10 USEFUL* things you can do for suicide prevention
*Spoiler: none of these things are about “fixing” a suicidal person.
I’d like to apologize for missing the actual National Suicide Prevention Day, which was September 10, but, really, any day is a good day to talk about suicide prevention. Suicide prevention is not a matter of telling your distressed friend “Oh, you don’t have it so bad, think about the people in Somalia”. Not helpful. So here are some things that may really be useful:
1. Advocate for mental health care and access to medical insurance. Even if you have medical insurance, the company often gives a much smaller payment for mental health care than for a similarly disabling physical condition. Let your representatives know that this discrimination is unacceptable, and mental health coverage should be (at least) equitable.
2. Check your language. Try to avoid using words in a sloppy way: he’s crazy/insane/certifiable; she’s manic (when she’s just excited about something); I’m so OCD (when you’re really just careful about details). It’s probably not helpful to correct other people when they use mental illness terminology wrongly, but raising self-awareness of your own language use is important.
3. Be aware of stereotypes being perpetuated by the media and turn off shows that depict mental illness in a stereotyped or ignorant way.
4. Don’t judge a book by its cover. When someone has committed suicide, people often say: “oh, she seemed so happy” or, “nothing seemed wrong in his life”. You can’t tell what a person is struggling with by their outer appearance. Don’t assume someone is OK just because they look OK.
5. Donate to mental health causes and to gofundme pages for individuals who are struggling. A small amount of money can sometimes alleviate a large amount of pain. It can give encouragement, demonstrate your trust in the person, and make things possible that before were impossible. People on disability have to be especially careful not to “earn” too much before they lose their monthly payment, so a quiet gift can be a big help.
6. Volunteer. Hotlines usually give free training to volunteers, and they need help around the clock, so your volunteering can fit your schedule. Or find organizations in your area that offer free support groups, sliding scale therapy options, housing, discounted medication, etc. Both The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) and National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) provide a list of free support groups in each state.
7. Check in regularly with friends on a one-on-one basis. Public posts about your support are also meaningful, but sometimes a face-to-face talk is the best gift someone can receive. Just ask “How’s it going?” and make it clear that you are going to listen carefully to the answer.
8. Listen, and keep listening. Your quiet, non-judgmental presence is a support, even if you don’t feel like you’re doing anything special for your friend. Being heard is not as common in our modern world as it should be, and the lack of being heard is one of the burdens people are bearing.
9. Educate other people about mental illness. Let’s not leave it to the sufferers to do the heavy lifting of explaining what’s going on. If someone is ready to speak, we can step back and let them go to it, but if they’re not up to doing the explanation again and again, that’s something we can help out with (if we have already listened carefully to what they were saying).
10. Just be kind. Practice empathy skills and train yourself to refrain from judgmental comments. Kindness helps people who need it, and it sets an example for everyone.
11. OK, 11 things! Post and repost the NEW Suicide Prevention Hotline.
If you are contemplating suicide, or you know someone who is, call the NEW 3-digit hotline: 988. It’s available 24 hours a day, throughout the USA.
I’d like to thank Kyli Rodriguez-Cayro, whose post this one is largely dependent on. Read it on The Mighty.
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