Tag Archives: suicide

Suicide Prevention Day 2021

This was originally a thread on Twitter. It’s been edited and posted here for readability purposes.

It’s World Suicide Prevention Day, and since this is an issue I’ve dealt with in my life since I was 10, I’ve written a lot about it.

How To Better Handle Mental Health Crises is a recent blog entry I wrote here about handling mental health crises, especially in those who are suicidal.

How To Better Support Loved Ones Struggling With Suicidal Thoughts is an article I wrote for The Mighty to help spread awareness on what not to do, as well as what to do, including personal experiences to help drive the point home, to further raises awareness.

Everything I wrote in those articles, as well as other things on mental health here on this blog and on my side blog, Waking Dreams, is spoken with utmost honesty and transparency. I don’t sugarcoat these things.

My main point in everything, ultimately: The world grossly underestimates the reality and debilitating nature of suicide and mental illnesses, and you can never truly know if someone is going to end their life or not.

Please check on your friends if they go silent. There is a belief in some circles online that if you don’t hear from friends, you should give up on them because it’s assumed they don’t care. That’s very dangerous thinking. There are many reasons people go silent — mental health being one of them.

Likewise, I saw an alarming trend on my personal Facebook for quite some time. At the risk of pissing off some people by being honest here, I would often post when I was suicidal in the past and the most I’d get, a lot of the time, were heart reactions. It’s mostly why I left. The like, or heart, button felt empty.

Sometimes a friend would reach out. My mom did months ago when I last posted there about it. I often didn’t hear anything more going forward, and while it’s no one’s job to look after me, I felt like I didn’t matter. It’s what my suicidal thoughts already told me, true or not.

When I become silent for long periods of time, mostly due to not having the energy to reach out, all I want sometimes is for someone to just message me, comfort me, and confirm that I’m not a burden or a pain in the ass. To be someone’s random thought. To feel like I have value and deserve to live.

In the far past, I disappeared one time for a while and heard from almost no friends at all. This happened around 2009-2010. I had my boyfriend at the time and that was it. No one checked on me. No one messaged me. When I came back around, they said I’d dropped off the face of the planet and they’d noticed, but no one reached out.

Let me reiterate: It’s no one’s job to look after someone else. Sometimes it’s too hard. At the same time, if you call someone a friend, and you see them disappear or struggling, why wouldn’t you reach out? Why would you ignore it and pass it by?

Again, I am not criminalizing anyone. I’m not shit-talking anyone. I’m not angry at anyone. I’m not defaming anyone. I’m not accusing anyone specific of anything. (Did I cover all bases? I’m tired of people getting mad at me for just being honest, even when I feel like shit.)

Which brings me to another issue. When someone is suicidal or depressed and they express their feelings, it’s not the best time to be angry with them. Step outside of yourself and your ego to try to understand why they are hurting and where the hurt may be coming from.

Social media has made people extremely detached from reality. Mostly, it’s because we see so many bad things from day to day, and the people behind the numerous screen names and profile pictures become characters in a reality show. Our brains detach. It’s too much information.

It’s why we need to remember what people mean to us, how long we’ve known someone, and remember that there are real human beings behind the static profiles. Real people whose lives could be lost.

So please, if someone is suicidal or writing about their trauma, don’t lash out at them in judgement. You could be the final push that sends them over the edge. And please, if you have the spoons, please don’t ignore them. Sometimes all they need is for someone to reach out, say they care, and to be told that life is better with them in it.

It’s so simple and it doesn’t take a lot of effort. And please don’t stop there. Check on your loved ones the next day, even if they appear to be doing better. The day after that. The things that go through our heads when we’re suicidal amplify when we have so much silence.

Another disclaimer pause. I don’t talk honestly about this stuff often anymore because every time I do, I piss someone off and I lose more people in my life. So if you’re pissed off by this, let’s talk. Try to understand and don’t make snap judgements or assumptions.

Suicide is often a symptom of many severe mental illnesses. Often, severe mental illness debilitates people and as much as they want to function, they simply can’t on their bad days. This is why abandoning friends who haven’t reached out in a while is damaging.

Not everyone has the bravery, the energy, or even the safety to speak up about their mental health diagnoses or trauma. Don’t assume a friend is fine just because they haven’t spoken about any of these things. Don’t assume these issues don’t exist if the person looks fine.

I desperately want people to regain empathy. I desperately want this coldness that social media has become to change. ‘Not my problem’ causes so much harm. I’ve reached out to complete strangers before to make sure they’re okay after seeing something concerning, and you can too.

It really is just as simple as that. A comment on their art, writing, music, or other creative endeavor. A comment on their post crying out for help, directly or indirectly. A simple… something… rather than silence.

Maybe I feel too intensely. Maybe I care too much. But I’d rather care too much and try to make a difference than remain silent when I could have possibly helped someone. I’d rather speak than be silent because I’m scared someone else will misinterpret or cherry-pick my words without communicating.

