It’s a word many suicidal mothers hear when they open up about their thoughts to people they trust. Rather than give comfort, some friends and family members point to the wreckage that would be left behind in wake of a mother’s death. They ask her to think of her partner, to remember the kids she would leave behind.
What these people don’t know is that suicidal mothers care deeply about their children. Many suicidal moms believe that their kids deserve more than they can give; that their families would be better off in their absence. The thoughts that so many people term selfish are, for these mothers, born of love.
If you’ve ever been hurt by the ‘harmless’ comments friends and family members often give when you disclose to them, you’re not alone. We want you to know that your thoughts are not your fault and they do not make you a bad parent. You are loved and needed. If you’re ever in need of support, please don’t hesitate to reach out.
We asked suicidal moms which ‘harmless’ comments had hurt them. Here’s what they told us:
1. ‘Think about your kids.’
“That my kids should be enough for me to pull myself out of a depression. The fact that it’s a disorder means that I can’t just pull myself out of it. You can’t force someone who has lost all hope and care to just suddenly start again. It makes me feel like a bad mother because I then think that my boys should be enough to light a fire under my behind but honestly it’s so unfair to place that much expectation on a relationship that sacred. It’s not my child’s job to pull me out of the depths of my shame. And honestly when it gets to that point anyway, I genuinely think my children are better off without me so the advice is ineffective and only makes me feel worse about something I already have little control over.” — Liz S.
“’Who would take care of and raise your children!?! You need to live for them!’ When you are at a place that you are just sure anyone else could raise your children better than you and they will be better off without you, this pushed me closer to doing it. I just wasn’t in the mind space to be a mother to them at that time, all I could see was my failures. I know this is a reason to some for not doing it, but often giving your children a better life can be why you feel you need to.” — April R.
“’You have to keep your son in mind. He’s what is most important.’ I love my son to the end of the earth and back, but to be the best mum I can, I need to put myself first sometimes. His needs are not above my own just as mine aren’t above his. I didn’t know until relatively recently that I had been living my life for him because of comments like this. I need to fall in love with life again and start living life because I want to.” — Belynda K.
2. ‘Others have it worse than you.’
“’So many people have it worse than you. I don’t know how you could allow yourself to think like that. You’re a mom, so grow up.’ If comparison is the killer of joy, it’s certainly not the maker of it. I know there are people who have it worse, which only makes me feel guiltier when I feel that way. Being depressed/suicidal is not infantile and I certainly don’t ‘allow’ myself to feel this way, it’s an illness and being patronized about it isn’t helpful either.” — Andréa B.
“’Other people have gone through worse and they aren’t like you.’ That was from a therapist, too.” — Verity M.
3. ‘You’re being selfish.’
“What some don’t quite understand, is that when you’re in a mindset of contemplating suicide, you’re thinking more about the kiddos than anything. Most often, it’s the feeling that the babies you leave behind will be ‘better off’ without you as their mother. Part of the suicidal ideation as a mother; is the intensity of the feelings that you can never, will never, be good enough. Almost as if you don’t deserve these beautiful little ones you’ve created. When a mother is suicidal, she is the furthest from ‘selfish’ (as some people claim). She feels as though she’s being the most selfless she’s ever been.” — Amanda G.
“’You’re being selfish.’ Trust me. Selfish is the last reason for my suicidal ideation. Honestly being selfless is a much bigger contributor. Thoughts that I’m never doing enough, that I’m not good enough, and just want so badly to be better for my child but can’t be. It took me being a little selfish and doing something for me for my suicidal feelings to go away. It took going to therapy. Taking my meds. Going inpatient when it was necessary. I tried so hard for far too long to do everything for him, it took three years until it finally clicked into place that I had to do it for myself just as much as for him. The hardest and most important lesson I’ve learned as a mom.” — Kelsey A.
“That being suicidal means [I] must not care about my children. I love them, more than anything in this entire world and they are the reason I’m still breathing. There is no selfishness, when you feel like everyone including your children would be better off without you. Whether that’s right or wrong, when you’re that low, that’s what you believe.” — Leigh C.
4. ‘Look at it from a different perspective.’
“‘You just need to look at your daughter and it will alllll go away. Get a different perspective.’ It made me feel like I didn’t love my daughter enough to just be able to look at her and have those feelings go away. And it honestly pissed me off that a doctor would say that to me.” — Haileigh P.
“The things that were contributing to my feelings were ‘just my perception.’ While that may be true, it’s not helpful because in a moment of mental distress it sounds like “you’re being delusional”. How I felt when I received this feedback: Great, so I’m a depressed lunatic with thoughts of suicide, but it’s all in my head, so if I can just turn it off I’ll be all better. A person’s perception is their reality.” — Nancy B. F.
5. ‘What would your child think?’
“‘What will your daughters think of you when they find out the truth of what you did?’ I had just had twin girls and I had gone untreated before as my parents never took me to see anyone so when I had my girls it all came back times 10. I literally sat on the couch and only moved to take care of them and go to the bathroom. I’d occasionally eat since I knew I had to as I was breastfeeding but that was it. I became a shell of a person only doing so much to stay alive because I didn’t want them to hate me later on. I began to think maybe I’ll just disappear, or how eventually they’ll see me and kick me out of their life for being a lame mom and it will be easier on them.” — Heather B.
“‘I know you love your children, but when you do this (attempt suicide) they think you don’t.’ It was well meant but very upsetting, as my suicidal thoughts are caused in part by my overwhelming love for them, and me thinking that I’m ruining their lives and they’d be better without me.” — Lucy D.
