Today, September 10th, is World Suicide Prevention Day. Days like this are always tough for me as usually I see one or two articles written by someone who has had a loss of someone they love from suicide. Reading their story and their hurt reminds me of being in that place where suicide becomes a logical solution to my pain.
Four of my suicide attempts led to hospitalization. Every time afterwards, I had to listen to similar stories of people wishing I hadn’t done this to myself. These stories just added to the pain I was already feeling from failing a suicide attempt. Additionally it made me feel like my primary goal was to make other people feel reassured and not work on my own well-being.
So, how does one prevent suicide? There are no easy answers. I can share what has worked in the past for me.
- If you see your friend struggling with life more than normal – missing work or class, staying home a lot, sleeping more/less than usual, or any of the other symptoms, approach them gently and mention your concern of their tough time. Ask if they need help, either personal or professional, and volunteer to help them with whatever they need. Your friend may not take your offer, but they do appreciate your concern.Don’t press your friend to get help. This may make them get defensive or close off to the thought of getting help.
Don’t say the following – “You need/have to get help. You need to see a therapist. I can’t be around you until you get professional help.” If you find yourself saying declarative phrases with need, have, or should, you are probably not helping your friend.
- If the person hasn’t been formally diagnosed as having depression, you may want to encourage them to see a therapist. Finding a therapist is really fucking hard. Volunteer to help your friend find a therapist. This may involve the following – helping find health insurance policies, determining covered treatments, getting a formal referral, finding in network therapists, going through therapist websites, researching therapy treatments to see what will fit best with your friend, being there for all the phone calls in trying to get a therapist appointment, and/or accompanying your friend to the appointment to ease their anxiety.
Have I mentioned that REALLY helping someone with mental illness is fucking hard?
- If the therapist feels that your friend may have depression, he or she will recommend the person see a GP or Psychiatrist or maybe your friend has to go to a GP to get a recommendation so their insurance will pay for therapy.First thing to know – if you thought the process of getting into a therapist is hard, getting into a psychiatrist is even harder. You will have to go through the same process of finding a therapist. Frequently, once you find someone and schedule an appointment, it will be 3-6 weeks out and your friend may feel that it is unbearable to last another day.
It is easier to schedule an appointment with a GP. This way your friend can get in the same or next day, and get started on medicine right away if necessary.
- Alright, you have your friend seeing a therapist and a doctor, so everything is great! Just kidding, there’s still a lot more work to do.If your friend has to take medication, check in with them. Gently ask if everything with their medicine is going ok and if they are feeling any strange side effects. This is a crucial time. Often, the motivation/energy part of your friend may come back while the depressed side is still in effect. This is why there are often suicide warnings on the side of antidepressants.
Also, your friend may be feeling like there is something wrong with them because they need antidepressant. Reassure your friend, that it is their brain that is sick, not their personality or core being. This is a repeated message that I have been told and have told others for the last 10+ years, but it took until a few days ago to really sink in for me.
- If you’ve reached this far in helping your friend, you are doing a great job! Just make sure you are still available and willing to sit through and listen to some uncomfortable and tough conversations. Therapy made me review my life and re-examine my thought processes. This process produces a lot of tears, but also many smiles.
Parents – I know you want to think that you have taken all the right steps, and now your child should be better. This is not the case. Recovering from and dealing with depression is an ongoing struggle. Your child may feel like they have let you down and need to make sure that you are not worrying about them. Ask your child if everything is ok, and be ready for an answer of no. If your child says, I’m fine or it’s alright and it sounds like it isn’t, ask more specific questions about eating, finances, sleeping, class/work attendance, hobbies, etc.
If your friend is actively gathering the supplies and planning suicide, abandon step 1 and take them to the emergency room. Notice that this is not just talking to you about suicidal thoughts, but actually planning and not willing to get help because they feel it is too late.
I will be writing another post sometime in the future about what happens when you go to the emergency room after a suicide attempt.
If you were too late for a friend, and they have had a failed suicide attempt, check on this post I wrote about how to interact with them.