In case you missed it, please stop by the Huffington Post and read “There’s Nothing Selfish About Suicide”
It didn’t take long for the negative backlash to set in when word spread that Robin Williams took his life. Across all channels of social media, people started throwing around words like “selfish” and “weak”. His daughter shut down her social media accounts as a result. Because what people always seem to forget when it comes to celebrity news is that for every celebrity that comes under attack, there are family members directly affected by the attack. In this low-empathy society fueled by technology and instant gratification in 140 characters or less, people forget to think about the other people. The people wrapped in grief, that is.
For every person who commits suicide, there is an average of six survivors directly affected by the loss. That’s six people, on average (sometimes many more), left to pick up the pieces, process their grief, and somehow find a way to move on.
It’s no easy task.
Loss is difficult no matter when it comes or how it happens. Cancer, heart attacks, car accidents, strokes…loss can strike any family at any time without much warning. The difference, of course, is that people can talk about things like cancer and heart disease. They can ask questions, find concrete ways to help (like driving a friend to a medical appointment), and understand the disease.
Sadly, mental health is still very much a taboo topic in our society, and suicide isn’t a word that rolls of the tongue. In fact, many people go to great lengths to avoid using it at all. I recently heard a friend describe suicide as, “the thing he did” in reference to her loss. Survivors of suicide shouldn’t have to blur their words or sweep their grief under the carpet just because we, as a society, don’t know how to talk about mental health. No, that’s not right. It’s up to the rest of us to learn how to talk and listen without judgment or criticism. It’s up to us to learn how to be comfortable with the topic.
Survivors of suicide tend to feel very isolated in their grief. They might not reach out for help because they fear the response of others when they finally begin to talk about the suicide. You can help. You can be the lifeline that helps a friend through a tragic loss. And all you have to do is be present.
Keep showing up:
When the dust settles and the casseroles have all been eaten…that’s when the sheer loneliness sets in. The “what ifs” plague suicide survivors because you can’t help but replay every little sign that you missed along the way.
Keep showing up. After the extended family disappears, after the burial, after the invitations for dinner dwindle…that’s when your friend needs you. Your friend doesn’t need a fancy dinner or room full of people. Your friend just needs you to listen, talk, and hold her hand. Your friend needs your strength until she can find her own.
Use the words:
You can’t sugarcoat suicide, and avoidance of the word only adds a sense of shame. There is no shame in mental illness. At all. Talk openly about depression, anxiety, suicide, and all other areas of mental health. Ask questions for clarification. Listen with an open heart and an open mind. Don’t be afraid of the details. Discussing the details will help your friend move on from the guilt and shame that suicide survivors often experience.
Be the driver:
You know what’s hard? Therapy. Hollywood paints a semi-entertaining picture of therapy, but therapy is hard work. It’s emotionally taxing, at best, and healing takes time. People need support beyond the couch.
You would drive your friend to a chemo appointment in a hot second, right? So why not do the same for a friend going to a therapy appointment? It’s difficult to get back in the car and drive home after an emotional therapy session, even with a debriefing. Often to drive your friend to appointments. Make time for coffee or a walk outside after. Your friend will feel less alone and better able to work through her emotions as a result.
The hand written note has become a thing of the past, it seems, but it can really help a friend working through grief. Suicide survivors often feel alone in their survival, and a personal note in the mail can help them feel connected to the outside world. Human connection is a powerful force. Be the force that helps your friend stay afloat.
Not sure how to help your friend? Ask and ask again. Your friend might not want to burden you, but the more you ask and the more you offer – the sooner your friend will realize that you intend to stick around. Ask what you can do, when you can come by, and what errands you can run. Don’t take no for an answer.
I was genuinely moved and surprised by the incredible response to “There’s Nothing Selfish About Suicide”. As I work my way through the email that continues to pour in I am struck by how many survivors feel so completely alone. Many admit to making up stories about their loss to avoid the shame and silence associated with suicide and mental illness. We need to do better than that. We need to help each other out, one conversation at a time. And that begins with all of you. Talk. Be comfortable. Be supportive. It just might change a life for the better.Pin It