What I Wish Someone Had Told Me When I Struggled With Depression


By Maggie Winkler

The National Alliance on Mental Illness says that one conversation can save a life. It’s true. But starting that conversation or knowing how to continue it can be terrifying. We don’t have the vocabulary built into our culture, so it’s easy to feel that we are not equipped to help someone in distress. Even though we don’t like to talk about suicide, we need to for the sake of those we love who may be suffering.

As someone who has been on both sides of a conversation about thoughts of suicide and suicidal plans, I’ve thought a lot about what to say about suicide and how to say it. I consider the words that were harmful, like the time a woman told me I was being selfish for considering suicide. Another person told me that he couldn’t understand how someone “with a life as good” as mine would consider ending it all. I try not to dwell on those words but instead focus on what was helpful, like when a friend told me he would come over and sit with me quietly so that I didn’t have to be alone. He told me that he wasn’t scared of what I was saying. He made me feel safe when nothing else around me did.

Having lived with my own depression and suicidal thoughts for so long, I’ve become comfortable talking with others about their suicidal feelings. I’ve talked with friends my age and teenagers I’ve mentored when they feel like they can’t go on. Throughout those conversations, I have begun to develop language that shares my concern but that isn’t patronizing. It’s come to this. I’ve written several versions of this letter for different people. A few of the details have changed, but the essence remains. This is what I have said to others because I wish it was what others could say to me.

Dear friend,

You are in such pain. I see it in the way you avoid everything you used to love. You are less involved with your friends than in the past. You only eat a little and only occasionally. You look like you want to disappear. Only you know why. Or maybe you don’t. I do know that it’s not always going to be like this. The feelings might not ever go away completely, but things will change. They can even get better, but it probably won’t happen right away.

I know that the way you feel can change because I was in a place similar to yours when I was 8 and 14 and 17 and 22 and 25 and 28, and I am still here. I have scars on my arms and hands. Cruel thoughts of suicide flit in and out of my head weekly to this day. I don’t know if you’re there or will ever be. I hope not for your sake. I know that I had to fight like hell to stay alive. It took everything I had and lots of help from others to keep myself safe. I almost gave up. I’m glad I didn’t.

Nothing about what you’re going through right now is easy. Getting to the other side may seem like an insurmountable task, but you can do it. The depressed voices in your head lie to you. They tell you that you’re worthless and that you can’t accomplish anything. Their constant refrain is, “What’s the point?”  The point is that you’ve made it this far. The point is that every time you’ve been faced with the chance to die, you didn’t. You chose yourself. You chose your life. Each time you make that choice is a step toward the other side of this pain.

I hope that you have someone who can look out for you when it’s too much for you to do it alone. You may not think you need anyone else, and maybe you don’t need someone all the time, but not being alone can make things easier. You need someone to tell that you’re not OK and know that they will stand beside you. You need someone to take your knives and scissors and razor blades and pills and car keys when you can’t keep yourself away from them. You need someone to sit with you while you make appointments with your doctors and someone who can drive you to those appointments when you can’t do it yourself. You need someone who can bring you any food that seems appetizing so that you’ll eat something every day. If you want, I can walk with you. I love you, and I’m not scared. If not, let me help you find someone who will.

Above all, I hope beyond hope that you have hope. It is hard and it is awful right now, but it won’t always be like this. It will take time and effort and the support of others, but things can change. They may even get easier.

You will always have your scars from this time, physical and emotional. As you get older, they will fade. They will always be part of your history. You have the choice to carry them with the understanding that they are not you and they are not everything. They will always be a part of you, but they are not you. You are so much more than your pain.


If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Maggie is part of the Contributing Writer Network at Thirty On Tap. To apply to become a Contributing Writer, please click HERE.

{Featured image via Unsplash}