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:

Read this first.

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.

Please forward or share.

© Victoria Maxwell

4 replies
  1. Erin
    Erin says:

    My comment, to those who had no idea that a person would commit suicide, you are not alone. Don’t blame yourselves, some of us are really good at hiding. “If you think someone is struggling”….That can be a hard one. Not everyone shows in outward ways that they are struggling. I don’t think anyone knew I was struggling until I was in a fetal ball position in a dark room refusing to leave telling my sister “I don’t want to be here anymore”. That was my cry for help and I got it. I was determined to make it through the Christmas visit but everything just broke and I was unable to hide anymore. I had been hiding my depression for about 20 years had suicidal thoughts throughout but this time, if it hadn’t of been for that visit I don’t think even the thought of breaking the hearts of my parents and sister would have stopped me as it had in previous times. I was done. It would have been a great shock to them as it was when I told my sister I didn’t want to be here anymore. I can still see the look on her face. I’m still here, getting the help from family, friends, counselors and medication along the way, and happy to say most days I’m good. When I feel the dark cloud blurring my vision these days I don’t keep it to myself. It’s key to share and be aware of what is happening in my head and to not let it bring me farther down before I lose control. I’ve been at the bottom, those thoughts in our heads just take over everything and sometimes there is absolutely nothing you can do to prevent someone from taking their own life. My sincere condolences to those who have lost a loved one.

    • Victoria
      Victoria says:

      Thank you so much for sharing your experience and thoughtful comments. It’s very true, sometimes people don’t show signs of struggle. I can relate to that. I would put on a mask, that smile over the sadness and despair. And I know some people didn’t know how I was feeling. I’m glad you shared with your sister and I’m glad you shared here.

  2. Hayley
    Hayley says:

    We spend so much time focused on talking about mental health, but we often overlook the importance of holding space for someone in struggle and simply being there. Loved how you highlighted this here. Reminds me of a blog post I recently wrote as well.

  3. Hayley Peek
    Hayley Peek says:

    Thank you for taking the time to write this post. I just recently came across your work and this topic in particular is something I spend much of my work on. It’s so important for us all to recognize that we don’t necessarily need to ‘fix’ someone’s struggle, we just need to learn how to hold space and be there for them. More often than not, just validating their emotions and expressing love and support goes so much further than we give credit for.


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