NOTE: I am a trained mental health professional, a psychologist, so I can’t imagine how hard it must be for people to provide help for the ones they care about that are suffering because it is hard, even for me. The expectation is that I am the person that is supposed to make it “go away.” If you are in a situation where you are faced with someone that is suicidal it is okay to bring them to the hospital or help them seek professional help from a counselor/therapist. No one has to do this alone. Help is all around us; there are many resources that can guide them in the right direction.
Everyday we scroll through our news feeds on social media, we see so many quick and instant posts that are meant to demonstrate awareness about all kinds of topics, ranging from “stop animal cruelty, trump says on twitter…, pray for those in…, another school shooting, don’t hurt yourself, I care about you…”. These short status updates or quick instagram post don’t delve deep into the real issues this country is facing. Today, from a psychologist point of view, I am going to talk about my perspective of the things I commonly hear from people or what I see online. I want to take a step further and talk about my interpretation of the impact of social media and the way we perceive the world. I am going give some information about suicide and what you can do to help someone in pain, someone who is thinking about taking their own life.
- You often see posts that say, “If you are suicidal, say something, get help.”These statements on social media and through day to day interactions are kind gestures to show that you care but I also want to make it clear that “saying something” or “getting help” is not as easy as it sounds. Being able to speak up and asking a friend to help you or going to see a counselor takes a lot of effort. When someone is having suicidal thoughts and is in that much internal pain they are not all of sudden going to reach out to someone or say, “you know what I should go to counseling…” Their mental state of mind is not clear, and all they can focus on is the pain. For those of us who face those with hopelessness and suicidal thoughts, it is best to start off by validating the pain that person is experiencing.
It is okay to say, “I hear that you are in pain. You must be hurting so much that it is causing you to want to take your own life.”
Giving acknowledgement helps the person feel understood, you are showing that you want to understand. That won’t resolve the problem but it is a step forward. Next is to show compassion and help the person be proactive to seek professional help. This could sound like, “I want to be there for you because I care about you. I’ll go with you to get help.” If you are with someone in distress and are is having suicidal thoughts, don’t leave them alone! Take them to a hospital, call a hotline with them or connect them with a loved one.
Now, if you have attempted to help and support someone that is considering self-harm and they reject or resist your support you may start to feel hopeless. Although you feel this way you can still be there for them, you just have to take a different approach. You may think that giving your friend some space is a good idea since they seem so angry and frustrated but by doing so will likely make them feel isolated. It may also mean that if and when they’re ready to seek help, they might not feel comfortable about coming to you for support. The first step is to continue to be available and supportive. Listen to your friend and continue to use validation and acknowledgement.
Next, become informed and do a bit of research into what help is available in your area that could be useful for your friend. Try searching on google or psychology today for mental health therapists that can help your friend when they are ready. If you have this information prepared you are able to give them direction on who they can go see.
While you are helping your friend in need, you also need support! It can be really frustrating to try to help someone that refuses your help. Talk through how you’re feeling with someone you trust. It can also be very tiresome to help someone that is thinking about hurting themselves so it is important to set boundaries about what you are able to do and what you’re not able to do for your friend. For example, if your friend really wants to you to attend all their appointments but you can’t it is okay to say that you can’t do that for them. Remember if you think someone is in danger or is at risk as a result of what’s going on, it’s important that you seek help immediately.
- “Why does it seem like there are more suicides happening. What can I even do?” THERE ARE MORE SUICIDES HAPPENING!! Suicide rates have increased by more than 30% in half of America’s states. In 2016, suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in this country (National Institute of mental health). In today’s society, society today there is so much pressure to hold a certain type of image and to show your picturesque life. Due to social media and all the filters and fillers we are able to apply before posting something, we often see people showing off only their best self as it gets the most likes and attention. Imagine already feeling crappy about yourself because you had a bad day, going through your daily instagram check and scrolling through 100 photos in just a few minutes and all you observe is people having fun and enjoying the best of life. At this point, feeling crappier now feels like shit. The honest reality is none of us have a “perfect life,” we all struggle, we just don’t show that part of life.
