It’s national suicide prevention week in the US and, since we’re all connected by the internet, that tends to mean that ‘national’ for the US and other countries often becomes ‘international’. There’s tons of advice out there for people to talk to, signs to look out for and how to help people who may be feeling suicidal but not that much out there for the people who might actually be feeling that way. Medical resources are tight everywhere, even in nations with nationalised healthcare, so getting help – useful help – can be very difficult.
I suffer from moderate depression with bouts of severe and dangerous depression and suicidal ideation. I’ve been on the brink several times but have pulled back from it each time. While I think I’m qualified to offer insight because of this, what I offer here may not work for everyone. I’m just spelling out what’s helped me, in the past, to get through it.
1. Be Mindful
Learn to recognise the signs that you’re going off the deep end. If you’re anything like me you can – for a time – pretend to be OK, put up a façade, fool even professional therapists that you’re fine. The only person that really knows your inner world is you and nobody can save you from yourself except you. If you can feel yourself slipping and sliding or running out of the energy required to ‘seem normal’, it’s time to break down and find some help.
2. Stagger Your Coping Mechanisms
We all have them, some of them are very unhealthy (cutting, drinking, drugs etc) but they’re a damn sight better than killing yourself. When you can’t cope, try some of these things first rather than collapsing straight away. Muster what will you have left and do whatever it is that – sometimes – takes the edge off. Use the extra time that gives you to seek help.
3. Acquaint Yourself With the Suicide of Others
You may well know someone who killed themselves, odds are you know the family or friends of someone who did. Get to know the harm and upset that it caused, the devastation it left behind. Understand that suicide isn’t just self-harm but that it affects people who love you. Even if you can’t recognise that love in the moment. Examples from my life have helped me keep back from that brink and they’ve also kept me from serious self-harm and from drinking.
4. Get a Cat
Or another pet, even a dog I suppose. Unconditional affection from a little furry being that depends on you is a lifesaver. At my lowest ebb my cat forced his way into the bathroom and yowled at me – in a way he never has before or since – and reminded me that someone, at least, loved me and needed me.
Since this is still, ostensibly, an atheist blog, it’s worth mentioning a couple of things about this from the non-believers point of view.
A. Religious People Will Prey On You
Despair makes you weak and whether from the best intentions or not people will try to help you find Jesus (or whatever deity du jour is current in your location). If it’ll genuinely help I won’t begrudge you turning to Glob, but I don’t think it will help. Like any other displacing behaviour (drinking, self harm etc) getting that old time religion will only display the inevitable or cause it to emerge in new, twisted, nasty ways. If someone tells you this despair is because you don’t ‘know god’ you are fully justified in punching them in the nose.
B. You Have Less Support
This is more the case in America than elsewhere, but it is true that without a church you have less of a support group in your community. Build one. Go to evening classes. Join a band. Get to know people online. You don’t get a support group handed to you, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have one.
C. The Natural World is Wonderful
If that can’t give you hope, nothing will. Every day science produces more knowledge, more beauty and more hope than we can hope to absorb in a lifetime. Why would you want to miss out on the next Hubble Deep Field or the first man on Mars?