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Why 911 Shouldn’t Be Your First Reaction to My Suicidal Thoughts

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Editor's Note

If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

I remember the flashing lights, the knocking at my door, and the police radios. I remember the feeling of betrayal, anger, and sadness I felt while walking into an ambulance, unharmed, conscious and confused.

I wasn’t doing anything. I was just… talking.

In school, we learn that if we hear something concerning about someone’s mental health, we should say something. If someone tells us they are feeling suicidal, we should report it immediately. I’m suddenly unsure if this is the correct thing to teach our society.

Of course, not everyone is equipped to deal with such things. Sometimes, people don’t know how to respond and how to react to a confession so alarming. But I don’t believe that calling 911 or telling a professional should be the immediate reaction. Our suicidal thoughts aren’t only scary for you; they’re scary for us, too. By panicking, you might rush us into more of a panic. By saying you’re going to tell someone, our fear rises and our thoughts only get worse. We regret speaking and from then on, our trust disintegrates and we keep our mouths shut even more, only letting the thoughts build up more. So please, stay calm.

Unless we are in immediate danger, please do not pick up the phone. I’ve only said, “I don’t think I want to live anymore.” All I ask is for you to stay with me during this time and help the thoughts pass. The presence of a loved one, whether in person or over the phone, is the most powerful thing for me. Talk me through my thoughts and listen. Try to understand why I feel this way. Ask me if there is anything specific that is building up these thoughts; ask me what conflicts have risen lately. But do not tell me that suicide is for the weak or that suicide is “stupid.”

Then ask me what keeps me going, why I’m afraid to die, because honestly, we usually are. It’s a constant fight — should I live or should I die? Why should I live? Why should I die? So, ask us these questions. We already argue in our minds, so let us argue aloud. Your validation and understanding can help us clear our path.

After we speak, ask me what my next step is. Help me make a plan and find alternatives to my urges. Offer to call me when my thoughts worsen. Instead of taking the initiative and calling someone, ask me, “Have you considered seeing a professional? I can come with you and take you there if you’d like.” Send me a breathing exercise to help with my anxiety. Tell me, “let’s do it together.” Tell me, “you’re not alone. I’m here for you. We will get through this together.”

Photo by Ryan Holloway on Unsplash

Originally published: September 22, 2019
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