Ashera is a Marriage and Family Therapist with an extensive background in sexual health education. You can ask her stuff anonymously and she won’t get weirded out. Seriously, try her. Send your queries through our anonymous contact form here.
On occasion, Smash Talks columnist Ashera Buhite addresses a difficult life situation and highlights some local agencies that can help you navigate what to do.
September is Suicide Prevention Month, and there’s been increased dialogue on the topic on all social media platforms. This usually comes in the form of posts about hotline numbers or the sentiment, “Anyone can always come to me.” I am very happy that so many of our friends, family, and community members feel that they are willing to step up to the plate when someone expresses that they are experiencing struggle. The catch is, what’s there to do when a cup of coffee and a heart-to-heart talk doesn’t dissuade them from staring into the abyss? And, what do we do for the people who don’t reach out?
Let’s tackle each scenario separately: a friend says, “Hey, I’m in a really bad place. I’ve been thinking of hurting myself.” Here’s what you should not do: freak out and guilt trip them into listing all the things they have to live for. This is very much not helpful and it negates what they are experiencing. Please don’t tell them that “suicide is selfish.” That’s a dicey statement that gets thrown around a lot. You need to meet them where they are, not a moral platform. Reaching out is sometimes scarier than the darkness they are experiencing, so if you freak out and make them feel like shit about it, they might bury it down and never reach out again. Remember, they are hurting, and they’re telling you. That’s a gift.
Important questions to ask are, “What can I do?,” “What would you like me to do?,” and “Does anyone else know?” Mental health practitioners will start to tease out the severity of the situation case by case, often using F.I.D.O., or Frequency, Intensity, Duration, and Onset. A situation where a person thinks, “Maybe it’s better if I weren’t alive,” is not in as dire of a situation as a person who frequently plans out how they will kill themselves and has been doing this for weeks, months, or years. Both people need support, but the latter is running out of time.
If your friend is experiencing long bouts of suicidal ideation often, it’s time to talk about going to the hospital. You can offer to call Crisis Services and have them do an assessment. They’ll come and figure out the best course of action. If you can sit there with your friend and be supportive, that can be very helpful. Crisis Services is not just for extreme emergencies: If you don’t know what to do after someone has disclosed to you, then just go ahead and call. They can talk you through this.
If you’re really worried and they either won’t go to a hospital or a hospital has not deemed them as a threat to themselves, come up with a safety plan. Have them write down 3-5 phone numbers they can call if they are feeling like a threat to themselves. Then, write down 3-5 things they can do to keep themselves safe if no one is able to answer. Write down hotline numbers as well. Have them plan to call you once every day (or few hours) to check in. If they don’t call you, let them know you’ll be calling 911 if they don’t answer you.
If someone does come to you, be mindful of your own energies. It’s really taxing to do this kind of emotional labor for other people. It’s okay to be overwhelmed and not have all the answers. That’s when it’s time for you to talk to other people.
Like I said, it’s truly a gift when people reach out and ask for help. Pay attention to when your friends say they’re hurting, even if it seems like it’s in passing. However, not all people can come out and straight up say it. For our friends that can’t disclose their pain, it’s important for us to reach out to them. If you notice that a friend has suddenly become reclusive or is using alcohol or drugs a lot more, something might be amiss. Likewise, if they’re giving their stuff away but not making any plans to move, they may be clearing house. Trust your gut.
Reaching out can happen in a lot of different ways. In a non-gossipy way, telling mutual friends or family that something seems off can put other people on alert to watch for signs of struggle. Checking in with the person and saying directly that you care can mean a great deal to them. Remaining nonjudgmental, while watching your own boundaries, can help keep everyone safe.
For additional information check out:
Crisis Text Line — Text 741741 in the United States
Suicide Prevention Lifeline — Call 1-800-273-8255, available 24 hours every day
Crisis Services — (716) 834-3131, available 24 hours every day
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