I recently participated in a meeting with fellow therapists and there was a very surreal moment when I looked around and thought how extraordinarily compassionate this group of individuals are. It felt like I was in a movie, the meeting began with the supervisor going around asking everyone how they felt today and she actually waited to hear the answer. It saddened me to realize how unusual this type of conversation felt.
There are so many times a day when you ask others or you are asked “how are you?” But how many times do you actually stop to hear the answer? The real answer? When did this question become a required nicety and deviate from an actual interest in the well-being of another individual.
I am constantly inundated with social media posts or news stories about yet another individual who made the choice to take their own life. These stories make me wonder if anyone truly listened to the words behind the traditional “I’m fine” response? And if they had – would it have made a difference in the outcome? I wonder, if we as a whole human kind, could make a difference in the life of even one desperate individual by simply caring about the answer to “how are you?”
Too often suicide is a taboo shrouded in shame that can prevent an individual from reaching out. No one talks about it, understandably, because it is an uncomfortable topic to discuss. However, it is important to remember that while suicide may seem like a selfish and/or senseless act to those who are not suicidal, death as an option to one’s problems makes sense to the suicidal person. The thought of suicide occurs most often when a person feels they have run out of solutions to problems that seem inescapable, intolerably painful, and never-ending (Psychology Today).
If you know someone who is or has been suicidal, it is safe to say that you have realized that simply telling them all the wonderful things about their life or all the reasons why they should not feel this way does little to help. If we rush to tell them how wonderful life is when all they know is deep despair, we may add to their feeling that no one understands the depth of their pain. This is a risk that we don’t want to take (Psychology Today). People often make the mistake in thinking that if they ask the individual about suicide or discuss it with them then they will, “give them ideas”. Chances are, if you are thinking about it, that person has already thought about it.
Additionally, dismissing a persons feelings and shaming them are rarely helpful. Common statements are: “That is selfish”, “You are just doing it for attention” or “There are so many people out there who have it so much worse than you”. While these are things you may be thinking or feeling, impressing these opinions upon others can often make them withdraw more and be less likely to seek help. Additionally, I want to know who decided that the pain of one individual as it compares to another is some kind of a contest? In a contest like that – no one wins. Suffering is suffering regardless of what circumstances it comes in.
If you find yourself wondering about an individual’s desire to live, the best thing you can do is TALK ABOUT IT. It is important that this person get professional help, but before that can happen the person must find the desire to seek it. The best thing you can do is encourage the person to share their pain with you, even if you have to draw it out of them. That person is desperately wanting someone to be there, someone to understand their pain, someone to help them feel less alone by simply being there and listening with compassion. By TRULY wanting to know “how are you feeling?”, without judgement or shame. If you are able to sit with them and be present with their pain then they will find the pain more manageable (Disclaimer: This is NOT to say that if a suicidal individual still goes through with it that it is the fault of the loved one for not “listening good enough”. This is merely to explain what one can do to help. The choice to live is ultimately their own).
Some common signs that a person may be suicidal include (Psychology Today):
- Talks about committing suicide,
- has trouble eating or sleeping,
- exhibits drastic changes in behavior,
- withdraws from friends or social activities,
- loses interest in school, work or hobbies,
- prepares for death by writing a will and making final arrangements,
- gives away prized possessions,
- has attempted suicide before,
- takes unnecessary risks,
- has recently experienced serious losses,
- seems preoccupied with death and dying,
- loses interest in his or her personal appearance, and
- increases alcohol or drug use.
I hope this post encourages you to be more open to the discussion of suicide and to take away some of the pain and judgement associated with those who feel this is an option. I challenge you to ask a friend, loved one, co-worker, acquaintance or complete stranger – “How are you?” and actually wait to hear the answer behind the words.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). It is available 24/7.
I refuse to believe fire is what her death brings,
she deserves to be among angels wings.
Helping people was her greatest art.
People were instantly changed by her big heart.
I think about her a lot and wish she were here.
She was not the first, but the second this year.
What’s our world coming to and whats it become?
For a person so young to give up and be done?
Something needs to change about the world today.
No one should feel death’s the only way.
Nothing’s as terrible as the moment may seem.
Soon it will all be just a bad dream.
Could she have been saved had she received,
the amount of love people gave when they grieved?