When I notice that someone is showing signs of being depressed, I always ask about thoughts of suicide. It's inevitable that at some point during a depressive episode such thoughts will surface, often intrusively. Asking if thoughts about self-harm or suicide are present can be very helpful; for one thing it is important to normalize suicidal thoughts as a symptom of depression. Such thoughts are no more likely to cause death in a person with depression than a fever will cause death in a person with pneumonia. Of course it is also not less likely to, if the disease (pneumonia, depression) is not managed effectively. People may act on suicidal thoughts if they feel no one would care; if they don't talk about their feelings with anyone; if they have the means to do it; and if depressive episodes recur and persist for a long time without relief. Sharing the thought with someone who doesn't freak out, who is nonjudgmental and kind, who knows better than to make suggestions or offer platitudes, can be so very helpful. So that's what I have learned to do when I am in the presence of someone who is depressed. I listen, willing to hear, but not expecting I can be more than an ear or a container for sadness and despair.
I was thinking about suicide because, well, I was thinking about it. I was surprised by the thought, all was well in my life, although I had to admit the thought was there. I was sunk in one of those depressive moods that came on seemingly for no reason, although if I give it enough thought, I can usually identify a trigger. In my case it's usually some sort of failure coupled with a sense of meaninglessness. Why bother? I've worked through this many times; I don't think I'm at any risk, I simply wouldn't put my son through that for one thing; I have deep inner resources to draw on; but it always surprises me. While it was present, I felt strongly that I should tell someone, just share the thought so I wouldn't be so alone with it and yet I couldn't think of anyone I wanted to tell. So I lived with it for a few days, a week or more, and then, as is usually the case, it disappeared. Gone.
It's not good that I don't talk to anyone about my feelings. Duh, huh? But I've gotten so good at being alone, so intolerant of sharing my emotions with others, that I really couldn't think of anyone I could easily share this with. Someone who could listen without judging, without wanting to fix or make better, without suggestions, without offering anything other than an ear. A container for despair. What I know how to do. What I do all the time for others.