Editor’s Note: According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, suicide is at its highest rate in 30 years. Life is a gift from God and through Him, there is hope and meaning for yours. Please, do not allow Depression, fear of what others might think, overwhelming addictions, or anything else keep you from receiving help and encouragement.
Reach out. Speak up. Ask for help. This is the message we hear after tragedies like Robin Williams, Kate Spade, and Anthony Bourdain’s suicidal deaths. The importance of good mental health is once again thrust into the spotlight for a short time as the nation mourns. People fill their social media accounts with personal stories of their own struggles and the ways they got out.
Then we forget. The shock of the stories wears off, and those struggling are left alone again in their silence and loneliness. But surely they would tell us if they were feeling suicidal, right? We just asked them to reach out if they were struggling.
Wrong. One of the main hallmarks of depression is a lack of will to do, well, anything. Sometimes there’s also an inability to perceive exactly how bad they feel. Hopelessness can creep in slowly and make its home in a person’s mind before they even know it’s there. Suddenly, they find themselves justifying why everyone will benefit from them not being here anymore, or why they just can’t live one more minute trapped in their life.
We cannot simply ask people to reach out and wait for them call. It’s like expecting a drowning person to tap you on the shoulder and ask you to save them. Part of living in community is asking for help. But part of living in community is paying attention and asking hard questions to your people.
We are never to blame for someone else’s actions. We do, however, have a communal obligation to not simply just exist in the same space as other people, but to really be a part of their lives. This means noticing when they stop hanging out, posting as much on social media, look a little down, experience major stressful life changes, lose interest in previously enjoyed activities, or avoid deep conversations. And it means noticing when someone sees you as one of their insider people even if you don’t necessarily see them as one of yours.
There are a lot of excuses that you could use to talk yourself out of asking uncomfortable questions. I’d list them here, but they’ve probably already popped into your head. What I’ll leave you with are some starter questions on how to broach the subject:
Have you been feeling sad or down lately?
Have you had a hard time getting things done, or even just starting them?
Does your mind go to dark places sometimes?
Are you sleeping considerably more or less than normal?
Have you been feeling hopeless?
Have you thought about suicide?
If you’re answering the above questions with a yes, it is probably time to talk to a professional. If you are in crisis, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.
If you’re suspecting a friend isn’t in a good spot, then ask and press into the conversation. Press past the automatic, “it’s fine,” and ask the hard, probing questions. Then really listen. You don’t have to solve everything, and you may not prevent the worst from happening. Just do the one thing you can do and start the conversation, be present emotionally, and direct them to the appropriate level of help:
Keep talking to a friend or mentor.
If they admit they are feeling suicidal, take them to the ER to be evaluated.
For info on practical ways to volunteer or join the fight for suicide prevention see American Foundation of Suicide Prevention. They have local chapters and their website is also very helpful whether looking for support for yourself or someone else in the battle.
Bottom line: Ask hard questions. Get in your people’s business.
Meet the Author!
Phoebe is a therapist at Connect Counseling at Deaconess Pregnancy and Adoption, mom to the very lively Vivi and very chill Charlie, and wife to Jeff. You may spot her out and about at almost any Target in the area with a coconut milk latte in hand. She enjoys nonfiction books, Disney movies, and helping others find peace and healing in the hope of the Gospel.
This blog is meant to further the conversation about mental health and is not intended as medical or professional advice.