6. ‘It can’t be that bad.’
“That it’s dramatic and it can’t be that bad but people don’t realize it can be that bad sometimes mentally… when all you want is the hurt to stop. It makes you feel like your feelings don’t matter and I tend to shut down even more. So it actually does more harm because you feel like your feelings are dismissed.” — Tiffany Noelle L. J.
7. ‘Everyone goes through that.’
“My mum would always tell me that she would put the phone down on me if I was upset or look at me with disgust and walk away and tell me ‘she doesn’t need this’ and ‘we’ve all been through it.’ It wasn’t until a professional peer around the same age as her had a chat with her and told her I was allowed to be upset, I had justifiable reasons to be upset and that she was contributing to my ill health and putting my life at risk that she took a step back and did a mental health first aid course at work. Her attitude improved a lot after that thankfully.” — Mae B.
“‘Well, that’s what being a parent is.’ In response to me just expressing myself in how tired I was and such when all I needed and wanted was someone to just acknowledge me. Just to listen.” — Idalys R.
8. ‘Focus on the positive.’
“’Focus on the joy in your life, you have a loving husband and beautiful children.’ I felt so much guilt with the constant suicidal thoughts I battle. I know I have so much to be grateful for and I am truly grateful. That unfortunately is not always enough.” — Kelsta L.
“You just got married, what do you have to be sad about? You should really just focus on the positive.” — Tina G. L.
9. ‘You have so much to live for.’
“‘You have so much to live for.’ Don’t you think I already know that?! I love this kid more than anything on this planet and I have a partner who loves and respects me for who I am, don’t you think it fucking breaks me every time that thought enters my head even fleetingly?!” — Joy T.
“Why do you even feel that way, don’t you have a daughter?” — Kristin Victoria H.
10. ‘You’re hurting your children.’
“I’ve been battling suicidal thoughts for a while now… my son was hospitalized for his own depression… and my mother, trying her best to help and support me, tells me that if I kill myself, my son most likely would too. Did I really want to be the cause of my child’s death? I know she’s actually probably right and just trying to help, but it doesn’t make my thoughts go away and makes me feel guiltier for feeling this way and like it’s my fault my son has issues.” — Alexis M.
“For me it is when people told me I was a danger to my kids because I felt suicidal, yet nothing changed… My care for the kids always comes before my own.” — Shelly Raven B.
“‘Do you know how much that will mess up your kids?’ I have been suicidal off and on for 19 years. They are the only reason I am still alive and breathing. When I get into a deep dark place I think the kids would be better off without me. In those moments I think I am being selfless by taking myself out of their lives along with all the unhappiness I bring.” — Melissa S.
11. ‘It’s just the hormones.’
“When my son had to have his tongue tie release done at two months, the ENT stood there as I cried when the procedure was done are wonderfully said ‘don’t worry it’s just the hormones.’ When I told my husband that I thought I was suffering from PPD when my son was four months and all he could say was ‘why would you want to hurt your son?’ I felt crazy for feeling the way I did, turns out I had/have PPD and BPD.” — Summer C.
12. ‘You have a great life.’
“What do you have to be stressed about? Like I’m not allowed to have personal problems and feelings and I should feel like they do.” — Shannon M.
“Your kids are so beautiful; your husband is so wonderful.” — Kelly C.
“‘Even though things seem hard for you, you have it easy. You get to be home with your kids all day and should be happy for that.’ From my husband when I told him how bad I felt and thought they would be better without me.” — April W.
13. ‘You need to find a purpose.’
“Your children aren’t a good enough reason to live. You need to find your purpose. This was the first therapist I went to. I went even deeper into depression because now the only thing I used to give me strength wasn’t a good enough reason to try.” — Samantha T.
14. ‘You’re being dramatic.’
“You’re being a bit over dramatic. Calm down and relax. If you’re not happy then change whatever needs to be changed to make you happy.” — Samantha W.
“‘Don’t play with the life that god gave you. Why are you ungrateful?’ My dad. I ended up self harming that day.” — Marii K.
15. ‘Be grateful for what you have.’
“‘Just be thankful that you and baby are fine.’ The thing is, I wasn’t fine. I had a difficult labor and complicated delivery that included my daughter being born unresponsive. And in the doctor’s haste to save her, they literally ripped her out of my body. Not only does it still ail me with chronic pain a decade later, but at the time, I nearly coded on the table from blood loss. I developed really bad postpartum, but worse than that, I was suffering from PTSD as a result of my experience giving birth. I was saddled with a deep sense of guilt that my body had failed my child in the first act of motherhood, and I was fixated on taking my life over it. I believed I didn’t deserve her, and the kindest thing I could do was kill myself before CPS showed up to take her away from me. I didn’t realize that my suicidal ideation was my mind’s way of trying to come to terms with my unprocessed trauma by making me feel like I had control over something. Yes, it’s true that a born baby is a blessing, but birth trauma is very real, and we often forget to check in with the birth-giver about their physical and emotional health in the wake of confirming that the baby is fine. If someone is trying to tell you why they aren’t okay, please don’t shut them down with platitudes.” — Ashley-Michelle P.
If you’re a parent who lives with suicidal thoughts, you’re not the only one. Your thoughts don’t diminish your value or make you a bad parent. And you deserve to feel loved and supported by the people who are close to you. If you ever need someone to talk to, feel free to reach out on The Mighty’s #CheckinWithMe page.