Telling People with Depression to Reach Out Is Not Enough
I saw your social media posts. My timeline has been filled with them. It’s become standard when someone well-known takes their own life.
“If you’re struggling with depression, having thoughts of suicide, please reach out to someone. Call the suicide hotline. etc. etc."
I know you mean well. I know you want to help and are doing the only thing you know to do. I’ve even said the exact same things myself.
And it’s not that it’s bad advice. Of course we want people who are struggling to reach out for help. We know there are resources and help available. We know there are counselors, doctors, friends, and family who can bring relief. We know the suicide hotline does great work and saves lives.
We all want people suffering with depression to reach out to someone for help.
But here’s the reality. Most of them don’t.
People don’t reach out for lots of reasons. Some feel the stigma of mental illness. Some fear judgment or being misunderstood. Some have been taught that reaching out is a sign of weakness. Some have tried reaching out and have been rejected and hurt. Some don’t want to be a burden to others. Some are too tired and worn down. And some simply believe the lies that no one understands and no one can help them.
We can't expect those in the deeps of depression to reach out to us.
Jared Wilson, in a post this week, nailed it when he said:
"'Reach out' is always the recurring refrain from concerned tweeters in the wake of such tragedies, neglectful of the fact that many do and are misunderstood or many do not feel they can. There is a stigma attached, a perceived "threat" of embarrassment or ostracization or even in some cases unemployment. It is in fact the well who should be reaching out. The hurting are typically too hurt and too fearful because of it."
I agree with Wilson's solution. We need to be the ones reaching out to the hurting. They don’t need another burden. Let’s carry this one for them. They don’t need to expend the energy they don’t have to start a difficult conversation. Let’s do it for them.
Look, I know this is not the easy way. It would be much simpler if those who are struggling with depression wrote it on their foreheads. But that’s just not the case. The Enemy often pushes those in the darkness further into isolation, and as a result, we don’t always know when someone is struggling. People are masters of hiding their pain.
We must do everything in our power to initiate the help they need. This starts with slowing down. Noticing the people God has placed around us. Recognizing the warning signs. Asking the tough questions. Not settling for, “How are you? Good. And you? Good.”
This involves fostering deep relationships with those around you. Noticing their habits, desires, and moods. Being vulnerable yourself so the line of communication is already open. Then, when suffering comes, the conversation is natural.
This also means sacrificing our self-centered, busy schedules to help the hurting around us. Spending your day off with someone who feels alone. Inviting someone into your home and family. Answering that late-night phone call.
We all recognize that people suffering with depression need the help of others. That’s a fact.
There is nothing wrong with posting a general advertisement on social media, inviting the hurting to reach out, but don’t stop there. Let’s also make a commitment to go to them. Let’s be aware, available, and bold.
Take the first step. Then the second. Go the whole way if you need to.
Next time you may be the one who needs reaching.