2016 is drawing to a close, and this is the final Scriptors post of the year. I thought it would be a good time for one of those “Best Of the Year” lists. But then I thought it would be a better time for something more important. So instead of giving you a fluffy end-of-year post, I’m going to close out the year with talk of suicide. Creatives are highly susceptible to depression, so this is something vitally relevant to the writing community.
Everyone who has seen M*A*S*H* knows the song lyrics which state “Suicide is painless.” That hasn’t matched my experiences with suicide in the slightest. From the side of the person feeling suicidal, suicide is seen as an escape from pain, and in that sense at least leads to painlessness for the individual. That “for the individual” part is important, though. For those left behind, the pain frequently starts with the suicide.
A good friend of mine lost her husband last fortnight. He just took out a gun and shot himself, right in front of her. There was nothing painless about that.
My friend hadn’t realized her husband was depressed, let alone depressed enough to end his life. That’s not at all uncommon.
Every bout of depression is different. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been dealing with recurring depression since I was eight. Eight-year-old me wasn’t suicidal, just sick. The suicidal ideations didn’t start until I was eleven, and I was fourteen before I started making concrete plans. Usually, I give off warning signs when things start to get dangerous, but in the case of the scariest round of suicidal yearning, I didn’t. When I finally told my husband how bad things were, that I was starting to think I needed in-patient treatment if I was going to survive, he was shocked; he’d thought I was stable and fine.
Occasionally suicidal looks like wearing black and writing melancholy poetry, or like crying all the time and listening to emo music, but more often it just looks like being a little more quiet than usual. Sometimes people will start to do less, but other times they’ll start to do more. They may eat more, or less, or just differently. They may or may not be aware themselves of how much danger they are in.
So what do I want people to do? Well, first off, if someone you know confides in you that they are suicidal, believe them. Don’t tell them they’re just being dramatic, inform them they aren’t showing enough warning signs, accuse them of just wanting attention, allege that they’re trying to manipulate you, or order them to snap out of it. Take them seriously, talk out their concerns, and assist them in obtaining professional help. Friends and family are terrific in a crisis, but it takes serious treatment by qualified mental health experts to keep future crises from happening.
Not everyone is going to be comfortable admitting they want to kill themselves, though. Therefore, the non-sufferer may have to bring the topic up. If you are worried about the wellbeing of someone you care about, don’t ignore the feeling. Even if you can’t quantify why you’re worried, it could be that your subconscious is picking up on clues your consciousness isn’t. Ask your loved one how they are, how they _really_ are. Pay attention to the answer. You may have to explain that you’re worried about them and ask outright, “Are you in danger of hurting yourself?” It’s a scary question to pose, but it’s scarier to think of losing someone because you didn’t ask when you knew you should have. And don’t worry that you’ll be giving them ideas; if your friend or family member is suicidally depressed, the idea is already there somewhere. And if they aren’t suicidal, they won’t decide to be just because you mentioned the concept.
I can’t make my third request strongly enough, but if you yourself feel suicidal, get help. Please? It’s your illness that wants you to die, not your true self, and certainly not the people who care about you.
It’s really hard to tell someone you’re thinking of ending your life. And maybe you don’t like to tell people things in the first place, or have no one to tell. If the fear of speaking up is holding you back from telling anyone you know, maybe telling a stranger would help. There are a number of charities worldwide that run hotlines and chats. A list of international numbers is available from suicide.org.
If talking to strangers isn’t your thing either (and it isn’t for many of us because anxiety and depression are best friends), I have many times found help in printed words. The book that has helped me the most is called Suicide – The Forever Decision and is by Dr. Paul G Quinnett. It’s in the Kindle store here, or you can get a free pdf here. There are also a vast number of web resources available. The places I recommend starting are “If You’re Feeling Suicidal, Read This First”, the International Association for Suicide Prevention, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, or suicide.org.
It’s a myth that people are more likely to kill themselves during the winter holidays, but that doesn’t mean we should be any less dedicated to preventing suicide as the year ends. 2017 isn’t going to be free of suicides; I know that. But if I can do anything at all to help prevent any single case of self-harm, I will do it. And I hope you’ll join me.