September is Suicide Prevention Month and it is coming to a close but suicide prevention shouldn’t stop in September.
Recently, I watched the Netflix series: 13 Reason’s Why, created by Brian Yorkey and a slew of other talented directors, producers and writers, including Selena Gomez. It was based on the original novel written by Jay Asher about a teenage girl who commits suicide.
The series follows each character (high school students) throughout their days, but not in a way that glosses over what teens really face on a daily basis. Instead, it forces the viewer to take a deeper and often uncomfortable look inside what really happens during what can be the most difficult years of our lives. The heavy topic of suicide and the intricate details that lead up to that point of no return were emotionally transpired onto film and while the series received some slack for its graphic depiction, I applaud everyone involved with this project for the rawness and truth that was portrayed.
To say that I know how anyone feels would not be helpful nor would it be truth. While I have felt a degree of emptiness and wandered in the darkness myself. Even contemplating ending my own life, during my teenage years – I am still alive today to talk about it.
Life and Death - THAT is the difference.
But the mere whispers of suicide in my past were not the only way I have been touched by something as serious as suicide.
I was at work one morning and received a call that wrecked me emotionally. I was devastated and felt completely and utterly helpless.
The year was 2010. The call referenced my then, 16-year-old younger sister.
I remember getting the call from my step-father. He informed me that my younger sister was hospitalized after a suicide attempt. He gave me a brief update and let me know that she was alive and better.
But was she really better?
Immediately, tears swelled in my eyes and all I could think about was the why and what of the situation.
What had happened that was so devastating it made my little sister want to end her life?
I was over three hours away and wasn’t allowed to visit her because she was hospitalized in the psychiatric unit for observation.
My sister and I have a decade between us, and many disagreements, but I adore her. Perhaps, I hadn’t expressed that enough.
Once I heard this news I began to search my mind, being able to only remember the times I may have hurt her feelings or acted like a jerk of a sibling.
I was filled with worry and concern. I should have called her more, visited her more, and expressed to her how much I loved her despite any differences we may have had in the past.
It wasn’t until recently, 7-years later, that her and I were able to discuss the details leading up to her decision that afternoon in 2010.
Unworthy of Love
Leading up to the day my sister attempted suicide, she had cried for days and days. Silently, in her room she was suffering with this immense feeling of pain, all alone.
A boy in her class.
Her biological dad abandoning her.
At times her insensitive older sister – me.
Her supposed friends.
She made the decision that she was ready to be done with all of her pain. She felt such an emptiness inside that she didn’t care about something as precious as her life.
So, she mapped out a plan and began to follow it through, but not without crying out for help.
The days leading up to her actual attempt, she began telling her friends at school that she was moving. To which some responded they would miss her. She proceeded to tell her classmates and even teachers that she would not be back to finish out the school year due to this alleged relocation.
CRY FOR HELP:
The day before she would execute her plan, she actually told someone. Her best friend at the time. She told her that, “she was going to kill herself because she knew that life wasn’t worth living and it was never going to get better for her.”
Her Best Friend responded by saying, “If that’s what you want to do. Go ahead, I won’t tell anyone.”
The day came and my little sister went to school as usual. Continued to let everyone know that this day would be her last day.
CRY FOR HELP:
She came home from school that afternoon and had two of her guy friends come over. She told them what she was going to do and that she had this master plan but didn’t really know how to execute it. She only knew that she wanted to end her life.
This particular afternoon, my 16-year old sister came home from school and began taking the only pills she could find in my mother’s pantry - Excedrin Migraine.
The two friends who were over at the time?
They watched her take handfuls of pills while she spoke to them about how she wanted to kill herself.
She was on the phone with another guy friend with whom she also shared what she was doing. This friend immediately came over to the house and took the bottle of pills from her hands.
But by this time, it was too late.
Apparently, my mom had come home early from work that day and was angry that my sister was home and had people in the house. Probably went off on one of her usual tangents that my sister and I know all too well.
To avoid my mom’s toxic spewing of words, my sister and her friends went to the park.
When she arrived at the park she said she began feeling really bad. Her friend, the one who came over and took the bottle away from her, told her something that changed everything.
He said that people would miss her.
In that moment, regret overwhelmed her.
She asked one of the other two friends, who had sat idly by as she swallowed pill after pill, for his cell phone to call an ambulance. He fought with her because he was afraid of getting into trouble once someone arrived.
She was finally able to call an ambulance.
Once the paramedics arrived, she vomited. At the hospital, she had to swallow liquid charcoal and she vomited some more. Then to add fuel to the fire, my mom arrives at the hospital yelling and expressing how irate she was that my sister did that to HER.
Making a sensitive situation more destructive emotionally. Instead of expressing love and sensitivity in a circumstance that needed those as a lifeline – literally. Our mother turned it into something about herself.
My sister spent the next 72-hours in a psychiatric ward where she was poorly treated and terrified of other patients.
Upon returning to school, my sister was bullied. Gossip swirled the mill about what had happened that afternoon after school.
My sister said one thing that really resonated with me about her experience with attempted suicide.
“I wish more people would have realized what was going on.”
But could we have?
All I thought about was what I didn’t do. How I should have been a better sister. Done more. Better.
Then, maybe I could have seen the signs. Helped her through her despair and be her guiding light out of the darkness that was drowning her.
How do you save someone from suicide or attempting suicide especially if you can’t possibly know what they are going through?
Maybe it starts by listening.
Really being present when you are with another human being.
Start with dialogue. Keep it simple. Express to them that you are there for them in whatever way they may need, in their time, when they are ready.
With teenagers, maybe it means discussing the difficult topics because if you don’t talk to them about things that may be uncomfortable to talk about. Guess what? They probably feel just as uncomfortable. Staying quiet on difficult topics leaves it up for interpretation. Leaving them to their own resources which is often their friends. And chances are, their friends are not going to be the best source of information.
Perhaps it’s allowing them to talk and simply staying quiet but listening.
Followed by Compassion.
Do you remember what it was like to be a teenager? How every pain felt like it was the worst possible pain? And any hurt felt like it would last forever?
The pressure to do and be like everyone else around you. Pressure to be the best friend. Get good grades. Be the star athlete. Stay above the grid enough not to be bullied but under enough not to get noticed. Pressure to explore sexuality. Trying to learn who you are in a multi-faceted way.
Teenagers face different struggles and circumstances than what we faced in our youth, but some of the emotional turmoil may be the same. Remember your younger years but try to keep in perspective that times have changed and continue to do so as the years pass by.
You may not know what another person is feeling or going through but you can be there for them regardless.
The answer isn’t in ONE simple action. But in several.
The fact is that suicide can be prevented. We CAN help save someone from suicide and maybe true Suicide Prevention starts with being aware of others. Being able to identify when someone you know, love, and care about is in distress and requiring just a little extra help. Then, simply being there for them.
A mention, expression or attempt at suicide is serious and should be treated with concern. If someone you know is displaying signs and symptoms of suicide, depression, trauma, or anxiety please get them the help they need. The national suicide prevention lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.