Last week, Chester Bennington, the lead singer of Linkin Park, died by suicide.
When I heard the news, I spent the day listening to the music of the band that helped me deal with an abusive childhood and repeated trauma. I’ve thought about my own mental health journey and watching others I love struggle.
I thought about the moments when I wished I was dead. I thought about the one bend on the highway where I always think about just continuing straight. I thought about how depression feels like dying and taking depression medication makes you feel dead.
I thought about all the times my pain was at a 10 and I lied about it. I thought of all the people who I know want to be there for me. Those who love me.I thought of the countless people I’ve met, myself included, whose lives have been blown apart by the suicide of a loved one. The questions are always there.
I thought of the countless people I’ve met, myself included, whose lives have been blown apart by the suicide of a loved one. The questions are always there.
What more could I have done? What did I miss? Why didn’t tell just talk to me more?
How can someone go from smiling at you one day and then they’re dead the next?
I thought about what has truly been helpful for me. The things I’ve learned to do to help my fellow strugglers. Whether you know someone who is struggling with a mental illness or not, incorporating these practices into your life just may help someone choose to stay.
Pray for Eyes to See
Jesus Christ knows the suffering of every person you meet. He also knows how good they are at hiding their pain. Pray for the eyes to see the sorrow you can’t see on the surface. Pray for inspiration to serve those who need it. You may never know who you touch or who you change forever by acts of kindness. Fearlessly follow promptings. Never hesitate to act on a good thought no matter how small or large it may be.
Learn About Mental Illness
Educate yourself about mental illnesses. Learn about the warning signs. If you fear someone is in danger of harming themselves, reach out to professionals about how you can help. If you know someone who is struggling, ask questions about their experiences. Make sure they know you want to learn and better understand what they are going through. Help destroy the stigma of shame by talking openly about mental illness without judgement.
Support Self Care
Self-care is extremely difficult for many people struggling with a mental illness. Some can’t brush their teeth, shower, or do their laundry. Messiness and mental illness are closely correlated. Some struggle to go grocery shopping and or exercise. Some try to hide the bathroom at work to cry and get through the day. Support self-care in whatever way you can. Offer to do things together, like grocery shopping or laundry. Be patient with co-workers and offer some flexible scheduling options if you can. Avoid telling people they look tired or sick. Offer genuine compliments and support when you notice someone achieving and working hard.
Ask Explorative Questions
Most people who struggle with a mental illness are enveloped in shame. They hate themselves. They are filled with horror and in their minds, they want to minimize the amount of horror they inflict upon others by keeping it a secret. No matter how many people say they love them and are there for them, they likely feel totally isolated.
So, don’t wait for them to reach out to you. Don’t wait for them to ask for help. They likely won’t. You can give them more courage to reach out by asking explorative questions. Here are some examples:
- What has been on your mind lately?
- What has been the best and worst part of your day/week?
- Mental health check. How is it going?
- I know your mental health is important to you. What can I talk through with you today?
- How are you doing really? I want to listen.
- Let me know if you need a mental health talk. I’d love to listen.
Give Appropriate Physical Touch
Physical contact has been known to increase positive hormones in the brain and help relieve stress and sadness. Depending on your relationships and their level of comfort, offer supportive physical contact. Hold someone. Rub or pat someone’s back. Sit close to someone. Hold their hand. Brush their hair. Paint their nails. Walk arm in arm. Touch their elbow. Always get consent before touching someone. Many people with mental illness struggle with physical contact and certain disorders may increase anxiety when in contact with others.
Assert Your Intention to Stay
One of the greatest lies of shame is that if others see you for who you really are, they’ll leave. Even if you don’t know what to say or feel helpless, you can choose to stay by someone’s side as they struggle. Never sacrifice your own mental health, but make sure they know you’re in it for the long haul. You’ll sit with them, listen to them, and just stay by their side. You and your love isn’t going anywhere. Say it often. Say it without prompting. Say it while you’re hugging someone. Do all you can to help them believe it.
“I’m Glad You’re Here”
People never want to admit they are struggling with suicidal tendencies. The choice to stay is both powerful and exhausting. If you are worried about someone, be honest about how grateful you are for their choice to continue moving forward. Tell them you are glad they are here. Tell them why. Let them know how their existence has been a blessing in your life.
Don’t Bear the Burden Alone
At the end of the day, you need to know you are not responsible for the choices someone else makes. While we can all do better to serve and love, we cannot fully shoulder the blame. Do not let yourself feel undue guilt. Do not stretch yourself so thin your own spirit and soul become harmed. Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world; do not try to be someone’s savior. Just try to be a connection point between them and God. Don’t try to help someone by yourself. Turn to professionals, ecclesiastical leaders, and God for help.
If you’ve struggled with a mental illness or have helped someone else, what has helped you the most?
If you are having thoughts of suicide, know you are not alone. Please call the 24-hour hotline: 1-800-273-8255. If you need some help to know what to say on the hotline and other tips on what YOU can do to overcome your mental illness, here’s another great article: 13 Ways People With Depression Can Help Themselves.