***This post is about suicide. It may not be appropriate for some readers.***
Suicide is a hard topic to talk or even think about. In my own struggle with suicidal thoughts, I would never say the word ‘suicide’. I was afraid and ashamed of this word, but fear and shame doesn’t stop attempts or thoughts nor do the phrases, ‘Don’t do it’ and ‘You have so much to live for.’
To friends reading, I am fine.
‘Don’t do it.’
When someone is experiencing suicidal ideation, I think one of the worst statements to say to that person is, ‘Don’t do it.’ Why? Well, this phrase can feel like a command or demand. My response would be, ‘Who are you to tell me what to do?’ Is such a response wrong? Perhaps. However, when someone’s in extreme pain or distress, the best approach isn’t commanding or demanding. Imagine breaking both legs and having someone respond by telling you to ‘Get up!’ That’s what saying ‘Don’t do it,’ can sound and feel like to a person wanting to commit suicide. You may not understand why someone wants to take their own life, but your understanding shouldn’t be a priority in that moment.
Suicide isn’t necessarily about wanting to die. In my experience, it’s more about wanting to end severe emotional or mental or physical pain and suffering.
‘You have so much to live for.’
‘But I don’t care.’ That’s my response to, ‘You have so much to live for.’ ‘I don’t care.’
Future plans and possibilities are negligible for someone experiencing suicidal ideation. In that moment, you want to end your suffering. That’s it. ‘You have so much to live for,’ might resonate with a teenager but to someone 58 years of age, it may not make the same impression. When I was having suicidal thoughts, I couldn’t see the future. No one was going to convince me there was anything to see. Not being able to see a future intensified my distress. I thought, ‘Why be here if there’s nothing else?’
What should I say?
I’m not sure. Perhaps nothing but definitely not, ‘Don’t do it,’ or ‘You have so much to live for.’
Whenever I’ve wanted to commit suicide AND told someone so, I think I wanted compassion not answers and speeches but compassion (genuine concern for my suffering). When any of us goes through difficult times, it seems the things we want and need most are care and support—someone to hear and help bear the load.
They Mayo Clinic’s What to do When someone is suicidal, provides good pointers on things we can do if we encounter someone who is suicidal. If you’re not sure or don’t feel comfortable, dial the National Suicide Prevention Hotline (1-800-273-8255), put the phone on speaker and just be there with the person.
Background Music: Leslie Odom Jr. Without You