I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what suicide prevention actually looks like. How do we, as a society, prevent suicide from happening?
Sounds like a difficult question to answer, but it’s not.
Often, people who die by suicide suffer from mental illness. Not only does a profound darkness eat at them from the inside, but sometimes, the person suffering isn’t even aware of what’s happening inside of them. They feel like something’s wrong but they don’t know what. They try to express how they are feeling and are instantly shut down.
Boys are told to suck it up.
Girls are asked to be less dramatic.
If these children have parents who are willing to listen and support them instead of shutting them down, they might be taken to a psychologist and diagnosed.
Their therapist and parents will tell them it’s okay that their brains work differently than other people’s brains. But society will tell them otherwise.
Friends, peers, relatives or teachers might say something insensitive and suddenly they feel unsafe. They begin to retreat and isolate. They don’t want anyone to see the pain they’re experiencing so they put on a brave face. They stop seeing their therapist. They convince their parents that they are better. They stop taking their medication. But behind closed doors, they crumble. They suffer, all alone, in silence.
Until one day the pain becomes unbearable. They no longer see a light beyond the darkness. All they’ve ever wanted is for their pain to stop and one day, they become convinced that suicide is the only way to end their pain. So they kill themselves.
People around them act shocked. They are devastated. They say they didn’t see it coming; that they couldn’t have prevented it.
But WE could have prevented it.
Society, as a whole, has something that one or two parents don’t always have. Society has power and influence. We, as a society, have the ability to prevent suicide by creating a culture that recognizes, validates and empathizes with those who are different from us.
Sounds like a lofty ideal, doesn’t it? Changing society? But it’s not. It’s a reality that has already begun to transpire.
I believe that the stigma associated with mental illness is the leading cause of suicide. But this is good news, friends. This means we have the ability to prevent suicide.
How might one contribute to smashing the stigma surrounding mental illness?
Education, information, vulnerability and acceptance.
Talk about mental health. If you have experience with suffering, share it. If you live with depression, talk about it. If you are on anti-anxiety medication, let people know. People feel safe with others who are like them.
Educate people with what you know. If you learn something new about bipolar disorder, share it. If your aunt has schizophrenia, tell your friends why you love her. Show people that her/his/your mental illness does not define you.
And above all, treat people with mental illness like everyone else because they are just like everyone else. Their brains might fire chemicals differently than yours, but that doesn’t make them any less than human than you.
If you know anyone who suffers from clinical depression, take a moment to ask them if they’ve ever thought about suicide. Create a safe space for them to connect with you. If they answer “yes,” ask if they have a plan. If they have a plan, don’t let them leave your side until they are somewhere safe. Call 911 and/or take them to a hospital.
One moment is all it takes to form a connection. And one connection is all it takes to save a life.