Friday was world Suicide Prevention day, (10/09/2021). Advice was poured upon us. Every charity, every celebrity, every public persona spoke out. This is what you do, this is how you help. In all fairness, the suggestions were spot on. Even being willing to open the conversation can be enough to save a life. But I found it all a bit impersonal. Suicidal ideation, the desire to kill yourself, isn't that uncommon. It is part of depression, it can be triggered by anxiety, life events can simply overwhelm us. I was left feeling that the stigma we have all fought against for so long is proving tenacious as hell.
Did you know I've been suicidal? Having had depression for the past 40 years, it's almost an old friend. Before I learned how to handle my condition, I even attempted it once or twice. Thankfully, I wasn't successful. Or there's a really good medium out there taking dictation.
Truthfully, this year was a bit of a bastard. Around about May, my mood took a nosedive. Fourteen months of uncertainty and loss gave me a slap in the kisser. What followed was six weeks of intense self loathing and fear. Every mistake I had ever made danced on loop in front of my eyes. Every night I would lie down and hear the black dogs song. 'Die and this will all be over'.
Thankfully, I practice what I preach. I know how to laugh at the big, mad buggers off key singing.
But what can you do if you think someone you care about is feeling suicidal? The Mental Health Foundation have a marvellous wee acronym.... I do love an acronym... WAIT.
WATCH For signs of distress. There are the obvious ones, crying, isolating, more withdrawn. But there are others equally valid. Are they giving away prized possessions? Have they lost interest in hobbies or relationships. If it's a lover are they either more or less inclined for sex? Is drinking/drug use increasing. Or a favourite that is often missed... TV. Visual valium. Are they mindlessly watching the box, attempting to block out their pain.
ASK Yes, it needs courage. But would you rather ask a question or attend a funeral. And don't believe them. If your gut is saying that they are at risk, push ahead. Having been through it, I know there were times I didn't tell the truth. I didn't want to cause pain to my friends. And remember, in our heads, we are an inconvenience. We don't want to add to that.
IT WILL IMPROVE That hole is black and fucking deep. If you are in it, it looks like an impossible climb. So let your friends know life will improve. But make it so. Yes, be willing to listen, but get them out. Not day drinking and debauchery...although I am not adverse. A day at the beach, a meal... fish and chips! Anything that reminds them that there is a life out there and people want them to be part of it.
TALK TO OTHERS We are talking about what you can do for a friend if you think they are suicidal. And this one is the one that has folk shitting bricks. 'What if I say something wrong?' Well there is an easy answer to that. Say less, listen more. You are not going to cure them in one conversation. But being there to listen, showing them that folk care, getting them out and about or even fed will make a massive impact. Everything in in their head, it's all dark clouds and fog. Now imagine a day where a good friend holds your hand, takes you for a walk and shares a bag of chips?
If I can emphasise two things it would be these. Don't worry about being a therapist, be a friend. If you are concerned about your friends, even if they tell you to stay away, keep in contact. Make sure they hear you.
Follow through. If you make plans, treat them as a sacred bond. Someone who is suicidal already knows they are worth nothing. Don't reinforce this.
In other news, after an absolutely mind bending six weeks in May, I am fine now! Clouds and shadows pass.