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Please Listen to Me Before You Call the Cops About My Suicidal Thoughts

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Editor's Note

If you experience suicidal thoughts or struggle with self-harm, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, visit this resource.

Being alone sucks. Don’t get me wrong, most introverts love to be alone for at least a little while sometimes. But sitting in your living room on a bright sunny day, all alone as you watch groups of people enjoying life together outside of your window is tough. You know you could drag yourself off the couch and join them, but it seems too hard and you fear you’d only be a bother.

Welcome to depression.

Now try being totally alone in the midst of total darkness. There is no sun and there are no birds singing. You can’t see anything ahead of you and, most likely, you’re terrified of the things behind you. No one is around. You’re alone in the darkest place you’ve ever been and your thoughts are centered on what you feel is the only way to get out, no matter the cost. 

Welcome to suicidal thoughts.

Depression is lonely, but chances are if you tell another person you’re feeling down, their face will still break into a smile and they’ll do everything short of the chicken dance to try and cheer you up.

The stigma surrounding suicidal thoughts and self-harm changes people’s reactions. Instead of love and concern and people willing to sit with you through the hard times, you might find eyes full of panic and alarm. People often do not know how to react when they hear the words, “I want to hurt myself,” and their reactions can put you in an even darker place. Speaking the words, which usually brings peace because you are no longer alone, turns to fear as you imagine their reactions or the call they’re going to make to alert the authorities. I know this firsthand.

The first time it happened, my therapist was out of town and I couldn’t reach the people on my safety list. I know when I get into that dark place, I need someone else to help remind me of the truth. On that day, the dark thoughts were just starting. All I needed right then was someone to be with me, someone to walk into that dark place with me and open the door. It was simple but fear blocked the path.

I went to a pastor at church, one who I call a true friend and love working in ministry with. That pastor is always so laid-back and calm and so I thought it was a safe place. The second I said the words, his eyes almost bugged out of his head and he immediately started stammering, “Do I need to call 911? Do we need to take you to the hospital because I will, we can go right now.” He went on and on, not sure how to respond and quickly my safe place disappeared.

It happened a few weeks later when I was in a dark place again and I self-harmed worse than usual and my friends became extremely concerned. They asked me to talk to a pastor again until I could get in to see my therapist, so I did. Although much more relaxed, that pastor also brought up the option of hospitalization. That’s when I realized pastors are mandatory reporters, and most of the time they’re not mandatory reporters who have been trained to spot when someone truly is a danger to themselves or when someone just needs support to prevent them from potentially becoming a danger to themselves. 

Mandatory reporters are scary for people dealing with dark thoughts. There’s a time and place where we might really need them. Hospitals are there for a reason and they do save lives. But there’s also a time when you just need to talk. You just want to say the words that have no actions behind them. I want to be able to tell someone, “I’m thinking of suicide,” and be able to talk it out. I just don’t want to be alone, I need someone to help me fight. At that point, I need help to prevent me from going darker into that place, but I’m not at the point of needing a hospital. The fear of being committed simply because I’m asking for help has formed its own little jail around the area I need to be a safe place to share.

But there’s a stigma that keeps people from being able to speak the words they need to speak because they’re afraid that someone will panic and call 911.

It took me weeks just to build up the guts to ask my own therapist how to deal with the lies inside of my head when my brain tells me this world would be better off without me because of the fear that she could have me committed.

The more we talk about suicidal thoughts, the more we learn about what they are and what people in that place truly need, the more lives we can save. We can give people like me a safe place where they feel safe saying the words that right now are shrouded in fear. And when people are able to find that safe place to speak, they’re also able to find the tools to cope and overcome.

Yes, there are times when the call needs to be made because someone has a plan, a time or has written a note. They need that stronger intervention and I’m thankful the option is there. But it’s a very scary option for people that are not there right now. There are people who just need support and love. They need to know these thoughts do not make them any less worthy, they just show the depth of their hurt and pain.

How many people have we lost this year because the lies in their heads were allowed to grow larger and larger until it really was too late? How many could have been saved if they were able to speak their truth without fear that they would be immediately involuntarily admitted to a hospital when it was just a thought? How many could have been given the tools to cope by a trained therapist if only we were open to the discussion that would help get them there?

Suicidal thoughts are scary and uncomfortable to people. But there are people in this world who need friends and loved ones to sit with them through it, support them and most of all: give them a safe place just to speak and be heard without fear.

Unsplash image by Marcos Rivas

Originally published: October 21, 2019
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