If you have survived a suicide attempt or struggle with suicidal thoughts, you might be familiar with some of the “harmless” but incredibly hurtful things people often say. Well-intentioned statements like,”But you have so much to live for!” or “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem” are common, but can be incredibly invalidating and hurtful.
It’s important to remember when someone attempts suicide or opens up about having suicidal thoughts, they aren’t “seeking attention” or “acting selfish” — they are experiencing real pain and need support. Before you jump to give your “best advice” or explain how their actions affected you, pause and listen. Validate how difficult it would be to feel the way they do, remind them you love them and encourage them to seek help.
We wanted to know what “harmless” comments suicide attempt survivors hear that actually hurt them, so we asked members of our mental health community to share their experiences. Below you can read what they had to say.
If you’re currently struggling with suicidal thoughts or know someone who is, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text START to 741-741 to reach the Crisis Text Line.
Here’s what our community members shared with us:
1. ‘You don’t know what we went through.’
“‘You didn’t see what your mom and I went through! The nightmares she has now.’ My stepdad [said this] pretty much every day after getting out of the hospital and any time my safety plan or my feelings were talked about. It made me start wishing I had died. After talking with my therapist and her telling me I can’t own the feelings of that night, I had a long talk with my mom and told her I can’t own her nightmares and pain from what I did. Dad needs to stop bringing it up because he may not be doing it in a mean way, but he is going to spiral me down again because I wish I was dead still.” — Kandace R.
2. ‘Other people have it worse than you.’
“‘Why would you do that? You’ve got a great life, so many people have it so much worse…’ I know that. I’ve known it since I was little and it has always left a sadness in my heart. I feel deep and have always had a hard time fully enjoying myself knowing others couldn’t. I see all the hate, suffering, greed and indifference in the world, and it turns into a very dark place I don’t want to be part of.” — Leah W.
“‘What are you even sad about? So many people have it worse.’ [It] made me feel like my personal experiences and my life was invalid just because my struggles were different.” — Meghan S.
3. ‘How could you do this to me? You must not love me.’
“After sharing a suicide attempt with a friend, she said, ‘How could you do that to me?’ I felt like I had been very brave to share my struggle and she made it about her. Sadly, it’s not the only time that has happened.” — Asa Y.
“‘You must not really love me then if you did something like this.’ The entire reason I stopped was because I loved them and didn’t want to see them suffer in my loss. It made me feel so guilty and sad to have stepped back from death — but to have them say something like that despite me continuing on for them.” — Nikki P.
4. ‘Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.’
“‘Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.’ It truly came from a place of love, however I see it as they see my mental health as a ‘temporary problem’ when it’s anything but. I hate this saying with a passion and I wish other people would stop saying it, and [instead] educate themselves on mental health.” — Meghan O.
5. ‘Think about your loved ones.’
“‘Why don’t you think of your kids?’ I lost my dad to suicide and I am his child. It’s made an impact on me that much more in my life and it hurts me deeply to hear that.” — Tatauq M.
“‘But you have so much to live for. What about me?’ What do I have to live for other than a friend and my boyfriend? I’m sure living in physical and mental pain every day isn’t a life for anyone to live.” — Holly C.
6. ‘We thought you just wanted attention.’
“‘We all thought you were just acting like that for attention.’ A ‘friend’ said this to me while visiting me on a mental health ward after I had been voluntarily admitted after some suicide attempts. How anyone could think I was trying to die for attention is beyond me. It’s no fun being in pain and mental turmoil all the time!” — Amber T.
“I attempted many times over my teenage years. At 24, I usually try to reach out when I feel the ‘wave’ coming. I have BPD and bipolar II. I frequently have suicidal thoughts. I live with them. My children’s father told me I always ‘cry wolf.’ Wish reaching out was looked at better. Trust me. I’m not faking.” — Lara K.
7. ‘If you really wanted to die, you would have.’
“‘If you really wanted to die, you’d be dead.’ This has been said to me on several occasions after my suicide attempts. It is extremely invalidating and hurtful. My attempts were real and valid, even if I didn’t actually die.” — Lauren C.
8. ‘I know someone who is sick and wants to live.’
“A so-called friend of mine who’s no longer a friend said, ‘I have a friend that has cancer and she wants to live.'” — Faryn S.
“My aunt once said, ‘I know someone who’s terminally ill and they want to live. You are fine and want to die. You should be the terminally ill one.'” — Alex M.
9. ‘You have so much to be happy about.’
“‘But you have so much to be happy about.’ It made me feel worse.” — Katheryn T.
“‘You have everything that anyone can want — financial security, supportive family, etc. unlike others you should be happy.’ It made me feel worse, in fact, guilty and undeserving of the privilege.” — Abha T.
10. ‘You’re stronger than this.’
“‘You buried your child, you’re stronger than this.’ I’d never been closer to death than in the moments after that was said to me. I gave up and gave in. My focus was on my suffering finally ending and suddenly every loss, trauma and heartache hit me at once like a thousand knives. I genuinely haven’t been the same since.” — Krystal B.
“My grandma shattered my heart when she said, ‘You used to be so strong — what happened to you?'” — Morgan R.
11. ‘We could be working on patients who want to be saved.’
“Emergency Department staff: ‘You need to cooperate with us. We could be working on patients who want to be saved.'” — Michelle H.
“A nurse at the hospital said, ‘We need the room for someone who’s actually ill,’ when I was waiting to be transferred to an inpatient place.” — Emily K.
12. ‘Don’t you feel a little silly now?’
“An emergency doctor asking me, ‘Do you not feel a bit silly now?’ after a suicide attempt. Then making me wait in my car until the out-of-hours psychiatric nurse rang me and then told me they had no beds for me so just to go home and sleep it off and ‘Think happy thoughts.'” — Louise C.
13. ‘Suicide just passes the pain to someone else.’
“‘You know suicide just passes the pain to someone else, so it’s not worth it.'” — Sable L.
14. ‘Why aren’t you doing anything to get better?’
“‘Why aren’t you doing anything to get better?’ I’m currently in individual therapy and DBT skills group therapy. I also take medication daily and am doing my best. There is no magic pill that will take it away like a headache with Tylenol. It’s a daily battle I am fighting and I’m doing the best I can.” — Katie M.
15. ‘You have so much potential.’
“‘You have so much potential.’ This one is used a lot and all it says to me is that what I have and what I can give has more value over what I’m feeling and even what I want to be. I hear I’m only worth what other people can take from me or what I can do or my skills and capabilities, and that who I am, my values, my interests, etc. is irrelevant.” — Morgan L.
16. ‘You should talk to your therapist about this.’
“‘You shouldn’t be talking to me. You should talk to your therapist,'” from my best friend when I was seeing a therapist. I just wanted to let her know what was going on and why I was acting so ‘weird.’ It broke my heart and caused me to attempt again.” — Faith L.
Experiencing suicidal thoughts or acting on them doesn’t make you selfish, no matter what anyone might think or tell you. If you’re dealing with the impact of “harmless” comments like these, you can get support from people who “get” it by posting a Thought or Question on The Mighty using the hashtag #CheckInWithMe. You’re not alone.
If you are looking for ways to support your loved one experiencing suicidal thoughts, we recommend these three guidelines for supporting someone struggling with suicidal thoughts.
If you’re in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text START to 741-741 to reach the Crisis Text Line. Support is available 24/7.
What should you say to someone who has survived a suicide attempt? Let us know in the comments below.