The uncomfortable truth about suicide prevention
September 10 was World Suicide Prevention Day.
It is great that we have a day dedicated to such an important issue. We need to talk about suicide more. We need to improve services and life quality in general to help more people.
As a counselor, I am glad that we have a day where we shine the light on the fact that so many people end their own lives.
The numbers are rising. Amongst the many lives lost too soon are many young ones. Teenagers, even children who decided they couldn’t go on anymore. That is a fact we need to be more aware about.
What we expect and how it doesn’t fit to reality
This topic is highly uncomfortable. After all, we live in a society that values youth and excellent health and looks down on anything that is different to feeling full of energy and accomplishing life’s tasks with ease.
We have become superficial and uncaring towards everything that isnt’ the norm. Ironically, suicide has become the norm for many.
If we are honest, we can’t deny that our quest to find youth forever and happiness around the clock has created a dangerous abyss – one where the darkness is thicker and stronger than ever before and where there is hardly a way out.
Of course, we rather turn our backs on that and pretend we are in fact happy and young forever and always. Until a suicide reminds that reality is a lot more complex and layered than that.
What do we need to do instead?
We need to talk about the fact that suicide seems to be the only way out of a struggle, a trauma or any ongoing, exhausting challenge people face in life.
We need to understand and erase that soul crushing loneliness and isolation people find themselves in. We need to take a step back and examine what we perceive as important in life as a society. We need to reflect how the current expectations on success, happiness and health impact on all of us.
We need to think about the fact that our lives have become so busy and pressured. Social media is great but in many ways harms people. Many feel like they can’t keep up with all the happy, rich, accomplished people who post glossy and happy snaps on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and the like.
But most of all, we need to stop thinking we know what is best for those who struggle so much that suicide is a solution and not a warning sign.
The wrong way to look at suicide
If World Suicide Prevention Day showed me one thing then it is this: We as a society put the blame, the responsibility, and the need for action entirely and exclusively on those struggling.
Posts where people say they are always there to listen and who urge people to reach out are nice and well meant.
But they are pointless. Even harmful.
Because we expect someone who is going through the hardest part of their life to have enough energy and self awareness to seek help! We expect them to make the first step.
In reality, that hardly ever happens. Mental health is complex – for all of us, not just those who battle with a mental illness.
It’s hard to put into words what is wrong sometimes. It just doesn’t feel right. But how can we describe these confusing feelings? The words are lacking, the brain is foggy, the fatigue is overpowering. We know we must fight but how? Talking is exhausting, thinking is exhausting, feeling is exhausting, struggling is exhausting!
In reality, we know we need help but how can we reach out if breathing hurts and getting out of bed seems like an impossible task?
In reality, how are we supposed to feel safe to reach out when we are ashamed of where we are at because society tells us that getting up in the morning is easy?
In reality, we feel vulnerable. We feel raw and exposed because our challenge has stripped us bare from any protective mechanism. We are who we are in an ugly or confronting moment. We are different to all of those who live so seamlessly in a glossy, happy, forever young and successful world. We have no defense left, no strength left to own our pain and talk about it.
With this in mind – do you really think telling people to reach out is the way to go?
I say – IT IS NOT !
Step it up the right way
The responsibility is on us – the ‘healthy ones’ so to speak.
We need to check in with those who struggle.
We need to be gentle yet persistent in our approach.
We need to make the first step and take guidance from those who are struggling.
It is not about what we think they need.
It is about helping them in a way that helps them improve.
It is not about judging if that way seems silly or unclear to us.
We need to stop thinking we know better.
WE DON’T KNOW BETTER.
We know different because all our paths are unique. It is about veering off our path and joining someone struggling on theirs. Once we are on their path, we can help. We need to be patient and wait until they are ready to let us walk with them. Remember – simply because someone is struggling and in a dark place doesn’t mean they are not capable of making their own decisions! (Suicide is a decision – just sayin’).
See them as a whole person. Don’t reduce them to their struggle. That is part of them but not all of them so don’t judge the whole person on just one aspect of their personality and life.
If you think ‘well, that is a lot to do’ then you are right. It is.
Saving a life is a lot to do.
It doesn’t always mean that we will succeed. But it is worth a try. In fact, it is necessary that we try!
If you are serious about suicide prevention, stop expecting and start acting.
Suicide prevention starts with you – one talk at a time, one phone call, one text message at a time.
WE need to be the change – those of us who are well and in a good place.
We are the ones who need to check in instead of demanding to reach out.
I am giving this a try. How about you?