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Mar 9, 2017
So, does this mean we should stop telling people that things will get better? Does the fact that this is Survivor Bias change what we need to say to people experiencing suicidal thoughts?
From personal experience, if you told me that 'things will get better' while I was suicidal without any sort of explanation of how, what, why, and so forth; I'd feel worse, and probably consider you some self-righteous asshole that neither understands how I feel or even cares to understand. Note that in this circumstance, you could be 110% factually correct with your perception of reality and still be 'in the wrong' simply because I don't feel that way.

Communicating with suicidal individuals requires a great deal of empathy and emotional energy. Not only do you need enough emotional energy to be able to go into the same dark place they are (you can't work with someone from some sort of high ground, you have to get to the same low that they are), you have to be able to get out of that dark place as well. Furthermore, it's completely possible to commit no error in your communication and still lose that person to suicide. If you don't have the emotional energy and/or a support team to handle possibly losing someone that you tried to pull out of their dark place, then you could lose yourself as well.

It's hard to answer your question because it's built on bad ideas of how we should communicate with someone that suicidal. In other words, Survivor Bias and communication with suicidal individuals doesn't seem compatible. (Unless of course it helps you better empathize with that person in which case you should internalize it, and not bring it up in your conversation). Active listening while empathizing is the most important aspect here.


Rock and roll will never die
Jun 15, 2012
London, United Kingdom
I don’t really know what to make of this. I think it’s very easy to decide the best way to talk to and handle someone who is suicidal when youre divorced from the entire situation.

I have two personal things that lead me to my view on this:

1) having been suicidal and attempted suicide myself. Honestly, it was totally unbelievable to me at the time that things would ever get better. You can’t see how or when. You’re just so tired of feeling the way you feel.

2) having been the last person someone spoke to before they killed themselves, and failing to save their life.

On the one hand I do think that absolutely everything should be done to try and reach someone who is suicidal and get them to a place where they can heal. I don’t think there is necessarily a blanket best practice for doing this because as much as the problem is singular, each person is unique and their illness is wrapped up so deeply in their own personal experiences that you can only really reach people on an individual basis. Some people need you to just listen. Others need more active intervention.

On the other hand, there does come a point when you’re being more cruel than kind by saving someone whose entire life is plagued by bouts of such severe depression. It sounds really awful to say that but it’s like with any illness. It begs the question of whether or not you’re kinder to let that person not suffer anymore.

However, there is a marked difference between those who have been suicidal as a direct reaction to an event that has tipped them over the edge and someone who has been mentally suffering for a very long period of time. They even qualify that when they psychoanalyse you after a suicide attempt- they check if it was planned or spontaneous etc. In the latter situation and certainly in the second personal experience that I described, sometimes a persons mind is just made up. There is almost always even more than meets the eye when it comes to those situations.

In conclusion I don’t know if it’s survivor bias that makes us always think saving someone and life in general is the better choice. I think, in general, emotions are changeable but that mental illnesses like depression are lifelong and they can consume you so easily. That’s why people who seem to be happy kill themselves and it takes people by surprise. It’s whats beneath the surface that’s the ugliest part of all and until you’re in that space you cannot really say for sure what you would do if you were that person with that specific set of things to deal with. There is no scale or marker for this. That makes it difficult for the rational mind to wrap itself around how anyone can want to be dead when life has the potential to be so great.

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