So again, if you are upset by anything I’ve said, or you have an assumption about anything, ask me for clarification. Talk to me. It’s that simple.

I feel like I should add one more thing to be responsible: You are never obligated to keep speaking with somoene if they are treating you badly. If they’re calling you names, verbally abusing you, or otherwise treating you like shit in direct conversations, you have to look after yourself. Nothing justifies being verbally abusive and hurting someone else.

Likewise, if someone feels you haven’t been there enough and mentions that, or mentions a short-coming that is causing them grief, it’s not okay for you to be an asshole. There is a huge difference between someone bringing up concerns and worries about you and just straight up verbally abusing you. Be willing to talk. Be willing to see your shortcomings and work on yourself too.

Please take care.

A resource I always like to share is 7 Cups. The website offers the ability to find affordable therapy, as well as online peer support. There is always someone there to listen.

©2021 Shane Blackheart

How to better handle mental health crises

This entry contains mentions of suicidal thoughts, mental health crises situations, self-harm, and traumatic hospital experiences. If you are not in a good place mentally, please seek out help. A great place to start is 7 Cups, where you can find free peer support and low-cost therapy. If you are in crisis, please consider calling your local crisis line, or the National Suicide Prevention Line at 800-273-8255. If it’s possible, reach out to a close friend or family member who will be understanding as an alternative. Your life is important, and the world is better with you in it. I promise.

“Have you recently thought about killing yourself?”

“Have you made plans to kill yourself?”

“Have you had an urge to act upon them?”

“What would your friends and family think if you went through with killing yourself?”

“Have you harmed yourself? How?”

“Name two reasons for living.”

The list of questions becomes longer the more at risk you are, and although I understand a certain level of bluntness is needed to determine the safety of the person in crisis, this could be handled so much better. In my case today, I had difficulty answering several of these questions, felt ashamed, embarrassed, and extremely irritated. It didn’t really help me at all.

I haven’t accomplished much in my life. I have quite a bit of experience with being told I’m too much, overwhelming, or just horrible. I have years of trauma resulting in BPD, PTSD, a panic disorder, OCD, and other issues. I’m autistic. I keep to myself and often worry if people truly like me or are just being polite. I’m always concerned that I’m a burden.

When the above questions were asked to me, among many others as they built off of my answers over the phone, I recoiled. I experienced very real physical sensations of my skin crawling, jolts of anxiety, and burning irritation. I have always found the questions intrusive, although that’s not necessarily the professional’s fault.

When asked what caused my crisis I’m currently in, my head spun. I became annoyed. It would take hours to explain. There has been a ridiculous amount of trauma in my life and when I’m feeling suicidal, that’s the last thing I want to go into detail about with my case manager. Again, that’s my issue, not theirs. They’re not doing anything wrong. I should be able to be open because I truly do want help, and I seek it out when I can as I need it.

I feel there could be better tact in the way required questionnaires are worded, though. Such blunt terminology, and open-ended questions I can’t possibly know the answer to (hello, autism), bring me more stress than comfort. I don’t know what my friends and family would feel if I died. Personally speaking, I often feel as if it’d be a weight off their shoulders. They may be relieved. They may be distraught. I can’t answer that question. Thinking about it just reinforces the negative feelings I had because it brings on guilt, and then I feel selfish for being in crisis. That’s not the intended effect, but this has been a part of the conversation around suicide for a while now.

Centering a suicidal person’s struggles on how others would handle it, or be hurt by it, isn’t helpful.

Likewise, using such blunt language can be a huge trigger. “Are you currently suicidal?” “Have you thought about taking your life?” While still blunt, there’s a huge difference in wording that sounds a lot easier on the ears, and it doesn’t make me feel like I’ve been hit with a battering ram.

“What are two reasons to live for?” is another question I struggle with. I truly don’t have a lot in my life to name. I stick to myself, I don’t have anything going on, and the only reason that pulls me back from the edge every time is that my cats need me. They can’t take care of themselves, and I love them too much to let them go without.

All of the questions are delivered in a formal manner. I feel like I’m at a job interview rather than trying to keep myself safe. Again, I’m not harping on anyone trying to do their job. I just wish there was something more to this whole crisis prevention thing.

Instead of asking me to name things, or asking me to figure out how other people would struggle due to my problems, why not just… give me hope? The most important thing a suicidal person can hear in the moment isn’t anything they tell themselves. It’s what they hear from others.

Often, when suicidal, it’s important for someone else to say, ‘I would miss you’ or ‘be sad if you died.’ ‘You’re not a burden.’ ‘Think of (this thing) and (this thing) you may not have thought of that you’ve accomplished!’ Often, others see things we’ve done in ways we can’t, especially in crisis. Having to answer these things myself just makes me irritated and want to withdraw even more because I can’t think of anything, which furthers the reinforcement of the initial feelings that put me in crisis.

