Warning: possible triggering content. This post deals with suicide.
We lost two high profile individuals by suicide in the last couple weeks. But there are thousands of people who will die by suicide today who we won’t hear about on TV. Those people mattered too. There are millions more who are suffering from the pain of mental illness in silence.
I was struck by something a colleague said to me, “we’re talking publicly about mental illness now, but we still don’t know how to help”. It’s true. We are talking about mental illness more; suicide even. But many of us, including me, are still sometimes unsure about how best to help a person in distress, or a person in pain who doesn’t want help. I don’t want to offer trite advice to them. I sometimes don’t want to say “it’ll get better” – that seems so vapid and ineffectual.
When I was suicidal, I could barely hear what people were saying to me. Literally, it’s like my brain couldn’t untangle the meaning of their words. And I was SO uncomfortable in my own skin. But frankly, most times it did help when someone told me it would get better or at least it would pass. Just having someone present, and willing to sit with me made a difference. Because eventually it did get better. Eventually it did pass.
Before I go further, I want to add many people, particularly families, do everything they can to help their loved one. Parents, siblings, relatives and friends reach out in every possible way. Sometimes it’s enough. Sometimes, tragically, it’s not. That’s the reality. And the result is tragedy for everyone involved. If you’ve experienced that, I don’t have the words to adequately express my feelings. ‘I’m so sorry’ seems empty, but it’s all I have. This post is not meant as a panacea or about saying you should have done more. Not. At. All.
It’s meant to offer some resources and perhaps some guidance for those unsure what to do or for those in pain.
If you are suffering:
Know this: YOU matter. If you feel like no one cares, NOT true. I care. I don’t care what your mind is telling you. Please reach out. Please talk to someone.
If you don’t have people to speak to or you don’t want to call people you know, call a distress line. That’s what I did. There were times when I couldn’t stomach the idea of admitting how I felt to someone who knew me. So I called our local crisis line where I could remain anonymous. It helped. It did. Click here for crisis line numbers.
If you can’t bear the thought of talking with a person please look at http://unsuicide.wikispaces.com for online suicide prevention help.
If you are suicidal:
If you think someone you know might be suffering:
Please reach out to them – even if you don’t know what to say or how to say it. When I was in pain it was so difficult to share how desperate I was feeling. You might save a life. Ask. Tell them you care. Talk to them. Call them.
My fellow Psychology Today blogger Deb Serani offers excellent suggestions in this Psych Central blog interview on Psych Central about how to be there for someone in emotional pain.
Please also visit my website for a downloadable Mental Health Resource e-guide.
This post from Dr. Sandra Hamilton offers further tips.
When I was struggling, my friend Kerry would have me over for a bowl of borscht soup with fat dollops of sour cream. We’d just sit there, slurping soup. We munched on these heavenly white doughy buns and had deceptively uneventful conversations. But having him there, willing to be with me while I felt like I was in a dark hole gave me reason to hang on until the shadows passed.
His presence helped me feel connected to Life and to be honest, to Love. That was more important than anything he said or did. Don’t underestimate the power of your presence.
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© Victoria Maxwell