⚠ CONTENT WARNING
This post contains potentially sensitive or triggering content. If you are currently struggling with your mental health or know someone who is, it may be advisable for you to bookmark this post and come back to it later.
“Suicide doesn’t take the pain away; it passes it to someone else!”
This is one of the common phrases said in reference to suicidality. While the original intention may have been to try and give perspective to those who struggle with suicidal thoughts, it usually has the opposite effect.
Many people who live with suicidal thoughts feel this phrase is highly invalidating and insensitive. Some even see it as a form of guilt-tripping.
It is also inaccurate.
The first part of the phrase, “Suicide doesn’t take the pain away,” is obviously incorrect. That is all I will say about this, as I can’t think of a way to explain it further without making it sound like I recommend, condone, or glorify suicide, because I definitely do not. All I will say is that this statement is false.
The second part of the phrase, “it passes it to someone else,” is also incorrect. A person’s emotional suffering or depression can’t be passed or transferred to someone else, like some sort of contagion, which is what the phrase implies.
The phrase would have a more accurate, though painfully obvious, meaning if it stated suicide would cause our loved ones to experience grief, because then it wouldn’t imply they would feel the same exact pain and suffering that led their loved one to suicide.
Either way, telling someone the effect their death would have on their loved ones is simply irresponsible and does not serve a helpful purpose.
But how is it a guilt trip?
In case you genuinely don’t see how the phrase is essentially a guilt trip,… telling someone “Suicide won’t take your pain away. It’ll just pass it on to your loved ones.” is just a clever way of saying “Why would you do that to your friends and your family? Why would you even think about breaking their hearts like that? How dare you. You should be ashamed of yourself.”
Making someone feel guilty for having suicidal thoughts, which someone usually has no control over, is irresponsible and can be very harmful to someone who is clearly already struggling.
The burden of feeling like a burden
People who live with suicidal thoughts often feel they are a burden or inconvenience to the ones they love and care for. They feel they and the world would be better without them: the “burden”.
They are considering and contemplating suicide not only to end their emotional suffering, but also because they want to improve the lives of the people they love.
This is why I, personally, feel suicide is not selfish. But, that’s another discussion entirely.
Grief is different than depression
There’s no denying the fact that the death of someone by suicide would cause their loved ones to experience grief. Grief, however, is not a mental illness. It is entirely different than depression and suicidal thoughts.
Grief is involved with any death, and yet no one blames those who die by other causes for “passing” pain to their loved ones. This is because someone who dies in a way other than by suicide wasn’t “at fault” of their death. In their opinion, their death wasn’t “planned” or “intentional,” like a death by suicide.
Despite the fact that any death causes grief in others, people never assign blame to someone who dies in a way other than by suicide.
I’m sure some people will disagree with me, but suicide is not a person’s fault. Suicidality is a symptom of mental illness. A person shouldn’t be guilt-tripped or blamed for the emotional response their death (by suicide) would have on their loved ones. The grief would feel the same, whether a person dies from a heart attack, car accident, or suicide. All deaths are tragic. No one deserves blame for dying.
If you have never experienced a mental illness or suicidal thoughts, the concept of someone not being at fault for dying by suicide may not make much sense to you, and that’s okay. The important thing is that you consider how phrases like “suicide won’t end your pain; it will just pass it along,” can be harmful, and try to understand how reciting it to someone is simply unhelpful and insensitive. It could also potentially make a person’s mental state worse.
I’m not here to dictate what you say to others. All I can do is express my opinion.
As someone who lives with a mental illness, which involves very frequent suicidal thoughts, I’d like to encourage you to truly think about what you say to others and educate yourself on better ways to handle a conversation with someone who is struggling.
In case you aren’t sure what to say, here are some alternatives you can consider.
- “I’m here for you if you want to talk about anything.”
- “Is there anything I can do for you?”
- “I care about you, and I’m always available to chat.”
- “Do you want to talk about how you’re feeling right now?”
- “Is there anything that would help you feel better?”
- “There are people who love and care about you, including me.”
- “I would miss you if you weren’t here.”
- “Did something happen that caused you to start feeling this way?”
- “Do you have a self-care routine that could help you feel better?”
- “How long have you been feeling this way?”
- “Would it help you to schedule an appointment with your doctor?”
- “What are some of your favorite things?”
Some of these are basic questions that encourage a conversation, as opposed to dead end answers like “yes” and “no.” The important thing is that you let the person know there are people who love and care about them, including you. It’s also important to let them know you’re there for them and will not judge them for how they feel or for what caused them to feel this way.
Conversations that help distract a person who is actively struggling can be a powerful tool. For example, by asking someone about their favorite things, you’re not only encouraging a meaningful conversation, but you’re helping them keep their mind off the intense and overwhelming pain they’re experiencing. It also allows them to see some of the good in their world, as depression often clouds our brain and keeps us focused on the negatives.
Want to join the conversation?
This topic is something that’s personal to me, and it’s something I feel very strongly about. If you choose to comment or respond to this post, you’re more than welcome to. I only ask that you please be respectful of my opinions and point of view, and that you do so in a civil manner.