Tim Mossholder

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Every day we see social media posts like: “If you’re feeling depressed, message me”, “Please reach out to me whenever you feel like talking”, “If you’re thinking about taking your own life, call me. I am here for you”, and countless others. Likewise, if we ever come to know that somebody close to us was going through hard times, our first reaction is: “Why did you not tell me? You could have asked me for help!”

Despite the fact that these comments are well-intentioned, these can leave the struggling people feeling awful as if their illness has not been understood or validated at all. As a result, far from feeling supported, those people instead feel lonely, shameful, and even more miserable than they already were. You must be wondering why would they feel this way? Let’s try to understand it with the help of this example:

A man once fell into the river, and he did not know how to swim, so, he struggled to get out of the water. “Give me your hand,” was the plea that concerned people who were present at the scene. But the man did not answer their plea because he was so scared. As a result, he kept going underwater and struggled to breathe even more. When all this was happening, a saint walked up to the edge of the river and calmly said to the drowning man: “Here, take my hand.”

The man responded to the saint, held the saint’s hand, and came out of the water. The people asked the saint in utter shock: “How did he not listen to our plea and reach out to you?” The saint answered: “You all asked him to give his hand to you. Whereas, I offered him my hand. You cannot expect a struggling person to give you anything when he is drowning. It’s you who should offer and give.” 

This example depicts how it can be immensely challenging for the people to support and know how their loved ones with depression are feeling at a particular point in time, when they need support, and how to help them.

Don’t wait for them to ask. They can’t.

You must understand that the struggling person won’t reach out to you for help when they are thinking about taking their own lives. Depression does not work like that. Suicide doesn’t work like that. Case in point, someone who has regularly suffered depression for 10 years, someone who thinks about taking his/her life once a week, someone who is in the state of feeling suicidal, spiraling out, and falling deep into a dark well, the last thing he or she would want to do is to reach out to someone.

This is not to belittle the intentions of the supporters, but rather, to redirect them.

We need to understand that the problem with depression is that the people going through it feel so utterly alone, so hopeless, that reaching out for help feels not like an intense effort, but even agonizing or unwelcome.

Depression tricks them into perpetuating their pain. Even if you ask them to give you their hand, they will feel misunderstood and unsupported.

When people are in pain, they need someone to take them by the hand and lead them to the shore. In other words, lending a hand is better than asking struggling people to give you their hand. The people going through hard times are so tired and emotionally drained, asking them to share their brokenness is asking them to do more while all they can do to stay alive is to breathe in water.

Struggling people hide because of the shame of their brokenness.

Struggling people have the experience of feeling ashamed. Not only that, but they feel shame because they have messed up their lives. They feel shame because things beyond their control got out of their hand. They feel shame because things didn’t go as well as they had hoped. This is why most people hide and do not want to share their brokenness with anyone.

They feel ashamed and acknowledge their limitations and failures. Shame tends to poison hope — poisons the hope that things can change. That they can ever be changed, ever be accepted, ever be good enough. However, shame can die when stories are shared in safe spaces and if we support each other.

Then, what do we do?

If you have a friend who has ever mentioned struggling with depression or any other mental illness, talk to them about the following:

  • What helps them get through it when they are up against it?
  • Ask them about their love language.
  • What things make them feel supported?
  • What things make them feel seen?
  • What things make them feel cared for?

Once you are familiar with all that, you need to learn the signs of mental illness, and when you start to notice them crop up with your friend, jump into action. Do the things they told you. Make them feel loved and supported. This is how you can save your loved ones’ lives.

Don’t tell someone: “Give me a call if you need anything!” — just do it. Just help. Step up. Take care of it. They need you. Do not wait for them to ask you for help. They can’t and they won’t. They are drowning, and it will be cruel to place the additional burden on them by expecting that they will reach out.

We need to be like the saint if we care about people who are struggling to come out of the water. Offer your hand, listen to them, give them your love, and your shoulder. Most people hide because of the shame of their brokenness. Free your loved ones from the shame of their brokenness. Encourage them to spend their energy on surviving, healing, and thriving. Let’s love each other and support each other!