The questions are for clinical purposes, but in the end, the way mental health crises are handled in America still needs a lot of work. It’s a very blunt, and often traumatizing, experience for the already traumatized. Often, we will say we are safe at home when we really aren’t due to the poor quality of treatment in hospitals.

We also may fear emergency help at our door, which could take the form of a crisis prevention police officer or an ambulance, which adds loads of stress to what we’re already experiencing, and then we have to hope they have training and don’t hurt us, put us in handcuffs, or force us to do something we don’t want to, such as being involuntarily committed.

Thankfully, I’ve never had to face a crisis intervention on that level because I’m aware of the possibility. I don’t lie, but I certainly skirt the truth. I’ve been in the psych ward a few times, and while it kept me from dying from a suicide attempt or from even going through with one, it is a cold and sterile place with nurses that may get frustrated with patients. I watched a helpless old man, who had been homeless, have food thrown on the table by a nurse who got frustrated, yelled at him, and left after he kept dropping things.

If I needed my PRN (as-needed) medication for anxiety because I was shaking like a leaf and terrified, I was handed one through a window guard and sent to bed alone. I spent a few nights crying by myself in the dark with no one to check on me, only to be woken up at the crack of dawn and threatened with the reality that if I didn’t get up, eat, and go to group, I couldn’t go home.

When first admitted, I had to strip down into a backless gown so a team of nurses could come in and look at my naked body to make sure I didn’t have injuries anywhere else, and the entire time I felt ashamed and embarrassed because complete strangers were looking at my nakedness. No one bandaged the wounds on my arms. They left me to redress and head out into the community room while I had to ask for my sweater so I didn’t bleed on the table.

The first or second time I’d been admitted (brain fog makes it hard to remember things), it was late at night. I had medications in my bag in a pill box because I had to take my medication to work at night, and I was met with policemen — two of them — who walked into the community room while I tried to eat a snack. They stood over me and questioned me, and I said the medication was mine prescribed by my doctor. I simply took it to work because I worked at the same time I had to take it.

One remained with me with his hands clasped over the table, sitting across from me and staring me down. The other went to the nurse’s station to confirm what I said was true. The entire time I was terrified. I’d never done anything illegal in my life. I’d never been in trouble with the cops and was as straight-laced as they came. I had no record of any kind.

Finally, they left and I remained in the dimly lit community room. I felt less than human. In a matter of minutes, after the nurses scoped my naked body and left my injuries unattended, and police officers coldly interrogated me, I felt institutionalized in every sense of the word. There was no love. No care. It was all quick and cold, and merely to be sure there were no problems.

Don’t get me started on group therapy, in which religion was forced on me that I didn’t want, and the art therapist argued with me about the meaning of my drawing. And the sexism. Women weren’t allowed to shave, but men were. If one floor of the psych ward did something bad, we were all punished. We had our coffee machine taken away because someone on the floor below us threw theirs across the room.

I’m not trying to discourage anyone from going to the hospital if they are a danger to themselves or others. The hospital truly did keep me from going through with the inevitable. Despite how awful my experience was, that was one place. There are far better hospitals I’m sure, but since I’m low-income and on state insurance due to being disabled, my choices are limited.

If you are in crisis, please get help. Do what you can to protect yourself. That’s far more important than the current imperfections in the system. Surviving is key.

But many of these reasons are why people don’t seek out help. The whole process is cold and controlled, and very institutional. It’s a system. And I understand the need for a system, but in reality, what someone in crisis really needs is someone who cares — or at least acts like they care.

In the case of being transgender, the process can be doubly bad. Not only do we have to fear discrimination, but the act of being forced to strip and be looked over, which will out us and possibly open up awkward questioning, is traumatizing in itself.

If it must happen, it would be better handled by well-informing the patient of the intentions and the necessity, asking if there is anyone they preferred to do the inspection, and simply just letting us wear a pair of fucking underwear during it.

Things need to change. In times of crisis people have to respond quickly, but it should also be possible to be humane and compassionate while responding quickly.

If we want people to continue to seek out help, we have to make help a non-threatening thing.

Word questions in a way that are sensitive to the person who may be moments away from taking their life. Give us reasons to continue instead of asking us to figure that out ourselves, since we obviously feel we don’t have reasons or we wouldn’t be in that position. Don’t make our struggles about other people and what they feel or would have to say about it.

Treat us like humans who are in pain. A lot of people with trauma have a serious lack of love — or a sense that they are not loved. Going through the motions and being blunt, distant, and cold may enforce that we feel like a burden, are in some kind of system, and that no one cares.

To the doctors, hospitals, and crisis prevention people who are doing it right and are compassionate, thank you. Ultimately, a person in crisis is someone who needs love and handled with care, even if they may not want it. It’s far better than the alternative, which will lead to less people seeking help, and will end in more lost lives than there needed to be.

©2021 Shane Blackheart