Seeing as it’s National Suicide Prevention week, and it’s still something that doesn’t garner enough conversation, I’d be remiss not point out a few things I’ve come to understand when it comes to suicide, and the contemplation of it, as well as dealing with those in such a situation. Now, if you’ve ever read anything I write, you know I can get a bit long winded, so, you’ve been warned.
1) Don’t be the, “they’re only doing it for attention” person. A) Taking that route might result in the biggest regret you ever have in life. And B) Because OF COURSE THEY’RE DOING IT FOR ATTENTION. They know something isn’t right, they’re absolutely crying out for attention because they know they need help, somewhere, with something, and they don’t know how to do it themselves. Don’t be that callous asshole who just says they’re only looking for attention and turns the other way.
2) When someone is contemplating suicide, or makes mention of possibly considering it, or no longer sees it as the worst option, do NOT go about telling them how selfish they are for that, and how big of a jerk they are, or what a coward they are for feeling that way. That will only reinforce the feelings they already have. Do you think they WANT to feel the way they do? Do you REALLY think it’s something they choose to feel? So don’t go prove them right about themselves by saying things like that. Focus on positive reinforcement, don’t hammer home the negatives.
3) Just remember, in just about every case of suicidal thoughts and attempts, the thought process includes honestly believing those they care about will be better off. In the mind of the person contemplating suicide, they’re doing something selfless. Is that fucked up? Of course it is. But hey, that’s what being depressed is, it’s being fucked up. And that kind of fuckedupdedness needs attention and needs help. So if you unfortunately are a survivor of someone who did commit suicide, know that when they did what they did, they were doing what they felt, in that moment, was the best thing they could do for those they loved and cared about. Thinking of them as selfish is wrong. Is it a selfish act? In black and white terms, yes, sure it is. But this isn’t a black and white issue. What a healthy mind sees as normal, or sees as selfish, or sees as any number of things, differs greatly from what the mind of someone suffering from depression sees. Be cognizant of that. The way someone suffering from depression rationalizes something versus the way someone who doesn’t is night and day.
4) Not everyone is going to say something when they feel these feelings and venture into the darkest of dark places. Some people will keep it to themselves and then all of a sudden out of nowhere they take their life. Except, it’s not out of nowhere. The signs are there. Pay attention to those you care about. When you notice significant changes in behavior, a propensity to listen to and watch sad things ALL the time, a cutting out of things they used to do for enjoyment, appetite changes, solidarity, etc…. don’t hesitate to speak up. Just talk to them. Engage them. But do so positively. Don’t tell them they’re being a debbie downer, or a loner, or simply that they need to stop drinking so much. This will only serve as that negative reinforcement. But be mindful of those you love and care about. Pay attention to the subtle things, because sometimes they’re really not so subtle.
5) This one I can’t stress enough. NEVER tell someone who is depressed to simply “get over it”. For someone who struggles with depression, yes, something as trivial to you as losing a book they had since they were a child, or even a sporting event, can trigger a trip down a dark place. There’s a difference in legit depression and being disappointed over something, but for those who are susceptible to depression, it doesn’t take much. And it also makes it easy to magnify the most trivial of things. If it happens to be something “bigger”, like losing a pet, the end of a relationship, losing a job, going to jail, etc…. “Just get over it”, or simply, “It will get better” isn’t going to work. Telling someone struggling with depression that only causes them to (again, their way of rationalizing things is different than someone not struggling with depression) fall further into their oblivion as they wonder and get angry over the fact that they can’t have that outlook. They would love to feel that confidence. But they don’t. And it creates an even more desolate and dire outlook.
Depression isn’t something you “get over”. It’s not something you ever have complete control of, even when you seemingly have control of it. It’s always there, lurking, waiting, and ready to pounce. It’s something you must always be mindful of, and always be wary of things that might trigger trips to dark places.
Michelob used to run an ad campaign that had the slogan, “Some days are better than others”. This couldn’t be more true for anyone struggling with depression, even those who have a very good handle on it. Some days just suck, and you don’t know why, you don’t have any explanation for it, but they just do. If you know someone who fights depression, understand this about them. Don’t give them shit for being in a “mood” that day.
Some days the sun is bright and the world is a wonderful place. Others, it takes everything inside that outwardly smiling and bubbling person to keep themselves from just hitting the eject button. And there may not have been anything in particular that even caused it, no specific event or trigger. It’s just another day in the life of fighting something that you never completely defeat.
Suicide is still a giant elephant in the room. It’s an uncomfortable topic for many. And I’m willing to bet part of why it’s so uncomfortable is because discussing it forces to people to look at themselves, and that can be scary.
Those who have survived suicide attempts, or those who fight depression on a daily basis can help shed light to prevent others from making the mistakes that they made. But they need to feel as though it’s something they can openly talk about without judgement from others, without being looked down upon, or treated as though they’re beneath others and some kind of weird emo freak.
For years I created a wonderfully entertaining story as to how I got my scars and why I have no stomach or esophagus. And then as I got to know you, and trust you, I would tell the truth.
Not anymore. You ask, I tell. Or, like in the case of a first date, I tell you I will tell you later. But I don’t fabricate an explanation anymore. I don’t take shame in it. I’ve learned so much from it, and know of multiple times my experience has both helped someone contemplating it, and also been of great comfort to those who have lost someone to suicide. It’s a part of who I am. It’s a battle I fight every day. But I don’t need to pretend I got drunk at a pool party and chugged the wrong bottle in the pool shed. I’m also fortunate that I surround myself with good people who surround themselves with good people, so there’s less fear of judgement and scorn.
There are many conversations we need to keep going in society, but this is one extremely important to me, because it’s an issue that in some way impacts so many more people than we as a society are willing to acknowledge.