Depression and resulting suicide have gotten a lot of media lately, thanks to social media – we’ve seen mega-stars (Heath Ledger, Robin Williams, Kate Spade) and with young kids subject to bullying / cyber-bullying. We’ve seen comments about how it’s a selfish act, to traumatize loved ones, to abandon children, to only think of oneself. That’s a selfish thought itself. The person is pain is generally so swallowed with pain (physical, emotional, mental, spiritual) that they can literally see no other option but to escape the pain. True, there are cases where pain is not the issue and the motive is something else altogether, but the overriding majority feel they are in an inescapable situation and this is the only way out.
It is mental illness. It is depression.
Not only have I worked with mental illness when I was a child mental health case worker in rural Mississippi and later a counselor for adults, but I also worked with patients as a registered nurse. People have real problems and if they get to help in time, these problems can generally be addressed.
If someone comes to you for help – and the cry for help manifests in many ways – don’t do the wrong thing. Do not make it about you – how it would hurt you, how stupid/ silly / wrong they are to feel this way, and especially not “But you have so much to live for.” If they thought they had so much to live for that it overcame their feelings, they likely would not be feeling this way. Suicidal thoughts and actions are not logical.
Below are steps to take if someone is suicidal, from Mayo .
For immediate help
If someone has attempted suicide:
- Don’t leave the person alone.
- Call 911 or your local emergency number right away. Or, if you think you can do so safely, take the person to the nearest hospital emergency room yourself.
- Try to find out if he or she is under the influence of alcohol or drugs or may have taken an overdose.
- Tell a family member or friend right away what’s going on.
If a friend or loved one talks or behaves in a way that makes you believe he or she might attempt suicide, don’t try to handle the situation alone:
- Get help from a trained professional as quickly as possible. The person may need to be hospitalized until the suicidal crisis has passed.
- Encourage the person to call a suicide hotline number. In the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255) to reach a trained counselor. Use that same number and press “1” to reach the Veterans Crisis Line.
However, aside from immediate help in an urgent situation:
Start by asking questions
- How are you coping with what’s been happening in your life?
- Do you ever feel like just giving up?
- Are you thinking about dying?
- Are you thinking about hurting yourself?
- Are you thinking about suicide?
- Have you ever thought about suicide before, or tried to harm yourself before?
- Have you thought about how or when you’d do it?
- Do you have access to weapons or things that can be used as weapons to harm yourself?
Look for warning signs
You can’t always tell when a loved one or friend is considering suicide. But here are some common signs:
- Talking about suicide — for example, making statements such as “I’m going to kill myself,” “I wish I were dead” or “I wish I hadn’t been born”
- Getting the means to take your own life, such as buying a gun or stockpiling pills
- Withdrawing from social contact and wanting to be left alone
- Having mood swings, such as being emotionally high one day and deeply discouraged the next
- Being preoccupied with death, dying or violence
- Feeling trapped or hopeless about a situation
- Increasing use of alcohol or drugs
- Changing normal routine, including eating or sleeping patterns
- Doing risky or self-destructive things, such as using drugs or driving recklessly
- Giving away belongings or getting affairs in order when there is no other logical explanation for doing this
- Saying goodbye to people as if they won’t be seen again
- Developing personality changes or being severely anxious or agitated, particularly when experiencing some of the warning signs listed above
I have attempted suicide, starting when I was in my early teens. I am taking medication for depression now and it will likely be lifelong. Is this painful to admit in public – yes. Very much so. I am considering deleting this as I am writing it (in fact, I deleted it twice, but maybe the confession will help someone else). And I anticipate two responses – 1) comments from people in support (which in a way, I don’t want because it seems I am looking for sympathy – I am not; the focus should be on recognizing and understanding people who are suicidal) and 2) backlash in either a personal or professional context. I have Systemic Lupus Erythematosis and was told at 19 years old that I had 5 years to live – surprise! I lost over 2.5 liters of blood with my first childbirth and should’ve died – surprise. I had sepsis and acute renal failure and could’ve died – surprise. You think I would get the memo from God that it’s not my time. I have children I have passed this incurable crap down to, who are now faced with a lifetime of it (praying for a cure). With nothing else, that is enough to drive one to depression.
I almost feel like we will see another “Me too” campaign, this one around depression, suicidal ideations, and mental illness. It does help people to know that what they are going through – others have too. It’s also sad that so many of us have such unbelievable strife in our lives. And most of us recognize that there are others worse off. But, when one sees no viable escape….
Help them find an alternative route. One that leads to life and wellness or at least management.