Inevitably, every few months we hear of highly successful people like TV personalities, fashion icons, musicians, authors and movie stars who have committed the ultimate desperate act. Suicide.
Hearing these stories evokes a broad range of reactions from profound sadness or anxiety to anger and frustration. Of course, its natural to react to this kind of news with sadness, especially if you admired the persons skills, talent or success. Anxiety is also understandable if you or someone you know has suffered from severe or chronic depression. It brings the uncomfortable topic to the forefront.
I want to present a different and possibly controversial point of view on suicide, but before I do, I want to explain why I feel like I may have some honest justification for my feelings of frustration on the topic.
Like too many others, I was a neglected and abused kid who had some “undiagnosed differences”. I struggled to connect and relate to other kids, I missed a lot of social cues, which left me with few friends, and in spite of being “gifted,” I got completely lost in school and didn’t do well. As a result, I was isolated, misunderstood, and depressed.
By the time I was 19, I was spiraling into a deep, dark, all-consuming depression. This combined with drug and alcohol use sent me into hopeless bleak places in my mind, places that I would revisit several times before I finally broke free, and all this was made more challenging because I didn’t have a foundation of understanding in my home life.
Studies show that being truly connected to others and understood by your tribe (your family or friends) is the key to freedom from suicidal depression (actually most forms of depression), yet we hesitate to connect with those who are suffering, and to make matters worse we often spew advice without ever really listening. As parents, friends or family members who know someone who is suicidality depressed, we must learn to listen without giving advice, or assuming we know how they feel. You can learn more about how connections help people heal here.
How did I learn all this?
When I was 23, I became chronically sick like many people who suffer from deep depression. I once again found myself in the doctors office, and as I sat on the examination table, I began to talk about how depressed and hopeless I felt. I can’t explain why I opened up, when I look back I think it was because he was really listening, compassionately.
At some point he asked me, “Do you sometimes think about killing yourself?” I remember feeling shocked by his straight forward and frank awareness of my state of mind. He then went on to tell me that he can’t imagine how hard that must be for me. I remember crying so hard and so long that I began to wonder if I could stop. He put his hand on my shoulder and said, “I don’t want to lose a patient ever, including you. I want you to talk to someone who will understand and help you. Can you do that?” Though I was uncomfortable with his caring attitude, I followed his advice. He referred me to a therapist, and though she wasn’t a good fit, and it took me 3 tries before I found someone with whom I could truly connect, I didn’t give up, and finally, I got the help I so desperately needed in the form of a compassionate and understanding therapist.
That doctor took me seriously, he didn’t brush me off because I was presenting uncomfortable thoughts or feelings. THAT is key. When people attempt to take their lives or think about taking their lives, they too often get brushed off. Why? Because, as someone who cares, we just don’t want to go there. We tell ourselves “it will pass” or that it’s just a bad day, but we have to ask ourselves, is it worth the risk?
How hard is it to just commit to listening compassionately?
The best short conversations on Compassionate Listening
So, here are my controversial thoughts on understanding and connecting with people who are suicidality depressed:
*Don’t go too easy on them by ignoring or dismissing their thoughts and feelings. Connect by being compassionate and letting them know you are trying to understand what they are going through.
*Don’t take their power away by trying to solve their problems (giving advice). Listen, be there, be sincere and be available.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, each year 44,965 Americans die by suicide and yet we remain dismissive and ignorant about depression and it’s causes (lack of connection and understanding). We are less connected then ever in human history, so the need to connect is more challenging, and more necessary than ever.
Listening and connection, and keeping a close eye on moods and relationships is the only way to deal with anyone, especially the Neurodiverse and those under the age of 21 (because the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that thinks, plans and sees the big picture is not fully developed and may even be hindered by hormones). This is not a time for ‘Buck up Buttercup”, but it couldn’t hurt to gently inform them about what they contribute to our lives.
Of course, there are special circumstances like being terminally ill, out of touch with reality (psychotic) or chronically abused. These are honest and very real reasons people lose hope or act impulsively and require unlimited compassion, listening and connection, and immediate help.
When we think someone 'has it all' but doesn’t connect with others (can’t vs. won’t is another topic), it becomes our responsibility to get though to that part of them that is desperate for connection and understanding, because in reality… no one has it all.
All humans, even introverts, need to connect.
So, yes, when recently I heard another news story about an outrageously successful and talented person who took their own life, I felt frustrated and ready to say the unthinkable “Where were the people in their lives that claimed to care, and why didn’t they try to understand?” I’m not saying it’s easy to listen to and understand someone who is spinning in a black hole of depression. It’s not, but YOU, if you care, need to stand up and be there, fully, completely present and unabashed. This is not a time to check out, forget or be too busy…
Many people are afraid to talk to someone who is suicidal. They are afraid they will say something to make it worse. Showing you care by listening and being honest won’t make it worse. You don't need to solve their problems, but listening (and connecting), just may save a life.
Don’t ignore, run away or hide from someone you know to be in that dark space, reach in, tell them you will listen, be real, connect with them.
Every connection counts, no matter how small.
Let’s start some conversations about real authentic compassion, understanding and connection!
If you are reading this and you are feeling suicidality depressed I have three things I want you to know:
1. There is a life for you free from those dark feelings. I get it and there is help out there from other people who get it too!
2. Get help. suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
3. Watch/Share this video:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255
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Hi! I’m Yvette Marie a Thought Wrangler (an intellectual nomad looking for understanding and hope in all things). I created this blog space because I believe Flexibility and Flow in Neurodiversity is not only possible, but necessary for living a full life of health and wellness.