Suicide usually becomes a national topic when a celebrity or public figure dies by it. It’s a difficult subject to discuss due to the stigma still attached and it does feel easier to post a national suicide hotline on social media rather than have those difficult conversations. Although calling a number can save a life, most people in a suicidal state do not have the will to dial those numbers. When your mental health is suffering, actively seeking help is almost impossible.
According to the World Health Organization, a person takes their own life every forty seconds and in the U.S. alone, there are 25 attempts for every successful suicide. It is a global issue that not only results in the loss of life but affects millions of people who are left asking questions that they will never get answers to. In most cases, those who have experienced a suicide attempt experienced debilitating depression leading up to their decision. As reported by the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI), most than 90% of those who die by suicide have a diagnosable mental disorder.
I am not a psychiatrist or a mental health professional, but what I do know, I know from experience. Two years ago, I tried to take my own life. Luckily, I was rushed to the hospital in time, got the help I needed, and to this day, continue to recover. In the last two years since then, I’ve experienced numerous bouts of depression but because of my support system, it has never gotten to the point where suicide was an option again.
A major way to prevent suicide or help those that are on the verge of it is to identify early signs of depression. It is so easy to feel helpless when watching someone you love struggle but there are several things you can do to help. Below are some of the ways to help those in need and possibly prevent the loss of a life.
1. Be Present.
You may not know exactly what someone is going through, but let them know that you’re there…and genuinely mean it. I remember a few days before my incident, a friend told me to come over. She knew I had been going through a very difficult time, and like a good friend, she wanted to be there for me.
At the time, I didn’t want to be alone, so I took her in on that offer. What I thought would be an hour or two of conversation and much-needed distraction became an hour or two of watching her scroll through her phone.
I know she didn’t mean any harm, but it made me feel even more alone. In my mind, this person really wasn’t there. She was sitting in front of me, but she wasn’t present. A few days later, I was in the hospital.
When you’re trying to help a friend, give them 100% of your attention. Put your phone away, sit with them, and listen. Whether they decide to talk or not, dedicate that time to your friend. Your presence means more than you will ever know.
2. Continue to check in.
If you know someone is not in a great state, and you haven’t heard from them, get in touch. A simple text or phone call can make a huge difference. Even if they are not engaged or responsive, that message sitting in their text app signifies that they are not alone.
During periods of crippling depression, morning anxiety was a daily fixture for me. I would wake up feeling paralyzed, afraid to get out of bed and face the day. The thought of walking into work put me in panic mode, but because of one amazing friend, I got through it.
As disengaged as I was, this friend did not give up. I woke up to daily texts, funny memes, and emojis ensuring me that despite my unresponsiveness, there were still people that were not giving up on me. It is so easy to take rejections personally, but when someone is in a state of depression, their lack of engagement has nothing to do with you. Make those calls, send those texts, and even though you know the answer will be no, continue inviting them to hangouts and events.
3. Advocate for them.
This one is a little tougher. During my “lost year” (that’s what I call the year that I was at my worst mental state), I had zero energy to focus on getting help. My goal every day wasn’t getting through work, going to school, or running errands, it was simply trying to stay alive. It was making sure I didn’t actively try and kill myself. Because of my severe mental state, I was in no position to advocate for myself.
Luckily, my friends and family made sure I continued getting the help I needed. Whether it was driving me to appointments, sitting next to me in waiting rooms under those clinical lights, to simply doing the research I couldn’t, they stayed on top of it.
If someone is in a debilitating state of depression, it’s more than likely that they are not actively seeking help. Be the person who gets the help for them. Whether it’s navigating the mental health system, getting more information on services and free clinics, to gathering useful information that they may need, taking the initiative is another way to be there for them. Don’t just tell them that it will be okay, show them.
4. Know when to listen and when to talk.
Sometimes, being an active listener is all that it takes to help someone. It may not completely cure them of their depression, but often times, those that are suffering are bottling up emotions that are weighing them down. When someone is dealing with mental health issues, it is so easy for them to get caught up in their own thoughts. You may not have the answers to their problems, but allowing them to express what they’re feeling and going through gives them a certain sense of validation.
Then there are moments when hearing you talk is what they need. There were moments when all I wanted was a distraction from my mind. Whether it was hearing someone else’s story or simply talking about small and light things such as the latest Marvel movie that just came out, hearing someone else speak would quiet the negative thoughts in my head, even if it was just temporarily.
I guess the trick is to know when to talk and when to listen. Feel out the vibe that they’re giving. Read their face and really try and connect with what they want even if they’re not verbally expressing it.
5. Do the simple things that they can’t do for themselves.
When someone is experiencing severe depression, simple chores and tasks get thrown out of the window. A clear sign of whether or not I am struggling with an episode is seeing the state of my bedroom. I’m normally a tidy person, but when depression is taking over, I do not have the energy to clean up after myself. It takes all of the effort in the world to get out of bed and anything beyond that is impossible.
If you suspect that someone is struggling, offer to help them with some of the simple things. I’ve had people pick up groceries for me when they knew I wasn’t eating properly or offer to run some of my errands. As much as I resisted, it was a tremendous help. It didn’t just save me from taking a trip outside, but it showed that they truly did care. Instead of thinking that I was lazy and unmotivated, I knew they saw my struggle and understood the exhaustion and physical toll it took on me.
No mental illness is the same, and there is never just one reason why someone decides to commit suicide. Truthfully, trying to help someone is a dire mental state can be one of the most difficult things to do. There is no guidebook on how to 100% cure depression and sometimes, the person in trouble may not even want the help you’re trying to give.
In cases like these, it is so easy to feel helpless which often times leads to inaction. By understanding that disengagement and isolation are just a few symptoms of mental illness, it is important to not take the rejection you might feel personal.
Considering that the rate of depression and suicide gets higher each year, it is better to act than not act at all. The most important thing to remember is that suicide is preventable and most mental illnesses are treatable. Getting someone the help they need is the most important step in preventing the loss of a life. It is also important to not give up when someone you love is hurting. Your presence means more than you will ever know.