Before we dive in, I want to note that I am in no way a professional on this topic - simply someone who has been impacted heavily by suicide, with a tattered and sure hope to spread awareness where I can.
This can't just be another "national holiday" that blends in with the daily news.
Suicide is a dense topic - packed with delicate trauma's, unique experiences, and an unfortunate reality - it reaches beyond "sad thoughts" or the sense of "not fitting in".
Because of its' weight and intensity, we often steer away from it - thinking, "there's not much I can do" or "what if I say the wrong thing?".
If that's the case with you, I strongly recommend we shift the perspective, as it can easily affirm the beliefs someone has that line up with "that no one cares".
Though each person is responsible for their own actions, we'd be fools to think there's nothing we can do.
We can't fix everything, nor should we try to control it, yet we have a part to play..
We make an impact on someone whether we know it or not - whether we know them or not.
Every person has their own story - not one is the same.
To allow us more understanding, in some cases:
There are years of a loud inner critic speaking over the voices that claim affirmations.
There is a load of damage done by those who were supposed to be trusted.
There are mental health conditions that go undiagnosed, or even overlooked due to shame, guilt or insecurities.
There is a battle between trying to be enough and aiming for restfulness.
Here are some statistics from the World Health Organization:
- More than 700 000 people die by suicide annually, which is one person every 40 seconds.
- there are indications that for each person who commits suicide, there are 20 others who attempted suicide
For a person to feel strongly enough that taking their own life is the solution - because they don't fit the mold, check the boxes, feel like a burden, or bloom into the ideal personality expected of them (whether or not it's their own expectations) - it takes a lot to manifest the thoughts into action.
Again, we'd be foolish to believe there is no positive part we can play in someone else's narrative.
What We Can Do
1) Check in on your people
Be present. Be kind. Be intentional.
Awareness of the person is required before you can become aware of the fight they're in.
Create a safe space, invite people in, do life together.
If / when someone approaches you with their thoughts on suicide, instead of saying, "I understand" or "you'll be fine" assure them, "I can't understand what you're going through, but I'm here with you through it". You won't have all the answers, and simply showing up does more than you think.
2) Ask what they need, don't assume you know
There are the obvious "solutions" we want to jump into suggesting to a loved one, like recommending therapy, or seeing a doctor. These are bad things - and I do believe these pieces are crucial in any person's healing journey. However, before jumping in with your solutions, ask what they need. Maybe they've had bad experiences with therapy and aren't sure about it. Maybe they want a trip to nature. You are not in their shoes, so you don't know what they need.
3) Stop saying / believing these things:
Believe me - I know how fast we can jump to these conclusions, don't beat yourself up if you've said or thought these things. In the future, steer away from saying the following statements to someone who is suicidal:
- You're just upset, you'll be fine
- Ah, it'll pass and just get over it
- Think of how I'll feel if you're gone!
- Why would you leave "____"? That's so selfish!
- You need to stop thinking like that. You're so negative all the time.
Instead, let them know you hear and see them. Often times, people just feel unimportant and unnecessary:
- That sounds like such a heavy load to carry.
- I am here with you.
- I can't understand what you're experiencing.
- I would love to be here for you how you need, it's okay if you don't know what that is just yet, but I am here.
If you have a good relationship with the person, and are comfortable giving more "guiding" comments, this is my favorite reminder:
There is something beyond the heaviness you carry.
You won't always have the greatest words to say, or any words at all, and that's okay.
Sometimes all you need is to sit, be present, and listen. There is a time to guide and lead, and a time to learn and be still.
It's a heavy topic, but a crucial one. I hope we can continue to lean into it to support, lift up and learn from those around us. You never know what someone is going through.
And in case you are someone who has pondered the thought:
You are not broken - you are stronger than you think and braver than you know.
You are capable of many things, and you deserve breaks too.
You do not need to be something to everyone to be someone who matters.
You are worthy of the life you've been given.
You are here - and I am beyond grateful that you are.