The other day I was talking with a new friend and colleague about research she’s interested in doing on youth and suicide. We both marveled at the ways through which this can become a “risky” subject, and that even people or community groups who might have a vested interest in participating in and using this research may not feel ready for it. The primary obstacle is often the idea that if you talk about suicide with someone who is already feeling on the edge, that conversation will propel them forward into action--especially if they are young people. Every time I hear this myth, my heart breaks a little.
In much of the literature on suicide and suicide prevention the focus becomes on why it’s so vitally important to talk about suicide. It demonstrates interest. It can demonstrate an openness to listen. It demonstrates caring and support. Talking about suicide doesn’t make someone think, “This is the best idea I’ve ever had, I think I’ll go kill myself now.” Even if the conversation is awkward and bumbling, as long as you’re not being critical or judgmental, you can’t make the depths of the despair much worse. And in the attempt to reach out to someone who is feeling like suicide is a viable option, you stand the chance to connect with another human being.
In a quick search on suicide prevention on the web, I found the following link, geared to understanding teen suicide, that is a simple and easy to understand primer on suicide. Check it out and share it widely.
In my work with people who experience suicidal thoughts, I hear over and over again how alone they feel with their feelings. That others won’t or don’t seem to understand. People tell me that they find it hard to share these deep feelings with others, so I’m grateful that they share them with me, but I’m also quite encouraging of finding a safe haven with a trusted friend or family member so that the loneliness and despair don’t have to be managed in isolation.
It’s been my experience that because suicide is such a heavy and meaningful topic, and out of a fear of mucking things up, we hesitate to reach out to one another. There isn’t enough emphasis placed on the good intention coming through. There continues to be a sense that there’s a “right thing” to say, and that if we don’t say that right thing, we’ve made matters worse. Here’s a secret that might blow the doors off your barn: THERE IS NO ONE RIGHT THING TO SAY. If there was a right thing for this kind of situation, someone would have patented those phrases making a small fortune, and suffering would be over.
While there may be a number of common themes that arise for why people contemplate or complete suicide, suicidal thoughts are specific to a person, at a particular time in their lives. It’s also pretty rare that there’s only one reason why someone might feel suicidal. It’s complicated. That’s why there’s no cookbook answer, other than to communicate openness, care and concern to someone who is thinking about suicide. Talking about it is a relief, rather than a burden. Talking about suicide isn’t the problem. It’s the NOT talking about it that makes things worse.