Have you ever wanted to die?
I remember looking up at a nearby building and thinking that if someone jumped off, the building was tall enough to seriously hurt someone but might not be tall enough to kill someone. That same week, the weather was bitterly cold and I began to think about going camping outside.
I really didn’t want to die. I just wanted my pain to end. What I’ve discovered since then is that talking about these thoughts and feelings while sharing space with a trusted soul is an effective way to minimize pain while substantially decreasing risk of suicide, but those trusted souls are a rare breed.
People sometimes have a tendency to be “fixers” and, when in crisis, fixers are often on high alert. In what feels like a volatile situation, it’s critically important to not make things any worse. So what skills are necessary to provide recovery support to people in their most vulnerable places?
The first thing that comes to mind is genuine listening. Listening is about so much more than not interrupting. It can be helpful to ask another person how they would like for you to respond or why they chose you to confide in. Understanding another person’s desired outcome is a good place to start.
Wait for permission to speak. Instead of listening for opportunities to interject the “right” thing to say, listen for the right time. When someone has stopped talking, they might not be finished speaking. Uncomfortable silence often invites more meaningful opportunity for someone to truly to be heard.
Guilt or shame should never be used as a motivating intervention. Suggesting someone is a coward if they take their own life is cruel — akin to offering spoiled food to someone who is hungry. Threats of eternal damnation are misguided and merciless.
So when we do speak, what should we say?
It’s important that people are heard and validated, keeping in mind that we are complex beings. Having a vulnerability to suicide does not negate one’s intelligence, capability, values or ethics. Sometimes the best response is compassion, coupled with an expectation of valued contribution in this world.
Make bold statements of hope. Hope is the catalyst for mental health recovery and suicide prevention, whereas praise is the antidote for despair. Your life matters. You have much to live for and your identity is not this overwhelming darkness that is viciously attacking your soul.
When a battle is being waged between life and death, it’s OK to call out darkness for what it is. It can be a tremendous relief to hear that another person understands when something has latched onto your very being and it’s not something you want or deserve. Let your light illuminate the lives of others.
You might be surprised to learn that moments of crisis are not necessarily the most pivotal times to intervene in one’s life. Listening to and affirming people in everyday conversation is how healing happens. Proactively remind people that their life has value and meaning and purpose.
Safety contracts are overrated. Instead of requiring that someone continue breathing while they are in a tremendous amount of hurt, why not make it a bit easier for them to live? The times I have chosen life are the times I have been most reminded that people are hoping for good things for me. Suicide prevention begins with proactive measures. It’s important that people have access to the Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255) and other crisis resources, but we fail our neighbors if we’re not also promoting early intervention resources such as the Illinois Warm Line (866-359-7953).
We are not created to be all things to all people, but each of us knows someone who might need a word of encouragement. I have a dear friend who is battling cancer, and all she can think about is how she can bless others. What if our goal for today was to simply bring light into someone else’s darkness?