- You also hear, “Whoa, that person was so loved by everyone, they had it all, it is so sad that they committed suicide. They didn’t even show signs of depression. I wonder why they would even do that…” There are many factors that account for suicides such as family history of suicide, family history of child maltreatment, previous suicide attempt(s), history of mental disorders, particularly clinical depression, history of alcohol and substance abuse, feelings of hopelessness, impulsive or aggressive tendencies, cultural and religious belief, local epidemic of suicide, isolation, barriers to accessing mental health, loss, physical illness, easy access to lethal methods and unwillingness to seek help because of the stigma attached to mental health and substance abuse disorders or to suicidal thoughts.
Just because people of high status and power appear to have it all materialistically, it doesn’t mean they can’t experience feelings of hopelessness and lack fulfillment either. I often here people say, that person had it all, if I had all that money I wouldn’t kill myself. We must stop right there and stop comparing ourselves with others. Our feelings whether that be happiness, anger or sadness IS NOT COMPARABLE. We all have our own journey and we must respect that for each other. The U.S. Public Health Service shared that protective factors buffer individuals from suicidal thoughts and behavior. This includes effective clinical care for mental, physical, and substance abuse disorders, easy access to a variety of clinical interventions and support for help seeking, family and community support (connectedness), support from ongoing medical and mental health care relationships, skills in problem solving, conflict resolution, and nonviolent ways of handling disputes, and cultural and religious beliefs that discourage suicide and support instincts for self-preservation.
- “People who commit suicide are weak minded.” Stop the stigma! Mental health stigma exists everywhere and we continue to stigmatize those that take their lives. Depression is a brain disorder, a disease that affects 16.1 million American adults over the age of 18, that means that there are millions of other people not accounted for due to mental health stigma. Those suffering cannot simply snap their fingers and be happy. I often hear people say, “can’t depressed people just tell themselves to feel better or do stuff to make it better, that’s what I do.” Let me start off by saying, it is important not to compare our pain and feelings with someone else’s emotions. We all experience pain and suffering in different ways and whichever way we feel that we should be understood and heard. Having feelings is not weak, seeking help is not weak. It takes courage to show your true feelings and seek help when you need it. If we want to be part of solving the suicide epidemic, we need to be more open minded and accepting to discuss taboo topics like suicide.
- “I wish there was something I could have done or said to prevent that suicide from happening.” You don’t have to be a mental health professional to help someone in your life that may be struggling with a mental health disorder. As a licensed psychologist, I just ask that you get well informed of the situation and learn steps that can help. Here are some tips from the Suicide Prevention Life Line:
- Ask: Research shows people who are having thoughts of suicide feel relief when someone asks after them in a caring way. Findings suggest acknowledging and talking about suicide may reduce suicidal ideation.
- Keep Them Safe: A number of studies have indicated that when lethal means are made less available or less deadly, suicide rates by that method decline, and frequently suicide rates overall decline.
- Be There: Individuals are more likely to feel less depressed, less suicidal, less overwhelmed, and more hopeful by after speaking to someone who listens without judgment.
- Help Them Connect: Studies indicate that helping someone at risk create a network of resources and individuals for support and safety can help them take positive action and reduce feelings of hopelessness.
- Follow Up: Studies have also shown that brief, low cost intervention and supportive, ongoing contact may be an important part of suicide prevention, especially for individuals after they have been discharged from hospitals or care services.
Based in Southern California in beautiful Newport, CA, here at Social Growth Center, we can help you or your loved one struggling with depression and anxiety.
We specialize in Social Skills Training that can help Teens and Young Adults with depression and anxiety. Learn more about our OC peers group at: https://socialgrowthcenter.com/social-skills-training/