Saving Your Friends
TW: suicide ideation, depression.
In the past few days, we’ve seen a lot of discourse about mental health, suicide, and Your Role in it all. It’s impossible to avoid--the tragedies of this week weigh so heavily on many of us, and many of us are trying to figure out how to best proceed in a world that is clearly failing so many people who struggle with mental illness.
As a person who has struggled with depression and suicidal ideation, I can only speak to my own experience--but the chaotic differences of opinion in one particular area of discourse have been bothering me, and I want to make sure everybody is clear on something:
It’s not your responsibility to save anybody.
People are telling you to “reach out.” To ask questions. To make sure your depressed friends feel cared for. It sounds like a lot of pressure. It sounds like you’re signing yourself up for a whole lot of frustration and heartache.
People are also telling you it’s not okay to “reach out,” that people with depression are not capable of accepting help and you are not going to gain anything from asking them how they
are doing. But here’s the thing: this isn’t necessarily about you, and nothing about it is all that stressful.
It’s not your responsibility to save anybody, but it is your responsibility to be a friend. It is your responsibility to be open and generous with your love.
Sometimes, when you “reach out,” you’re not going to get the satisfaction of knowing you positively impacted your friend’s life. It’s not always that simple. Yes, it can be difficult for people with depression to accept love, to accept that people care about them. That does not mean you don’t try. That does not mean it’s fruitless to send a message without the assurance that you’ll receive a response. I can guarantee that your friend will appreciate hearing from you. They may not have the energy to let you know it, but they will.
You can’t cure suicidal ideation with a conversation, but you can distract. You can love in ways
your friend doesn’t believe they can be loved in the moment.
The big secret is “reaching out” seriously doesn’t require anything more dire than just being a good friend. The news of the past few days is unimaginably tragic, and it makes sense that everybody is jumping on how they can be better. You don’t have to do anything superhuman. You may not even have to do anything differently.
Do you tag your friends in silly memes on Facebook, or DM them tweets you think will make them laugh? Do you send links to videos you think they’ll enjoy? Do you ever send a text just to talk to your friend, or make a phone call just to hear their voice? Have you ever said, “Hey, this
made me think of you,” or asked someone to get lunch?
If the answer to any of those questions is yes, you’re helping. Really.
With the way people are talking right now, you may feel like you have to be a hero for your friends with depression. You may feel like you’re wasting every second you’re not pursuing
professional mental health crisis training.
But the heroic thing is not having all the answers. It’s being there. Being a friend. That’s all you have to do, and you’re probably already doing it.
Sarah Jae Leiber is a playwright, singer, actor, and dramaturg from just outside of Philadelphia, PA. She intends to graduate from Muhlenberg College in 2019 with a B.A. in Theatre and History. You can learn more at sarahjaeleiber.com.