Monday, September 9, 2013

That Thing You're "Not Supposed" To Talk About

September 8th - 14th, 2013 is National Suicide Prevention Week. It's one of the most important causes/awareness campaigns I can possibly think of. I mean, we're talking about people's lives. And yet suicide is one of those topics that virtually nobody wants to talk about. People who have never considered the possibility can't fathom why anyone would. People who have thought about it or have attempted suicide sadly understand exactly why. It seems we, as a society and as individual human beings, are unable to bridge that gigantic gap between these two groups.

I think part of the reason there's this huge divide is the numerous misconceptions about suicide. People have all sorts of ideas of the "types of people" who commit suicide. It's similar to the label society places on people with mental health conditions. You either fit into that group, or you want to make sure you put as far of a space between yourself and that label as possible. Yet what people fail to realize is that "those people" could be your neighbor, your colleague, your classmate, your best friend, your sibling, or your child. 

Perhaps dispelling a few myths about suicide might help to bridge this gap a bit, might get people to look around them, and understand that anyone they know could be at risk for suicide.  
  •  Not all people who commit suicide have a diagnosed mental health condition. While that certainly can be a factor, it's not an absolute. People commit suicide after a serious trauma, a death in the family, or some other specific situation that causes such extreme stress or emotion. In addition, some medications (for all types of illnesses/injuries/issues) actually list "thoughts of suicide" as a side effect, which obviously makes these a potential factor. 
  • Just because someone appears happy, social, and positive does not mean they aren't at risk for suicide. We are a society who's taught to "put on a happy face" instead of showing our true feelings. Unfortunately, we don't know what we don't know, and that could be something as serious as someone having thoughts of suicide. 
  • Suicide crosses all genders, ethnic backgrounds, socio-economic groups, sexual orientations, ages, religions, and areas of the world. Never think someone is "exempt" because of one of these factors. 
  • People who think about, attempt, or do commit suicide are not weak.  Labeling them as such only makes others who may be in danger not want to talk about it. And no serious situation was ever solved by not talking about it. This only widens the divide, and isolates people further. 
So what can you do if you think someone is at risk of suicide? Talk to them. Listen to them. Be caring, loving, understanding, and patient. If someone reaches out or even talks after some prompting, they're asking for help. If you push them away, if you are too busy or don't care to listen, whether you realize it or not you're telling them that their life isn't important enough for you to do so. In addition, never hold their concerns or issues over their head. This might sound obvious, but I've personally experienced situations in which I needed to talk about my mental health and was threatened with being put in a hospital against my will, simply because the person didn't want to "deal with" talking about my condition at the time. It only made me feel more alone.  Luckily, I was not suicidal when this occurred, but had I been, the result could have been very bad. On the flip side, never make light of someone's need. If they are truly in danger of hurting themselves or taking their life, take the necessary steps to get them to safety, to get them help. It could truly be the difference between life and death for that person. 

There are resources available for those who are feeling suicidal, as well as for those who have friends and loved ones that are experiencing suicidal thoughts. Never be afraid to reach out in either case. There are also campaigns, walks, and other events to raise awareness for suicide prevention., for instance, offers an online crisis support center, and they are currently running a Giving Challenge to raise money to establish a 24-7 online crisis chat service.

 I understand that talking about suicide makes most people uncomfortable. To many, it's a dark, very personal topic that they would like to stash away behind a locked door. But quite simply, we can't afford not to talk about it. Not when people's lives are at stake. 

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