A survivor talks of how to engage with someone who is contemplating suicide
Another day dawns and with it comes the news of a 23-year-old boy killing himself by jumping off the 19th floor of a building in Mumbai. Why this strikes an all-too familiar chord with me is because I was 23 when I first contemplated suicide.
23, when the world is just opening up before you.
23, when you’ve stepped into a life of adulthood, responsibility and a career, perhaps marriage.
23, when things ideally look all rosy and tinted with those pink shades of joy and happiness.
Failure is hard to take, I know. It’s easy to read reams of articles on the value of failure and how it builds character but it takes a special kind of resilience to keep getting up once you’ve fallen for the fiftieth time.
Disappointments are a part of life but when they happen repeatedly, you begin to wonder if Lady Luck has just decided not to smile on you at all.
Deep in the grip of depression and bipolar disorder, I stood on the balcony of my third floor home one morning and looked at the concrete below. At that moment, it seemed easy, too easy, to just take that flying leap and end it once and for all.
I didn’t, thanks largely to a very supportive family and close friends. My friends would come over and for the most part, just sit with me, as I stared into the distance. They’d listen to me ramble deliriously about a fictitious person who was out to get my family. They’d never say a word in reproach but hold my hand and squeeze it in solidarity.
I know how people use the same phrases over and over again to dissuade people from taking their own lives:
‘Think of your family. How would they feel?’
‘Nothing can be that bad. Don’t take such an extreme step.’
‘Do you think you’re the only one with problems? Don’t you know there are people more miserable than you and they’re surviving?’
The key problem with these ‘well-meaning’ statements is this: they assign blame and shame.
Blame and shame never works for a person who has suicidal thoughts. They’re already in the grip of the worst kind of torture. Think of a million needles in your head, boring into your skull and repeatedly whispering, ‘You’re good for nothing. You don’t matter. You should just stop existing.’ Now picture a well-meaning person coming along and reinforcing that voice in your head. What would you do?
You know what does work? Empathy and compassion.
Share your stories, listen and watch for the signs when you know a person is in pain/unusually silent or unusually exuberant.
If you haven’t heard from a good friend in a while, call them, drop by their house, invite them out for a lunch and just listen while they talk.
Offer a kind and willing ear and don’t, please don’t, blame the person for feeling the way he/she does. They, literally, cannot help themselves.
The issue isn’t physical, but deeply chemical, an imbalance in the brain that causes mental illness or suicidal thoughts.
Gently broach the subject of professional help if you find the person receptive enough.
Keep a helpline number handy if you suspect a person may be suicidal. Don’t hesitate to call them.
I know we have ‘Suicide Prevention Day’ and ‘Mental health Awareness Month’ precisely for these reasons. To raise awareness about these issues and help train a spotlight on the increasing incidence of mental illness. But we need an ongoing dialogue to sustain the impact.
<>By sharing our stories, I am hoping we will do what we can to stem the occurrence of suicides.
If you or someone you know has had suicidal thoughts, here's where you can get help:
1. Parivarthan Counselling and Training Center: +91 7676 602 602 or 080 65333323 (Monday to Friday, 4 pm - 10 pm). E-mail: email@example.com
2. iCall Psychosocial Helpline: 022-25521111 (Monday to Saturday, 8 AM - 10 PM). Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
3. SNEHA, Chennai: +91 (0) 44 2464 0050 (Functions 24/7). E-mail: email@example.com. Face-to-face counseling services are also available (8 AM- 10 PM daily) at 11 Park View Road (Near Chennai Kaliappa Hospital), RA Puram, Chennai - 600 028.
Shailaja Vishwanath is a freelance writer, full-time editor and passionate blogger. She counts parenting, reading, writing, swimming and social networking among her top passions. This piece was originally published on her website shailajav.com