Many people commented on the article I wrote about what a loved one can say to someone who has attempted suicide. One thing is clear from all the outreach – many people have attempted suicide and many people have survived. No one in this situation is alone.
But after a suicide attempt people invariably feel alone. They feel like a freak. They feel hurt and afraid. And when other people deny their suicide attempt, deny their pain, deny their mental illness, this makes things worse, not better.
Denial is keeping your loved one from getting better.
Head-in-the-Sand Denial Doesn’t Make Reality a Lie
Denying a problem doesn’t make it go away any more than putting your hands over your eyes makes the world disappear. The world is there as soon as you move your hands. And you can’t live with your hands over your eyes forever.
Denying your spouse hits you doesn’t make the bruises go away. Denying your dad is an alcoholic doesn’t stop him from passing out every night. Denying you had unprotected sex doesn’t make you any less pregnant.
Why Would I Deny a Mental Illness If There Were One?
And one of the more devastating things to deny is a person’s illness. This could be any illness, but so often it’s a mental illness.
“Oh, you know Uncle Jim, he’s just odd (not schizophrenic).”
“Your sister Sally just gets upset sometimes (not depressed).”
And so on.
This denial may make it easier for the loved one, but saying the false words makes it infinitely harder for the person who is actually sick.
Why Does Mental Illness Denial Matter?
Isn’t it easier to not talk about it?
Well, yes. You can not talk about the elephant in the room but then you’ll never get rid of the elephant in the room.
The problem with denying illness, which includes illness symptoms like a suicide attempt, is illness needs treatment. And you can’t get treatment for something that doesn’t exist. If my arm isn’t broken, it doesn’t need a cast.
And when those around the mentally ill person say the illness doesn’t exist, it makes it that much harder for the person with the illness to come to terms with their illness, their symptoms and getting treatment. It hard enough to admit to yourself you’re sick, when everyone around you is saying you’re not, it nears impossible.
Living in denial means doing nothing about the illness. If doing nothing worked, the person wouldn’t be in pain. If doing nothing worked, people wouldn’t attempt suicide.
If denying mental illness worked, there would be no more mental illness.
Your Denial is Hurting the Ones You Love
Your denial is making it harder on the person who is sick. Your lies, told to selfishly maintain your own comfort, are making it more painful for the person you claim to care about. You’re hindering their getting treatment. You’re lessening the chances of their getting better.
It doesn’t matter if the person needs a psychiatrist, a therapist, a hospital or a hug; with everyone around them denying their needs, they can’t get any of it.