Its September. National Suicide Prevention Month.
I want to write about it. I want to tell the world that its ok to ask for help. That there is help.
And yet. Instead. My brain is a scrambled mess. I’ve found myself struggling to figure out what to say, there is much that needs to be said, but so many people are speaking out that I’m not sure if I have anything to add.
Each year 41,000 individuals die by suicide. Each one, a loss, a deficit that our world needed and won’t have. And despite all of our efforts, all of our talking and #endthestigma hashtagging and messages about finding help – the suicide rate continues to rise. Recently a study was released noting that suicide rates have increased enormously over the last 25 years and I feel like it’s probably not a stretch to say that all of us have been impacted in some way. We know someone who has died by suicide, or attempted it, or whose life was altered by living in the aftermath of a suicide.
Its unbearable – this rise in suicide rates, and crushing to recognize that even those among us that seem so successful, so promising, so bright – even those are not immune. And it feels unconscionable that there are so many silent victims of the suicide epidemic that slip by unnoticed by the news and the crowds. The kids, the teenagers, the returning veterans, the elderly, the moms, the dads – those that die by suicide and are mourned by their friends and family and community – but whose stories aren’t splashed on magazine covers and 24 hour news cycles.
I certainly don’t have answers. But I do have experience and here is what I know:
Mental Illness is a spectrum.
There are days where you might find yourself at one end, recognizing your depression, but able to continue through much as normal, or days where you are able to articulate your need for support and able to find the strength and bravery to reach out and grab on to such a lifeline. Days where it isn’t insurmountable to call a friend and ask for help.
But at the other end of that spectrum is a place where your own brain has turned against you, where it makes no sense to reach out because in your brain – the place where you are ill – that illness prevents this idea from making any sense at all. It’s dark and twisty and hard to understand – but the problem with asking people currently residing at this midnight moment to just reach out and ask for help is that we are asking them to think logically at a point where logic no longer applies.
Celebrity suicide always leaves me reeling. The media reports on every detail, questioning histories and inundating us with opinions on mental health and treatments and speculations. And for those that are listening from their own place of darkness it feels a bit too much. The focus on their life and successes feels too much like significance and adoration. The realization that even those with more, those that we look up to aren’t beyond the grip of mental illness – feels too much like our battle is unwinnable, inescapable.
And it shows us that even those with access to the highest quality medical care, to support and therapy and medication, aren’t always able to push through the dark clouds of depression, to reach out when they are at their lowest.
We beg and plead with those who are hurting to reach out, to ask, to seek help. And this is absolutely correct and necessary – to let them know that we are here, listening, willing to help. To declare that hope is available, help is waiting, to give them the knowledge that if they want help – there is help to be found. To take their hand when they reach out in the darkness, the share our stories, to carry their burden for a bit – all good and beautiful things.
But there is something else that we need to be doing.
We’ve been crying out with the song that those who are hurting should “just ask” for help, but there is a flaw in that advice. In the midnight moment of suicidal ideation, the idea of reaching out for help may be insurmountable. The idea that you are worth saving or able to be saved feels like a lie, and it feels more true that being saved would be temporary – you would only find your way back to this dark and lonely place again. The illness is mental, the brain itself is turning against you, and corrupting your logic. Everything is twisted and dark and broken and while the knowledge that hotlines or support groups exist might be known, it doesn’t feel like it is applicable to you in your hopeless moment.
A few months ago, I heard a talk by Bob Goff, the author of “Love Does” and “Everybody Always”, and the thing that struck me the most was something he said about Jesus telling us to love our neighbor. . .and how that wasn’t a theoretical or hypothetical command. He wasn’t telling us to pray for our neighbor, or think good thoughts about our neighbor. . .he was telling us to GO LOVE THEM.
And so today – I’m asking those of you who currently AREN’T struggling, to also reach out, to also just ask, to seek to BE THE HELP ….. to go love those around you.
Call your friends and check on them.
Tell them you love them.
Tell them you haven’t seen them in a minute and so you are coming over.
Tell them you aren’t going anywhere, no matter what.
Ask how they are feeling, and ask where it hurts.
Tell them you love them.
Tell them that tomorrow needs them, that you need them, that they are worthy and lovely and loved.
Tell them you’ll dial the hotline number, you’ll drive the car to the ER, you’ll help them schedule that appointment with the counselor.
Sleep on their floor.
Make a pot of coffee and talk until the words run out, and then just sit with them.
Tell them you love them.
Be the help they don’t have the strength to seek.
Go love your neighbor.