This post isn’t about archaeology or ghost hunts or my latest favourite thing. It’s going to be a bit dark and it’s going to be a bit scary but I feel like now is the time to address my past. I am a suicide survivor.
It feels like an enormous risk to publicly say that and I know I’ll be judged and scrutinised, some people are going to call me selfish. A decade ago was my last attempt at killing myself, I don’t remember the details or particulars, I just remember how much pain I was in and how alone I felt. I am fine now; I relish my wonderful life and I have a great Team Me supporting me as I am recovering.
Yet there have been periods over that last decade where I have experienced the darkest of suicidal ideations (thoughts) when I was stressed beyond breaking point and my entire life was falling apart so much that I’d pick any other option than living my life. Rather bleak stuff. People appealed to my empathy and how my choice to kill myself would have knock-on effects for other people in my life with detrimental consequences.
I now appreciate the sentiment but guilt tripping and emotional appeals to a suicidal person are not the way to get them to reconsider taking their life. I know back then I was only thinking of me, totally absorbed in my own pain and grief (it may even have been technically selfish; but in the same way breathing is). I wasn’t thinking about it. Just feeling it. It was all consuming blackness.
I am offering the perspective of a suicide survivor here. I’m not a qualified mental health professional (I’ve listed some resources at the end). This is simply my experience of being depressed and suicidal but I hope what I’ve lived through can be useful to others. I want to help people who find themselves in my situation and I want to empower the people around them to help them. I want to enable you. Being suicidal is a state of mind, not a character trait or a situation where anyone should be inserting their brand of morality. People suffering suicidal thoughts need compassion and time and space to heal. They need help.
Using emotional appeals isn’t going to get people who are considering killing themselves to stop and rethink their plan. They are in so much pain that they cannot even begin to comprehend the consequences of their death on the people around them, they have lost the ability to see tomorrow. They just want anything other than the reality they are currently feeling. They need it to stop. Now.
The things that reached me through the darkness weren’t false hope and empty promises and nice platitudes, they were meat solid options that translated into real world outcomes that allowed me to function again. Little things mattered the most. Help calling a qualified professional to organise my treatment going forward or helping me pack to go to hospital if that’s what I needed and then arranging for someone to feed my cats while I was away. Even just a lift to get groceries helped allievate the stress I felt as a suicidal person – the really important thing is that you offer relief tied to an action that actually helps them in a practical way. Offer them the means to recover their lost vision of the future.
Suicide is the act of a desperate person who feels like they haven’t got options, they are trapped by their situation and the way to reach someone who is suicidal is to give them a door out, or a hand up, from where they are stuck. You give them a way to get out of the situation rather than using guilt to isolate them further than they already are feeling alone. Unless they are very perceptive and self aware, when they are that absorbed in their pain that they are planning their self destruction, they aren’t thinking of the other people in their life.
I honestly think suicide survivors are the people we should be talking to about killing yourself. I’d be asking them what changed your mind, why are you still here and how? What changed my mind was knowing my reality isn’t always congruent with how I am feeling. I wasn’t really alone despite feeling that way and there were people saying I didn’t have to live like that who were approaching me with real options to change my stars. It doesn’t come easily in practicing these two things – remembering my feelings aren’t necessarily an accurate portrait of my life and being humble enough to ask for help from other people.
I chose to live because I want to know what happens next. Why anyone else chooses to live is too much of an existential question for this little essay and I can’t give you the answer why other suicide survivors chose to stay. Ask them. I will say knowing I have people who care enough to help me through the dark and scary world of mental health recovery is helpful in my decision to live and create a full life for myself. How I’m still here is that I’ve had a decade of therapy and medication and lifestyle changes – it wasn’t easy on me and Team Me, but it is worthwhile journey. Thank you to all the people who have been there for the last two decades, I really couldn’t have done it without you…
TL/Dr: Don’t preach. Give suicidal people options.
The number for the free counselling service at Lifeline is 13 11 14, any time, night or day.
The Suicide Callback Service has a 24/7 hotline that can be reached at 1300 659 467. They also have a website at: https://www.suicidecallbackservice.org.au/
Other resources for mental health and suicide include:
•The Black Dog Institute: https://blackdoginstitute.org.au/
Clara Rose Santilli