Dear Dr. Michelle:
My friend committed suicide a week ago and I can’t stop blaming myself. Three weeks ago, he told me he wanted to commit suicide, but he was too scared. I did not think he would do it. He also wrote to me saying if we would meet, he might not want to kill himself. I keep reading those messages. I can’t get it out of my head. I scream every night and tell myself that I’m a murderer. I feel like I need to die for making him die and have never been in so much pain in my life. I am someone who suffers from depression and have been suicidal as well. My mom is staying home with me, but I can’t do this anymore. Is there any way I could get through this pain? Are there any other realities other than depression? I’ve lost all hope.
I am so very sorry for the loss of your dear friend. I feel so sad about the pain that you are experiencing and truly wish you were not suffering this way. I am glad that your mom is staying with you right now. Please continue to receive her help. You need people around you that love you, know what you are going through, and are willing to be close by.
Given your level of despair, I think it is best to help you understand what you are going through so that you do not confuse your depression with feelings of guilt, grief, and loss. These are feelings and experiences that are all happening at the same time, which is why your pain feels so unbearable.
The main purpose for your current pain is not your depression. What you are going through is grief and loss, which is being exacerbated because your friend’s cause of death was suicide and because you have thoughts that you are somehow responsible. What you are experiencing is very normal and real and would be felt even if you did not have depression. While your depression can make your feelings around grief and loss more intense, your depression is not the reason you are having such a difficult time.
It is easy to confuse grief and loss with depression because they feel so similar. The anger toward yourself, the second guessing, the self-blame, the responsibility that you are taking on – while they can be common experiences in depression, these are all the feelings that occur when experiencing grief and loss, particularly when the person lost died by suicide.
It is important to understand the difference between depression and grief/loss is because you need to identify the right problem so you can apply the right solution. You do not want to make the mistake of thinking that your depression has gotten worse or that the experiences that you are having today will stay with you for the remainder of your life.
I want to impress upon you that what you are going through is not a new, more intense level of depression. Thinking like this can only lead to hopelessness and erroneous thoughts that there is no way out. You are a person who has depression, but you are also a person who is going through a very real case of grief and loss that must be worked through and can be successfully worked through.
Before I help you understand grief and loss, let me provide you some realistic thinking about depression. People can learn to manage their depression and live with it successfully. Even though it must be monitored you can successfully manage depression, the feelings associated with depression can change, and you do not have to experience deep levels of depression for the rest of your life.
Depression is the result of the body’s internal wiring and chemical functioning. To find relief for your depression, the trick is to understand it as a medical condition and to learn how to live with it successfully. Depression needs to be treated holistically, meaning it must be addressed by bringing treatment into all facets of one’s life. This might include medication, ongoing thought therapy, and regular exercise. With depression, one must stop trying to “will” it away. Instead, depression needs to be monitored and managed like any other medical or physical health condition.
Understanding Grief and Loss
Just like depression, grief and loss can be overcome quite successfully. Yes, you can experience symptom relief, you do not have to live with it forever, and it will change with time if you allow yourself to experience the grief and loss.
With grief and loss, it does not come from the body’s internal wiring and chemical functioning. Relief is more immediate, and it does not have to be managed like a medical condition. To deal with grief and loss you must accept and understand your feelings for what they are and feel them so that they can go away. You want to understand where your thoughts are coming from, and finally work toward acceptance.
Let me try to help you examine your grief and loss to help you start your path toward more immediate relief. The most important step for you to take is to change your thinking about being responsible for your friend’s death.
You Are Not Responsible for His Death
You are absolutely in no way responsible for his death, regardless of whether he told you how he felt or asked you to meet him. The fact is that even if you had met him, his positive feelings would have only lasted but a fleeting moment. Your presence for a short amount of time would not change his depression, nor would it have changed how he managed his life. You must understand that nobody has this kind of power or control over another person. If it were that easy, we could stop everybody from having difficult feelings and experiences.
Your friend is the only one who is responsible for what happened, no matter what he told you and no matter what anybody else thinks. We do not have control over the choices that other people make.
It is also important to put your friend’s state of mind in the right context so that you can absolve yourself of this erroneous responsibility. Whatever he shared with you was coming from a person who was in deep pain. His messages were not coming from a person who had the capacity to think about your feelings, or how his death would affect you or others. He was lost in his pain and not capable of offering you true love or care or releasing you from feeling responsible. His pain was about him, it was not about you, or what you did or did not do. You need to refuse to take his pain on as your responsibility.
You seem to have a very big heart, and you clearly understood your friend’s pain. Many people who suffer from depression have a much greater ability to understand other people’s suffering, can more easily sense other people’s feelings, and tend to care more about how others are feeling.
While depression can give someone the gift of empathy and understanding, it can also make someone more susceptible to feeling the pain of others and adopting others suffering as if it were their own. This can lead to experiencing feelings more intensely overall, feeling responsible for others, and feeling the need to make it better for others, when the reality is we have no control over others, and have no ability to make them feel or think differently.
Given your level of despair, you need to understand that this article is barely touching the surface on the many things that you need to understand and work through related to your depression and your friend’s death. I have created a list of resources at the end of this article that could be very helpful in your healing process.
Seeking Additional Help
I also strongly recommend that you go to therapy, even if virtually. You need a trained professional to help you get through this experience. Call 911 or the National Suicide Hotline at 800-273-8255 if your thoughts of suicide endure or if you feel the urge to make any sort of plan to hurt yourself.
Resources to help with grief and loss:
- Coping with Loss and Dealing with Grief: The Stages of Grief and 20 Simple Ways on How to Get Through the Bad Days
Resources to help when losing a loved one to suicide:
- Saving Ourselves from Suicide - Before and After: How to Ask for Help, Recognize Warning Signs, and Navigate Grief
- After Suicide Loss: Coping with Your Grief
Resources to help live successfully with depression:
- Living with Depression: How to Overcome Depression and Live a Happy Life
- Surviving Depression: Steps on How to Survive Depression and Start Living Again
Dear Dr. Michelle blog posts are informational in nature. The posts are not meant to take the place of consulting your physician, mental health professional, or other qualified health providers regarding your well-being or the well-being of others. Submitting a question does not establish a client/therapist relationship.
Submit Your Question on mental health and/or family relations to Dr. Michelle K. Murray.