September is National Suicide Prevention Month. So, I’d thought I’d share some tips on what to do if someone you love or work with attempts suicide.
And yes, I speak from experience.
Even with all of my vocabulary at my disposal, I have no way to adequately express how I reached that point, the one that made me think depriving my daughter of her only parent would actually benefit her. That I was doing this for her.
It’s mind boggling, really.
There was a certain kind of euphoria that came over me when I had made my decision to end my life here in this world. I know that people who are lucky enough to have never suffered from serious depression won’t understand this. But one of the crippling effects of depression is the inability to act. To do anything, whether negative or positive, to change the circumstances of your life.
And finally, I had a plan.
I am forever grateful to the people, like my best friend Toni, my parents, my counselor, and even my coworkers at my previous employer, that my plan was thwarted.
But the aftermath was the hardest thing I had ever done to date—returning to my work knowing that everyone there knew what I had almost done.
I don’t know what I expected…tears, hugs, uncomfortable silences, maybe? I did get those. But what I also got was so far from the realm of possibility in my mind that I still can’t fathom what happened. I’ve forgiven them, finally. And now, months go by without even the thought of what they did or who they are surfacing in my mind.
I’m going to preface these tips by saying that I understand now that these reactions by my colleagues at my former worksite were rooted in deep fear–fear for their own emotional state, fear for their family, fear that I would do it again. Fear, even, that doing, or failing to do, something would result in a successful attempt the next time. The guilt must’ve been overpowering.
- Don’t exclude survivors from future events that involve everyone in your group. Who knows how you’ll be feeling about the person several months down the road? In my case, I was uninvited from staying with the rest of the group for an event that was occurring two months later, one that I was dependent upon to keep my certificate of interpreting. It was a huge blow to my career, and to my heart.
- If you choose to exclude the survivor from your life, please do it in private. One of my colleagues chose to tell me that my daughter and I were not welcome at his house any longer. He did it in front of my daughter, and in front of his children. (To make matters a little more heartbreaking, it was also my birthday.)
- If you are in a position of power over the person (supervisor, lead, parent, etc.) don’t allow your fear to overtake your compassion. At one point after I returned to work, my daughter had a severe asthma attack at school, bad enough to require emergency aid. I had to interrupt my supervisor as she taught class to inform her I needed to leave, and why. The next week, I was in the vice-principal’s office, where I was chided for interrupting class, and required to sign in and out of the school, something no other staff member was required to do.
- It’s okay to be angry, and to express that anger, as long as it’s done in private. One of my most powerful memories immediately following my police escort back to town was Toni, laying into me about how furious she was. I don’t remember her words, but I do know, down to that last bit of fire in her eyes, her every expression. That, more than anything else, showed me she cared.
- It’s okay to not know what to say. You don’t have to offer to listen to the story, you don’t have to even take the survivor out for coffee (or Mountain Dew in my case), all that’s required is a simple “I’m thinking of you.” That’s it. No big gestures. Just a few simple words, but the impact on the survivor can be huge.
- Handle any concerns/complaints with the survivor privately, especially when it’s work-related. It’s human nature to want to talk about what happened with others. But one of the worst feelings in the world, to someone who suffers from depression, is the knowledge that people are talking about you, even if it’s a legitimate issue. The only thing I had asked all year long, in my new role at work, was that any feedback on decisions I had made be discussed privately first, before it was open to the rest of group. Not only was this request not granted, my annual review was openly discussed at our last staff meeting, the same one where one of my colleagues wondered out loud why I just wasn’t the happy person I used to be. Gee, wonder why?
- Don’t be afraid to seek help for yourself. If the person was a family member, or a close friend, the guilt at either not knowing he or she was considering suicide, or just at being uncomfortable around him or her after can be overwhelming.
There’s a certain risk in admitting that I’m a survivor of this particular brand of depression. There’s even a risk of admitting I suffer from depression at all.
There shouldn’t be.
But I’m tired of hiding, and I’m proud of my courage—not only of going back into work that year, but of leaving once it was clear their attitudes weren’t changing.
I am so much healthier now, and far stronger than I would have been, had I stayed in that toxic environment.
And if my candor, and these seven tips help prevent another suicide, or give the loved ones of a survivor some concrete tips on how to help, then it’s worth it.
Here are some resources, if you or someone you know is contemplating suicide.
Crisis Chat: www.CrisisChat.org
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).
Crisis Text Line: Text “Go” to 741-741.
In my next post, I’ll share my techniques for keeping myself from being sucked back into the darkness. Here’s a hint: it has to do with some cute, talented Irish guys, and my computer.
Uh, wait. That sounded wrong. 😉