A couple of weeks ago I went on holiday, and, as usual, I ate and drank too much. Now looking at myself in the mirror makes me really uncomfortable and I’m trying to cover up the excess weight with the loosest, baggiest clothes I own. Losing weight is tough at the best of times, but Autumn is even harder because salads don’t really appeal the way they did in the Summer. I’m feeling miserable because I’m embarrassed about how silly I was to let the pounds pile on the way they did and don’t want to admit to anyone how rotten I feel about my appearance. To make it worse my friends keep on asking me to meet them for coffee (and cake) and I’m having to make excuses rather than tell them what the problem really is even though I could really use their help and support right now. I’m certain they’d think I’m being really ridiculous and making a lot of fuss about nothing.
By now you’re probably wondering what all this has to do with the ‘S’ word and what the ‘S’ word actually is. Well, the ‘S’ word is suicide, and it’s a word that can make a lot of people very uncomfortable.
So, why is it important that we all try hard not to feel so uncomfortable talking about dying by suicide? Simple. Talking can help make a situation just a little easier to bear for someone who is suffering so much that the only way out that they can see is death. Often people facing a crisis in their lives don’t actually want to kill themselves, the idea just seems to keep on popping into their head and the thought can get stronger and stronger until the idea of dying by suicide is almost irresistible. The trouble is, just like me with my excess weight problem, a lot of people facing a crisis are ashamed. Frequently, they feel like they are to blame for the situation they are in, there must have been something they could have done to get out of it, mustn’t there? Then there’s the old ‘I don’t want to burden my friends’ scenario. After all, we all lead busy lives so why would anyone want to be burdened with a friend who feels like they’re stuck in a crummy situation and the only way out seems to be death? Because of all that many people struggling through a crisis of one kind or another try to deal with it alone, even though deep down they know they need a little support.
On the other side of all this there’s the person who sees a friend feeling rotten about life, but doesn’t know how to approach the subject and offer help. Nobody wants to be seen as a nosy parker, and the thought of asking a friend if they’re suffering so much that they might be thinking of killing themselves can be terrifying. How exactly does anyone ask a question like that? So, back to my rather rounder shape. I know that my closest friend knows I’m unhappy about something, and she also knows that I’ve piled the pounds on recently. Because she’s a really good friend she’s almost certainly put two and two together and knows what the problem is, but maybe isn’t sure how to start that conversation. Gently is probably the best way in most cases. If you have a friend who seems more than usually quiet or unhappy perhaps you could try asking them how they’re doing and see where that leads. Some people will come straight out and say they’re thinking of ending their lives, others might drop little hints: ‘I feel like a waste of space’, ‘I wish I wasn’t around anymore’, ‘everyone would be better off without me’. If you feel comfortable exploring those feelings with the person in trouble, great! Try asking what’s caused them to feel that way, then see if they can think of anything which would help get them out of the situation, or at least make it easier to handle. Finally, try to help them have a safety plan; if those feelings about death get too strong what can they do to stay safe? Just being with other people can help with that last one.
Obviously, not everyone does feel comfortable talking about such serious subjects, that’s where IMAlive comes in. The service is totally anonymous and confidential, all our volunteers are well-trained and professional. There will absolutely never be any judgements made about the person who comes to us. What we will do is listen and, perhaps, help that person come up with a way to feel better and stay safe until they can work their way through the crisis. The service is also open to the friends of people thinking about dying by suicide who made need support or ideas about how they can help their friend. IMAlive volunteers will always be there to listen and support anyone who needs them.