All this week social media has been inundated with well-intended gestures from people sincerely wanting to help.
“There’s always hope! If you’re ever feeling like you want to end it all, please reach out- I’m here!”
Or some such foolishness…
Knock it off!
Yes- I said foolishness.
I’m all for you being available to friends in need, especially when it comes to suicide, but play close attention…
Unless you’re a trained professional, the only thing you should be saying when a desperate friend actually reaches out is:
“Let me help you find some help.”
If you’ve never been seriously depressed, addicted or you’ve never actually considered taking your own life, you may not understand what I’m about to say. I’m talking from experience.
When you are close to suicide and you reach out to friends, this is what you’ll typically hear- and none of it helps:
“There’s always hope!”
Oh ya? If I thought that I wouldn’t be sitting here with a knife to my throat!
“Have you ever thought about how much you mean to the people who care about you?”
Well, I’ve thought plenty about how little I mean to them and how they might be better off without me!
“Suicide is stupid.”
“Nothing can be so terrible that it’s worth taking your own life.”
Walk a mile in my shoes.
Depression is a medical condition…
A suicidal mindset is a critical symptom that requires rapid professional intervention. If someone shares suicidal thoughts with you, or you suspect someone you know is that desperate, here’s what you can do that will help:
Don’t judge, don’t offer trite self-help platitudes. Don’t share insipid positive thinking quotes or stories about someone you know who once thought about suicide who then went on to great success. Yup, heard ‘em all.
Most of all, don’t tell this person you know how they feel- even if you do. You may have shared the experience, but not the specific circumstances.
#2 Tell them you don’t have an answer…
Trust me- you don’t.
In an acute state of depression, most of the answers that make sense to you have no resonance with the person suffering. Logic is not part of the equation at this point, you’re dealing with someone who is operating from a primal state of emotion.
It’s OK to admit you don’t know what to do. Being there is enough- and probably already diffused the situation for the moment.
At this point, you may be feeling hopeless- as if there is nothing you can do.
#3 Connect this person with a professional…
This can be difficult and you’re going to have to be strong. Say that the best possible thing you can do is to help make a phone call.
Call someone this person trusts- you can start with their personal physician. Call any number of available suicide hotlines- ask for available resources in your area.
You can offer to drive them to the appointment. You can sit with them while they make a call to the hotline. You can offer to be available to listen or help them get professional help.
You need to understand that any and each of these supportive gestures can be significant and probably much more effective than trying to play the psychologist.
Oh ya, my headline promised I’d talk about Robin Williams.
Here’s what I posted in response to the social media onslaught…
Lot’s of angst and passion about Robin Williams today. Suffice it to say that unless you’ve been there, it’s difficult to understand, maybe even impossible.
Having been there and nearly done that I’ll say- don’t judge, don’t even try to understand- if you’re not there just be grateful. If you can reach out to someone in pain, do it- but don’t expect miracles and don’t feel guilty if you can’t change a mind set on the path of destruction. Strange as it sounds, that path sometimes feels like the path of peace.
And don’t condemn Robin as selfish. His life was his, not yours. He shared some of it with you- for that be grateful. That’s a gift, not an obligation. Unless you’re a personal friend, you weren’t there for him- that’s life…and he didn’t live for you…that’s just the fact.
We sometimes allow ourselves a false sense of intimacy with people in the spotlight. Just enjoy the good moments Robin gave you and do the best you can for you and yours.