Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Suicide, I don't have the answers

This is about suicide, so I will say right at the outset that I am not a professional counsellor, I am not a doctor, I have taken no courses on suicide prevention. I have no answers.

This is from the perspective of someone who knows first hand how tempting suicide can be. It’s a siren song, promising the end to worries and misery, the end to a pointless existence.

A person who is seriously contemplating suicide, and not using it as a form of emotional blackmail, will not tell anyone about it. It comes as a shock even to, or especially to, close friends and family. Most people know this, that people intending to commit suicide will not talk about it. But how many people wonder why this is?

So many times I have heard it said that a person who commits suicide is selfish, not thinking about the ones left behind. This strikes me as a selfish way to think. It’s saying that the person who has made a decision to end life – for reasons that may make no sense to the ones left but are nonetheless real and valid to the person – should instead continue on because the ones left behind don’t want that person to leave them.

People aren’t going to change their minds because they are told they are needed, that others can’t manage without them, or to consider how others will feel if they take that step. It’s entirely possible that they are taking that step precisely because they are so overwhelmed by responsibility that they can’t handle it any more.

People who consider suicide believe life will never improve - responsibilities are too much, or illness is making the quality of life too poor, perhaps life has become a pointless exercise. The reasons are many, and valid, and should not be belittled by others who say only, ‘think about the people you leave behind’. That is saying to the sufferer, ‘you are only worth what you give to others, your suffering and your pain is worth nothing to me’.

While that may not be the intent, that is how the message is received. Trying to talk someone out of suicide is likely to push them over the edge. Putting them in the psych ward, well I guess it stops them, and I guess medication to artificially change the mood will help too. Will it stop the problems that led to the decision in the first place? I don’t know.

Will it stop them from trying again at a later date? For some, yes. Some people find a way through the darkness and into the light. They find meaning and purpose to life once more and continue, wiser and more thoughtful. Others give in. To their family and friends it looks like they have recovered and are grateful to be still on the earth. But, the unpalatable truth is that they are wearing a mask, pretending that all is well when it is not. And there are others who keep on trying, dragging out the misery of all concerned until they finally succeed.

Being told how other people fight for life is telling the suicidal person they are not as strong, being told they should be grateful there are people who care just puts a sense of responsibility on already sagging shoulders. Trying to make them feel guilty simply exacerbates the guilt they already feel at being a failure.

So, why don’t suicidal people tell others how they are feeling? I expect the reasons are varied. Likely, so they are not stopped. Also likely, because they are so used to keeping their pain within that they don’t even think to tell anyone how they really feel. Possibly to avoid a lecture that focuses on how other people think they should be feeling, and to avoid having other people react with anger to their pain.

Each person is an individual, each reacts to pain and trauma differently. Some make a final decision, something that I can relate to, even though I chose not to take that path. And I’ve faced that particular siren many times in recent years. I can’t tell you what stopped me, possibly a tiny spark of hope that refuses to extinguish.

There are people who make an impulsive choice, due to trauma, drugs, or mental illness. There are those who make a reasoned, thoughtful choice when they feel that all other options are closed. To reach those people, to help them to change their minds takes a careful, light touch.

If you know someone who is struggling with life, reach out. Talk to them, not necessarily about their problems, just talk to them so they know they are not alone. Show them that they are loved for who they are and not what they can do for you. Take the time to learn the warning signs and learn how best to help someone in their position.

Suicide is the ultimate step from which there is no return. People who reach that point feel they are at the end of the road. Don’t make them feel worse, don’t belittle their pain, don’t make them believe their feelings are not important. It’s not a decision taken lightly, so it can’t be easily and quickly changed. Give them your time, and be kind.

Lastly, don’t judge. You don’t know how anyone else is feeling, or how they got to that point. Don’t judge anyone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. It’s the wisest advice ever given.

1 comment:

  1. Sheryl you are exactly right. No one has permission to try and guilt another into prolonging the torment. Walking a mile fits perfectly. I congratulate you on successfully bridging that crevasse. T.