How to talk about suicide with the people you love
How to be someone’s connection to the world.
If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, help is available. Contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.
When it comes to sticky situations, how do you know what to say without hurting anyone? Most people learn by repeating phrases they have seen others use. What we see on the news, widely shared among millions, may seem acceptable to use every day.
But for problems like aggression or suicide, it can send a message to our friends that we are not their ally.
“Why wasn’t I the kind of person, or why didn’t they see me as the kind of person that these women could feel comfortable trusting? I see this as a personal failing.”
When Anthony Bourdain said this, it was about #MeToo and the women in his life: Why didn’t they feel safe trusting him? Their takeout was radical. He did not point a finger at women or at the system.
Instead, she realized that her decision to remain silent was more of a comment on her character. Or, more specifically, a sign that the way he had behaved indicated to women that he was not safe or trustworthy.
I have thought a lot about your evaluation since he said it and since he passed away. It made me think more about how words are mirrors, how they reflect the values of the speaker and who I can trust.
Many, including my parents and friends whom I have known for over 10 years, are not on the list.
I have [done], how have I presented myself in such a way that I do not give
confidence, or why I wasn’t the kind of person people would see as natural
ally here? So I started looking at that.” —Anthony Bourdain
When things get dark for me, I won’t remember the laughs they brought. Only echoes of his opinion on suicide: “That’s so selfish” or “If you’re stupid enough to start drinking [that Big Pharma] medication, I will stop being your friend. The memory repeats every time they check in with a “What’s up, how are you?”
Sometimes I lie, sometimes I tell half truths, but never the whole truth. Most of the time, I just don’t respond until the depressive period is over.
Words have meaning beyond their definition. They contain a history and, through repeated use in our daily lives, become social contracts, reflecting our values and the internal rules we hope to live by.
It’s not that different from the “waiter rule”: the belief that personality is revealed in the way one treats staff or service workers. This rule is not that different when it comes to talking about suicide and depression.
Some words are so ingrained in negative stigma that the only way to avoid their meaning is to not use them. One of the easiest changes we can make is to avoid using adjectives. Aside from condolences, there’s no reason to have an opinion on someone’s suicide. And there is no reason to contextualize or describe it, especially as a means of communication.
Like suicide bomber Samuel Wallace wrote, “All suicide is not abhorrent or not; crazy or not; selfish or not; rational or not; justifiable or not.
This stems from the academic argument that suicide is a result, not a choice. Therefore, most suicidologists agree that suicide is not a decision or an act of free will.
DOES MENTAL ILLNESS TAKE AWAY FREE WILL?
In the 4th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, mental illness has a “loss of freedom” component. In the most recent edition, “loss of freedom” has been changed to a disability or “deficiency in one or more important areas of functioning.” This is said to include the “one or more loss of liberty” criterion. In his essay “
Free will and mental disorder”, Gerben Meynen argues that one component of having a mental disorder is that a person’s ability to choose alternatives is taken away.
In its sensitive assay For the New York Post, Bridget Phetasy wrote about growing up in an environment where talk of suicide was common. She writes, “[W]What he really did more than live with someone who threatened suicide was make it seem like an option.”
For those with a suicidal mindset, we must understand that suicide is presented as the last and only option. It is a blatant lie. But when you have so much emotional and physical pain, when it comes in cycles and each cycle feels like the worst, relief, no matter how, feels like an escape.
How I longed to be
free; Free from my body, from my pain, from my anguish. That stupid meme was whispering
sweet words to the part of my brain that told me that the only
solution to my problems — was death. Not only the only solution: the best
solution. It was a lie, but at that moment I believed it. —Bridget Phetasy, for the New York Post
Suicide does not discriminate. Depression doesn’t hit a person once and goes away when circumstances or surroundings change. The allure of having an escape through death doesn’t go away just because someone becomes rich or achieves lifelong goals.
If you want to tell someone that it gets better, consider whether you’re making a promise you can’t keep. Are you living in his mind? Can you see the future and take away the pain before it arrives?
The pain that comes is unpredictable. This is where they will be in life in two weeks, a month or three years. Telling someone that they are getting better can cause them to compare one episode to the next. When nothing gets better over time, it could lead to thoughts like, “It will never get better.”
But although some may believe that death itself is not better, the messages they share, especially about celebrities, say otherwise. As Phetasy mentioned, after the death of Robin Williams, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences released an “Aladdin”meme saying, “Genie, you are free.”
This sends mixed messages.
Death as freedom may be ableDependent
in context and reference, “freedom” can be seen as capable and an encouragement in
those living with disabilities. In the case of famous Physicist Stephen Hawking, many tweeted that he was free from
your physical body. This encourages the idea that having a disability is a “stuck”
In the context of suicide, it reinforces the message that there is no escape but death. If you accept this language and use it, you continue the cycle that death is the best solution.
Even if you don’t understand all the nuances of the language, there are questions you can ask to keep yourself in check.
Let the desire to be a safe haven for your loved ones guide your words
and the children are facing more and more mental health problems:
And this will continue to grow, exponentially at this rate, because there is no promise that it will get any better. It is not known where medical care is going. Therapy is highly inaccessible and unaffordable for up to 5.3 million Americans. It may stay that way if we keep the conversation static.
In the meantime, what we can do is lighten the load on those we love when we can. We can change the way we talk about mental health and the people affected by it. Even if we don’t know someone affected by suicide, we can pay attention to the words we use.
You don’t have to live with depression to show kindness, nor do you need to personally experience the loss.
You may not even have to say anything at all. The willingness to listen to the stories and problems of others is essential to human connection.
it is not our medicine. Stories are our cure. Laughter is just the honey that
sweetens the bitter medicine.” — Hannah Gadsby, “Nanette”
The compassion we have for people we barely know will send a bigger message to someone you love, a person you may not know who is struggling.
Being able to wake up every day while the world inside your head is falling apart doesn’t always feel like a strength. It’s a struggle that becomes more difficult over time as the body ages and we have less control over our health.
Sometimes we get too tired of carrying ourselves and we need to know that it’s okay. We don’t have to be “on” 100 percent of the time.
But when a celebrity, or someone revered, dies by suicide, it can be hard for someone going through depression to remember. They may not have the ability to fight self-doubt and inner demons.
It is not something that the people you love should carry on their own. Seeing if they need help is in no way overdoing it.
As Australian comedian Hannah Gadsby said so eloquently in her recent Netflix special “Nanette,” “Do you know why we have the ‘Sunflowers’? It’s not because Vincent van Gogh suffered [from a mental illness]. It is because Vincent van Gogh had a brother who loved him. Through all the pain, I had a bond, a connection to the world.”
Be someone’s connection to the world.
One day someone will not answer the text message. It’s okay to show up at their door and sign in.
Otherwise, we will lose more in silence and to silence.
Welcome to “How to Be Human,” a series about empathy and putting people first. Differences should not be crutches, no matter what box society has drawn for us. Come learn about the power of words and celebrate the experiences of people, regardless of age, ethnicity, gender or mood. Let us elevate our fellow men through respect.
Last medical review on June 29, 2018