Trigger warning: This post discusses suicide and suicidal ideation.
I tend to avoid conversations about suicide. It’s a topic that interests me on both a personal and academic level, but there are certain ideas that tend to come up over and over, ideas that make me so uncomfortable that I’d rather just not discuss them. They make me feel angry and overlooked, and helpless because I don’t know how to stop them from circulating.
Here’s one: the idea that suicide attempts can be clearly delineated between the “real” ones and the “mere” cries for help. I am starting to really hate the phrase “cry for help,” with all of its implications. Like the implication that it is less serious, that it conveys less suffering, like it’s just some kind of silly grandstanding that can be left out of the serious suicide statistics.
Here’s something I’ve learned over and over: actions that appear strange or even stupid from the outside often turn out to have perfectly understandable reasons behind them, if you can just listen.
Why would someone resort to potentially fatal self-harm as a way of accessing help? Maybe because they’ve tried asking for help in less drastic ways and haven’t received it. They may be dealing with a healthcare or social service system that’s designed for people in dire situations, a system that often fails to provide support for those who are trying to avoid health emergencies. They may be dealing with loved ones who just don’t take emotional suffering as seriously as physical harm. Sometimes a problem has to be translated into a language the people around you understand.
Another potential problem is that some people find themselves unable to even ask for help in the first place. Hell, many adults who are considered perfectly mature and healthy find it difficult to identify their emotions and express them to others. When you are coping with a serious mental illness, it can be even harder. When you can’t even say for certain what you’re feeling, it’s nearly impossible to let others know that you are feeling it.
And that’s assuming you even know where to go if you need help. Assuming you could even afford the help that may be available in your area. Or know what kind of services to contact if you can’t afford it, if such services are available to you.
A final issue that makes it hard to categorize suicide attempts is that people can certainly have more than one motivation, even conflicting motivations. They can even be uncertain exactly that their motivations are, especially if they are in the midst of turmoil. I don’t think you can clearly divide people into the “I want help” camp and the “I want to die” camp. I’m willing to bet there is a fair amount of overlap.
All of this being a long-winded way of saying, “Please don’t treat some suicide attempts as if they were less serious or harmful than others.”
I’m sorry if reading this has been uncomfortable. Honestly, it was uncomfortable to write. But this issue has been on my mind lately and I wanted to finally get it out.
If you are thinking about self-harm or suicide at all – even if you’re not seriously making a plan at this stage – please do what you can to get some help. It may be helpful to start here.