Can you please stop sharing the suicide hotline number and acting like you’re somehow going to be a martyr for mental health? Because you are not listening and you will not always be there. I’ll tell you how I know this. First of all, you don’t even know what to listen for. When a person is suicidal, they aren’t shouting it on the fucking mountain top, waiting for someone to hear them. They aren’t sending you private messages asking for help and allowing you the honour of swooping in just in time to save them from themselves. They are often withdrawn, in their own world, alone, and believing that nobody fucking cares because nobody has even noticed that they are withdrawn and alone.
Let me paint a picture for you because this is what suicidal looks like. It might start with sudden and irrational irritability. A person might become completely unbearable to deal with, their behaviour becoming increasingly unacceptable and just as you become aware of the problem, so do they. This is when they need you to listen. But it’s hard to listen to a person who is yelling at you for no reason, so you decide (justifiably so) that you do not need to be subjected to such inexcusable behaviour and you retreat. They start to feel ashamed, embarrassed, and guilty. They feel so guilty, in fact, that they don’t even want to face you, or anyone for that matter, out of a very legitimate fear that they will say or do something to further alienate people, thereby reinforcing their already negative self-perceptions in an extremely harmful cycle. That’s when they start to believe you are better off without them. And they stop reaching out, finding comfort in the safety of their couch. They withdraw and you retreat, relieved not to have to deal with that.
A few months go by, and maybe you start to notice that you haven’t seen or heard from your friend… you wonder for a second what’s going on, hope they are okay and go back to your life. Whatever their deal is, it isn’t your responsibility. You “like” their sporadic posts on facebook—which give you little insight into their mental health—keep a safe distance, and call it a day. You scroll through your own feed, and meaning so well I’m sure, you repost and share the suicide hotline number, you say you’re always listening and you hashtag #awareness… but you didn’t hear your own friend’s cries for help. Because they didn’t sound vulnerable. They sounded angry. It’s much easier to empathize with the vulnerable, isn’t it?
So here you are, willing to listen to every “friend” you have on facebook… but in the meantime your friend had a birthday and not only did you not reach out to do something to celebrate, but you didn’t even bother to wish them a happy birthday. I mean, after all, they’ve been pretty shitty to you so nobody would blame you. But they noticed. They noticed that quite a few people didn’t bother. Because here’s the thing—you are not the only person who is keeping their distance. Your angry friend has successfully pushed all of their friends away, not just you. And when their birthday came around and you weren’t the only person who felt they didn’t deserve your time or attention, they felt worthless, and sad, and lonely. And that’s the day your friend became suicidal. But you weren’t listening.
So, if you really want to help your friend out, stop just sharing a number, and educate yourself, so you can start spreading actual awareness. Know what to look for when a person is suicidal. It’s not always as obvious as the memes would have you believe. Know which services are available locally to help people in crisis, where they are and how to access them. Be willing to look past the anger you don’t understand to see the pain underneath. Look for the things you can’t see right away—sometimes the very act of looking can make all the difference to a person who has given up on themselves.
Signs a person may be contemplating suicide:
- People who take their lives don’t necessarily always want to die, but rather to end their pain. Don’t dismiss suicide ideation, talks, or threats as attention seeking. If you notice any signs that they may be thinking about harming themselves, get help
- They may become withdrawn, avoiding close friends and family, losing interest in activities and social events, and becoming more and more isolated.
- A focus on death. Some people talk openly about wanting to die, fixate on the topic of death and dying. They may research ways to kill themselves or buy a gun, knife, or hoard pills.
- Showing signs of despair. The person may talk openly about the unbearable pain they are experiencing or feeling like they’re a burden to others.
- Making plans. The person may take steps to prepare for death, like updating a will, giving away possessions, massive cleaning and purging of belongings, and saying goodbye to others. Some may write a suicide note.
- Mood swings and sleep disruptions. Often, the person may be depressed, anxious, sad, or angry. They also may be very irritable, moody, or aggressive. But they can suddenly turn calm once they’ve decide to go through with the suicide. Then they may sleep a lot more or a lot less than usual.
- Drinks or takes drugs. Substance abuse raises the chance of suicide. Using a lot of drugs and alcohol may be an attempt to dull the pain or to harm themselves.
- Reckless behaviour. The person may take dangerous chances, like driving drunk or having risky sex.
It’s great to have good intentions, but in this case it is not enough. Follow it up with information and actionable resources… you might end up seeing something that you may have otherwise missed. And that something may be the very thing that saves a life.