Something came up after my last Sunday letter. The song I posted is about the death of a loved one. In it, one of the lyrics is “I wish I were dead.” That wish is something I’ve heard from many people over the years, some more seriously than others. Most people I’ve talked to about such things have, at some point, passively wished something similar.

Life is hard, and there’s a slight appeal to the idea of just being done with it.

The initial, panicked reactions that loved ones can have to hearing someone express such a wish, while understandable, can lead to people feeling like they can’t express it without causing undue distress to the people they care most about. In the case where the wish really is latent, and will never be acted upon, at worst, that makes the person unwilling to confide in their loved ones, separating themselves, and feeling more lonely. At best, they get over the wish, and move on with their lives, still feeling like no one understands, but shrugging it off.

In cases where the wish is somewhat more than latent, or has the potential to become more active, this can cause serious problems. At worst, the person eventually goes through with it, completely surprising the people that they didn’t dare confide in.

So what do you do if someone expresses that wish? There are a lot of options, and honestly, what’s appropriate will vary with each person. The most important thing is to take a minute and not freak out. Think it through before you say anything. Try your best to remain neutral. Ask questions without being judgmental, or confrontational. This is from SAVE, and is good advice:

Know What to Do

Stigma associated with mental illnesses can prevent people from getting help. Your willingness to talk about mental or emotional issues and suicide with a friend, family member, or co-worker can be the first step in getting them help and preventing suicide.

If You See the Warning Signs of Suicide…

Begin a dialogue by asking questions. Suicidal thoughts are common with some mental illnesses and your willingness to talk about it in a non-judgmental, non-confrontational way can be the help a person needs to seeking professional help. Questions okay to ask:

  • “Do you ever feel so badly that you think about suicide?”
  • “Do you have a plan to commit suicide or take your life?”
  • “Have you thought about when you would do it (today, tomorrow, next week)?”
  • “Have you thought about what method you would use?”

Asking these questions will help you to determine if your friend or family members is in immediate danger, and get help if needed. A suicidal person should see a doctor or mental health professional immediately. Calling 911 or going to a hospital emergency room are also good options to prevent a tragic suicide attempt or death. Calling the National Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) is also a resource for you or the person you care about for help. Remember, always take thoughts of or plans for suicide seriously.

Never keep a plan for suicide a secret. Don’t worry about risking a friendship if you truly feel a life is in danger. You have bigger things to worry about-someone’s life might be in danger! It is better to lose a relationship from violating a confidence than it is to go to a funeral. And most of the time they will come back and thank you for saving their life.

Don’t try to minimize problems or shame a person into changing their mind. Your opinion of a person’s situation is irrelevant. Trying to convince a person suffering with a mental illness that it’s not that bad, or that they have everything to live for may only increase their feelings of guilt and hopelessness. Reassure them that help is available, that what they are experiencing is treatable, and that suicidal feelings are temporary. Life can get better!

If you feel the person isn’t in immediate danger, acknowledge the pain is legitimate and offer to work together to get help. Make sure you follow through. This is one instance where you must be tenacious in your follow-up. Help find a doctor or a mental health professional, participate in making the first phone call, or go along to the first appointment. If you’re in a position to help, don’t assume that your persistence is unwanted or intrusive. Risking your feelings to help save a life is a risk worth taking.

Personally, I have wished that. Once or twice before Ian died, and more after. For me, it’s a completely latent wish. I feel as though if I were to be hit by a bus tomorrow, I wouldn’t be all that upset. Am I ever going to act on that? Not at all likely. To answer the recommended questions:

  1. Do you ever feel so badly that you think about suicide? – Not suicide, so much as contemplating random accidents that could happen.
  2. Do you have a plan to commit suicide or take your life? – No. And hence the following two questions are moot.

There are two reactions to the suicide of a loved one in terms of one’s own feelings on the matter. Either it confirms/solidifies in your mind the plausibility of the option, making it more real, or it does the exact opposite and makes you far less likely to ever follow suit. As a highly empathetic person, I’ve had the second reaction. I couldn’t cause that type of pain for my loved ones. I see its effects too clearly; feel them too sharply.

Take aways? Be non-judgmental and non-confrontational if you are concerned about someone. Ask questions, and be persistent.

And if you are contemplating suicide yourself, these options are available to you: (also from the SAVE site)

  • Dial: 911
  • Dial: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).  For deaf and hearing impaired, click here for options to contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
  • Check yourself into the emergency room.
  • Call your local crisis agency.
  • Tell someone who can help you find help immediately.
  • Stay away from things that might hurt you.
  • Most people can be treated with a combination of antidepressant medication and psychotherapy.

If You Don’t Have Insurance

The following options might be used:

  • Go to the nearest hospital emergency room.
  • Look in your local Yellow Pages under Mental Health and/or Suicide Prevention; then call the mental health organizations/crisis phone lines that are listed. There may be clinics or counseling centers in your area operating on a sliding or no-fee scale.
  • Some pharmaceutical companies have “Free Medication Programs” for those who qualify.

Written 9/8/2014

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