How to help a suicidal person

Robin Williams died earlier this week. At first I was shaken, but then the conversation changed. People were talking about how they could support people in crisis. Many people had the right intentions but something about the conversation irked me.

People believed that just talking about it would help. That reaching out and saying “No, I’m not okay” would suffice. Those having these discussions meant well and genuinely wanted to know what they could do to help. They can’t help. Not in the long run. And they shouldn’t fucking have to.

The average person isn’t a trained psychiatrist

If someone experiences suicidal ideation on a frequent basis, then there is something medically wrong with them. There are some people who commit suicide during a crisis when they feel overwhelmed. Then there are the rest of us, those that have felt depressed and hopeless over a long period of time and have lost the will to fight.

When I was 21, and unmedicated, I was suicidal. Heck, I was suicidal during the entire 10th grade. I remember being at a Ross Noble comedy gig and feeling nothing. He was hilarious but I felt horrible. At that stage, I wasn’t taking medication or seeing a pysch regularly. I’d had an adverse reaction to previous meds and thought I could change my lifestyle to fix it.

I couldn’t. The anxiety took a toll on my body to the point where I couldn’t walk down the street without having a dizzy spell. My life was shit. I had to stay at mums because I was barely able to take care of myself. It was around that point that I figured I should give meds another go. I figured that any side effects wouldn’t be as bad as my life currently was.

They worked. And I worked with my pysch to handle those times when I was triggered, or depressed, to make sure I didn’t act on thoughts I had when I was unwell. My boyfriend couldn’t do that. My parents couldn’t. They didn’t have the training to understand what therapy would work with my type of anxiety. They don’t understand that thoughts of suicide are just part of a cycle – a cycle that is now part of my life.

It takes more then just reaching out.

I have a friend that recently attempted suicide. He posted about it on Facebook and then on his blog. Prior to this, he posted about how he’d had serious thoughts about suicide. His friends, myself included, offered their experiences and said they could talk to him if he wanted.

When he was in crisis, he didn’t want to talk. He just wanted to stop feeling. Talking won’t prevent the thoughts. It will solve immediate concerns but it can’t change the fact that there is something medically wrong or your life is shit.

What can you do? Encourage them to get medical help. Tell them to fuck the stigma. Offer to go with them if they don’t have the energy to navigate the system. My mum was there when I asked to go on my new meds. The doctor original said no due to my non compliance and I started crying. I needed mum to be my advocate during this time because I wasn’t capable of doing it. Help them find ways to improve the quality of their life. This has been made significantly more difficult thanks to Joe Hockeys budget measures.

No-one should have to convince someone to stay alive

I have another friend who also has mental illness. Her brother committed suicide earlier this year and she has been feeling incredibly guilty about it. She feels like she didn’t do enough to save him. No one person should have that type of responsibility. No one person should have to be the one fighting for another person to continue living.

It’s an unimaginable responsibility – especially when you are overwhelmed by your own life. In this case, no-one was at fault. Her brother felt it was too difficult to get medical help, too difficult to try to recover. He made a calculated decision where he tried to minimize the damage.

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Listen – the average person isn’t trained to handle situations like this. We can read and learn as much as we like, but we can’t save someone. Not by ourselves. It takes a medical community. People need affordable access to resources where you don’t have to wait weeks to get help.

The best thing anyone can do is encourage someone to get help from a system that is a bitch. Not take on their problems. To help them find others who can work through it. I will probably be writing much more on this topic. It’s one that touches really close to home. And, I’m thankful that my family and Headspace Barwon were in a position to help me.