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Suicide Prevention Is a Million Caring Acts Far Before Crisis Intervention

Suicide prevention. Those two words can provoke an instant catch in your throat and the sudden urge to change the subject. It’s just too big a topic. Too scary. Too high stakes.

And that’s partly because we think of it as stepping into a dangerous situation at the last possible moment to stop a fatal act.

But suicide prevention is a million caring acts way before a person is in physical danger.

It’s following up, “How are you?” with eye contact and a second question. Asking, “Really?” when they answer “fine,” even though they don’t seem fine.

It’s noticing your friend or sibling or co-worker is just… different. Not
“themselves.” And taking the time to acknowledge that. You don’t have to get all up in their business. You can simply say, “I’ve noticed you seem different lately and I want you to know I am more than willing to talk with you, or just listen and not say a word, if you are willing to share.” It can be offering to drop by with sandwiches to watch a movie with the clear understanding you just want to spend some time with them, but you won’t pepper them with questions.

The “stigma of mental illness,” is a phrase that is as overused as the teaching of upstream suicide prevention efforts is underused.

In an online support community, a woman recently posted she had not been out of bed in a few days. I understood. I have been there. Rather than telling her to “pull herself together,” take a walk outside, try yoga, or any of the other non-helpful things people who just don’t get it commonly suggest, I asked her how she would feel after the shower — when her body and hair were clean. Then I asked if she could focus on that feeling instead of the energy and effort required to force her body from its cocoon and get into the shower. She stopped replying. I feared I’d overstepped.

About two hours later I checked the page again and there was a note: “I feel like a new woman! I showered and washed my hair. I might even wash my
sheets.”

Was she suicidal? I will never know. But she was in that dark, stuck place and the caring words of a stranger helped motivate her to do something caring for herself, and that shifted things for her.

Now she had a fighting chance of getting through the hour. And then the next. And the next.

We need to tune in to each other. We need to care way before a person is in crisis or over the rail of a real or metaphorical bridge. Because that is really real and really scary for the bravest among us.

And it’s too deep to let another human sink before getting involved.

Getty image by Phawat Topaisan