By Raquel Lyons
You see someone curled up in a fetal position on the floor. Do you intervene?
You see someone sobbing by themselves in the hallway. Do you ask if they’re okay?
You hear a friend joke about suicide. Do you consider it’s more than just a joke?
You think you’re noticing warning signs of suicide–what do you do?
It’s not an easy situation to be in. I cannot claim to know all the answers. I will advise you in this article based on the resources I have integrated into my life, the sources out in the world that know what to do, and from the personal experiences I’ve gone through of being that person struggling with suicidality.
Because in this series, we talk about what society still considers the unspeakable: We talk about suicide. We learn about suicide and educate ourselves about it in a way that we may not have done before. Because it matters, because it is important, because you are worthy of living another day and you CAN make it through until then.
First: we have to understand what suicide is.
Suicide is not necessarily an act of self-harm. Sometimes people use a method of self-harm as a way of trying to kill themselves, but that’s not inherently what self-harm is about. Self-harm is the intentional act of hurting oneself for some type of response. Some people self-harm because they feel they deserve punishment, some people experience temporary relief, some people focus on the physical pain to avoid the emotional pain, some people…well, you get the idea. It’s a complex, negative way of coping with life’s struggles. Self-harm can include bruising, scratching, burning, punching walls, eating disorders and substance use, cutting, and more.
With that out of the way, let’s get back to what suicide therefore is. Suicide is defined as an action taken to end one’s own life. To die by suicide is to die by one’s own hand.
If suicide is about someone taking their own life and dying, what are some of the warning signs that a lot of people exhibit? You may recall my article at the start of the semester about suicide prevention awareness month (which is September). In that article I spoke about the acronym the American Association of Suicidology uses named IS PATH WARM?
If these are the warning signs you see with someone you love, care about, are acquainted with or in a full-blown stranger, what can you do to help?
First and foremost: Gauge within yourself if this is a situation you can handle. It’s important that when we choose people to tell about our suicidality we keep in mind (as best as we can) what their emotional response may be towards us. If you have a friend named Jerry who tends to minimize your problems, he’s probably not the person you want to go and tell you’re feeling suicidal. His response may exacerbate the symptoms you feel, which isn’t to say to not tell anyone how you feel, rather, seek people who you know care and love you, are compassionate, or are in a position to know what to do about your current emotional state.
What you don’t want to happen is that you tell someone you’re feeling suicidal and they make it about themselves. When you’re suicidal you’re in a place where YOU need help, not other people needing help to deal with your need of help in the first place.
Granted, the piece of advice here is more for those loved ones who are suspecting suicidality is at play in their loved one’s mind. But you need to be able to take care of YOU before you ever take care of another person–suicidal or not. So, can you be in for the long haul? That’s a question only you know the answer to.
Second: Talk about suicide with the suicidal person. You will not put ideas into their head (although I don’t suggest making “suggestions” on methods that will or will not result in death, it’s just unhelpful) that they likely haven’t thought of already. By saying the word suicide, you open up the conversation. By not saying it, you perpetuate the stigma and the terrible, terrible silence that surrounds this issue.
So, ask them if they are feeling suicidal. I have always found other people pointing out instances of my behavior to be helpful–i.e. “Raquel, I notice you’ve been missing classes lately and sleeping more than you need to be. Are things okay? Are you suicidal?”
Ask the person if they have a suicide plan, if they’ve acted on it, if they have a method, are they going to act on their suicidality NOW, and so forth….To be continued…
Let’s ignore the god awful spacing here, shall we? 😉 Any who, next NEW article series!! I have officially received the new Health & Wellness section in the paper, woohoo! It went in with my Inside a Psychiatric Hospital part 2 series, which was RIDICULOUSLY long and I feel super guilty about it, but am trying to work through it and be comforted that my next articles are JUST 800 words and so are much better that wise (seriously, the piece took up the WHOLE page)
But that’s nice! I’ll have part II up for ye all tomorrow! And I’m getting ready for a general life update post now, too. 🙂
See you peeps soon!
Written October 17th and November 2.2016