Is there a 'right' response to hearing "I'm suicidal"

Guest post:  charlotteunderwoodauthor.com

I’m suicidal, there I said it. How do you respond to that? Do you fire supportive comments like “Keep fighting” or do you turn the other cheek? I’ve been on both ends of the response.

I’ve never not been suicidal, I’ve always been overly obsessed with death although I am terrified of dying. I think that my childhood trauma had pushed me into the grasps of mortality at such a young age. Isn’t it strange though, that you can be utterly terrified of dying but be overwhelmed with suicidal ideation?

I don’t know when my first attempt was, or even my second or third – In fact, I don’t even know how many attempts there have been. All I know is that I have repeatedly tried to end my life and by some miracle, I’m still here.

I do however remember my last suicide attempt. I had just lost my own father to suicide and in all honesty, I couldn’t stop thinking about the rector who said that one day I would see him again. I didn’t want to wait decades or for mother nature; I just wanted my daddy.

It all happened very fast, one moment I was fine, then a sudden change in me occurred, like a switch and all I knew, was that I needed to die then and there. I did try to call out for help but sadly there was no one to save me, I was alone. Thankfully I came around and realized what I had done, I didn’t want to die, not really, so I went to the hospital. This was the last time I tried to end my life and I hope it stays that way.

It's been four and a half years since that attempt. My world has changed and then changed again. I honestly did not imagine that I would be or could be where I am today. I do not know how I survived, I do not know why I survived but I’m glad that I did.

So, I get asked a lot, how do I go from a person who self-harms, drinks obsessively and essentially tries to end life at any chance I can get. Really, there are no answers or quick fixes, all that it was, was determination.

I fumbled for a good three years, I got better and then I got really, really ill. It was an extreme rollercoaster which I am certain I will be on for the rest of my life; my moods are unpredictable.

And then, last year, 2017, I found a purpose. It came after I had to quit my job to extremely low mental health; it was a matter of money or my life and it was the hardest choice I ever had to make, but if your mental health is the cost, the price is too much.

It started by writing, just opening up and letting out those boxed up feelings. Then came a book, and then another, then a blog and then I found my life goal, mental health advocacy. Somehow, I have turned the negatives of my life into a positive, so that I can teach and support others; and it feels so great to do.

My life is not perfect and I am not content, there are still things that I want to change and I am sure I will change but I can stand on my own two feet now; without living under my own self-destruction. All I can say, is that self respect and self-compassion goes a long way in removing those horrid thoughts, as I was once told, you are kind to others but when was the last time you were kind to yourself.

SO, what do you say to a person that is determined to end their own life?

What is the right response, is there a right response?

The truth is that you cannot possibly know what is going on in someone else's head and so it makes it incredibly hard to know how to help someone that needs saving more than ever. In an ideal world, society would never let anyone get to the point where death is their only solace.

There are certain things that are almost automatic in today’s society, phrases like “You’ll be okay” or “But your life isn’t that bad” can almost push a person further into their grief. Somehow empathy has slowly been dying out from society and instead it is replaced with guilt tripping and rapid response, but really, when are you ever too busy to save a life?

The worst thing you can do is to make a person feel guilty or ashamed like that old phrase “Suicide only passes the pain to someone else”, which I understand as the daughter of a suicide victim, but you should never, ever, take away an individuals power to hurt or feel pain about their own life. I once saw a post, it said that “Your mother did not carry you for 9 months for you to end your life”, which is very similar to the prior; when someone wants to die, it’s got nothing to do with anyone else with them.

The best thing, that anyone ever did for me was just after my father died. I was having a massive panic attack in which I had curled up in a fetus position on the floor. I remember how much I was hurting but I did not want to move, or to talk, I just wanted to feel the way I did at the time; I needed to set that pain free. My partner at the time grabbed a pillow and a blanket and almost wrapped me up, he comforted me and then lay next to me; he did not touch me or say a word – he read me. What he did was simple and yet I will never forget it, because he was there for me.

The best thing that you can do when someone is contemplating suicide is, just be there for them. Listen to them. Show you care. But remember who that person is, do not overwhelm them, do not make this about you. Ultimately you want to give the person a reason to live, a reason to fight, and by showing that you care, that they are not alone, that is exactly what they need.

At the end of the day, we all just want to be loved, even if we push everyone away. If you make the effort to listen to your friends, to check on them and reach out, then what you are doing is lowering the suicide risk. You have no idea what a person is thinking at the current time, so one message of compassion can literally save a life.

Sam GlassComment