We Need to Talk About Suicide
Every time someone famous dies from suicide we see post after post about how we need to talk about suicide. People spam the hotline numbers and tell people how if they need someone to talk to they are there to talk to. Social media feeds are drowned in voices crying out for mental health reform and suicide awareness.
But less than a few weeks later….silence.
Outside of a few profiles on my social media feeds (such as the Trevor Project or TransLifeline) I rarely see talk about suicide or the need for resources and help for people dealing with suicidal feelings except during times where a high profile suicide has hit the news or someone within the LGBTQIA+ community has ended their life.
It’s almost as if awareness only occurs when we’re forced to pay attention.
Mental healthcare is something that is difficult to get and continue getting in the US, even if you have insurance. Treatment is often varied and difficult to follow through with if you are struggling with other issues stemming from your mental health (homelessness, work issues, bills, etc) so many people wind up falling through the cracks. Those who do receive help often find that the help is limited to “short term” care unless they meet specific requirements that are constantly growing ever more restrictive.
In the process of working on this article, I found myself in crisis and went to get help. Since I have state insurance I went to the one location that took my insurance and informed the woman at the counter I was in crisis and in need of seeing someone. I was told that walk in hours at the location I was at were on Monday and Wednesday (it was Thrusday) but if I headed one city over I might be able to make walk in hours at their sister location. This drove me further into crisis, even though I know that was not her intention. While looking back I can see that there may have been a breakdown in communication, at the time I felt like I was being told to have my crisis when it was convenient to them.
I then went to the county mental health offices and into crisis services, where I again struggled to get the point across that I was coming in before I reached the point of attempting to take my own life, and felt like I was not being listened to. The person there kept talking about calling up the place I was just at and working with them to set up something. I kept repeating I needed help, that I needed to be in the hospital or somewhere where I could be safe.
This went on for several minutes, all the while I was struggling with my thoughts of not only self harm, but destroying everything in the room I was sitting in. The very sound of the clock ticking was getting on my last nerves, and I was struggling to not grab the clock and throw it against the wall. Finally the person said they were going to call ahead to the hospital and inform them that I would be heading up there (as in I would be driving there, even though I had told them that many of my plans for suicide involve me killing myself with my car).
It was almost noon by the time I was checked into the mental health section of the ER, which essentially is four small square rooms where you are kept until they decide to send you home, send you upstairs, or send you someplace else. Blood was taken, and for around 24 hours I stayed in that tiny room. Thankfully they allowed me to have my book while I was in there, because my only other option was to sleep or pace.
After several conversations in which I had to stress that if I was placed in a room with any other person that I could not guarantee what I would do, especially due to my paranoia and need for a safe area to escape to if I become overwhelmed, I was taken upstairs to a room. I was checked in, my belongings taken and locked away (except my book) and I was left to my own devices until meal time.
The reason I’m telling you this is because I was someone who reached out while in crisis.
I reached out for help to the very people I was told to reach out to, only to find hurdle after hurdle to cross before finally getting help. While I had my partner with me to keep me from giving up and ending it all, many do not.
People in crisis do reach out, and yet time and time again they either find their hand slapped away because they don’t meet what we expect of them (“You can’t be suicidal because you’re asking for help!”) or they find no one there to take their hand.
Because of the stigma associated with mental health and especially with suicide people tend to only discuss the topics when there is no other way to avoid it, such as the death of someone famous or the death of a friend. When that happens everyone goes around talking about how if someone needs help they can talk to them at any time, yet for many who have reached out, they know that “any time” means when it is convenient.
As a society we place all the responsibility for getting help on the person who is in crisis, forgetting that when one has reached that point that often times they are not thinking clearly, that they most likely have already tried getting help when they weren’t in crisis but were turned away by the very people who claimed they would always be there, or that they feel they have no available options due to lack of money or resources.
We as a society post up the suicide hotline whenever someone kills themselves, we write heartfelt texts and messages, and then we forget until the next incident.
But instead we as a society need to take an active role in prevention.
Instead of waiting for someone in crisis to come to you, check in on them. Reach out to them instead of demanding they come to you. Instead of commenting on how horrible our mental health system is today, write to your representatives and government. Speak up about the need for assistance for people. Take an active role (writing, speaking, protesting, signature gathering, whatever you are physically/mentally able to do) to change the situation instead of looking at it and shaking your head.
Instead of waiting for another person to die for us to talk about suicide and mental health, we need to speak up now. We need to discuss it now, when emotions aren’t raw and frayed. We need to work on education not just for those who are struggling, but for everyone. By working to educate and remove the stigma surrounding suicide and mental health, people will be less afraid to come forward and be more likely to seek out help well before they reach the point of crisis.
It is on all of us to talk about suicide, and not just when it happens.