Mr. Williams' struggles with depression and addiction are well-known, and it's very easy to point fingers and say, "that was what did it." I've heard variations on that theme all day, most of them said with the attitude that nothing could help it. One radio host even went as far as to say, "He was beyond help. He was too far gone."
I nearly had to pull my car off the road after hearing that, because I was so angry. I work all day with people who struggle with those feelings and with the pain and hopelessness that goes along with them. To hear a DJ blithely blame the victim was nearly too much for me. NO ONE IS "BEYOND HELP;" AND NO ONE IS "TOO FAR GONE." I can't emphasize that enough.
Blaming the Victim
I think people say these things because they are uncomfortable. They don't know what to do or say when something like this happens. We like to think that we can control things, and that there is a reason or purpose when things happen. However, sometimes we don't like the reason, or we're uncomfortable with the feelings they bring up in us, so we resort to finger pointing, blaming the victim, or even worse, demonizing the victim. Calling someone "selfish" or " a coward" only perpetuates and increases pain for loved ones left behind. Finger pointing does not work, and makes things worse. When similarly depressed people hear these things, they nearly always feel shamed and even worse, and the chances of them hurting themselves increases. This sort of blame and shame never helps.
The truth of the matter is that we'll never know what he was thinking, or why he did it. We can guess. One thing we do know, though - when someone is considering suicide, they are in an incredible amount of pain. We know that Mr. Williams struggled with profoundly deep depression, and addictions that kept the pain at bay for a little while. He was fighting a battle in a war that probably seemed like it would never end.
The problem with this sort of armchair psychology is that it hurts. It prevents people from getting needed help, and it creates and increases stigma for those struggling with these urges. And that's not ok. If we really want to change things, we have to stop this behavior. What happened to compassion?
All you want is for the pain to stop. Suicide offers an escape, a way out - the hope is that, finally, the pain will stop. The reality is, we don't know. However, when you are in that level of pain, **anything** that might relieve it feels like an alternative.
What not to say and what to say and do if you know someone who is suicidal:
"I hear you. I'm sorry you're hurting so much. How can I help?" "I'm here for you if you want to talk. I'll just listen." "I want to make sure you're safe. I'm going to help you" (Followed by calling 911 or going to the ER.) "I know right now it feels like it will never end. I'll stay with you." "I'll listen to you." "I care." "You might not believe it right now, but you matter to me, and to a lot of other people."
If someone trusts you enough to tell you that they're feeling suicidal, believe them. Stay with them, if you can; if you can't, find someone who can. Listen to them. Help them get help where they will not be shamed or judged. Don't shame or judge. If you don't know what to say, remember that you don't have to say anything. Just being there and staying there helps more than you can know. Really be there - maybe they can stay with you or another friend for the night, just to get away to think. Maybe going out for a cup of coffee and talking will help.
Know what resources are available to them:
- Is there a walk-in clinic, or a place to go? In Larimer County (CO, where I live), we now have a walk-in, crisis clinic that's open 24-7-365: The address is 1217 Riverside Avenue in Fort Collins. The phone number is: (970)-494-4200 locally or 1-844-493-TALK (8255). These services are for "ALL Coloradans experiencing a mental health or substance use crisis"
- Where are the nearest emergency rooms? In Larimer County, we have Poudre Valley Hospital, McKee Medical Center, and Medical Center of the Rockies. There is also now Clearview Behavioral Hospital in Johnstown.
- What are the suicide hotlines? Nationally, you can call: 1-800-273-8255 (1-800-273-TALK). You can also call 1-800-SUICIDE. Locally (Larimer County), you can call 970-494-4200. That's the 24-hour hotline for the Crisis Center
- At this site: http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ , you can use chat to talk
Know what resources are there for you:
- Know the myths and warning signs: http://www.helpguide.org/mental/suicide_prevention.htm
- How to help a suicidal person: http://www.suicide.org/how-to-help-a-suicidal-person.html
- Get support for yourself: http://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/suicide-supporting-someone-else/supporting-myself/#.U-q85Pk7um4
- Take care of yourself - talk to your friends or loved ones, take care of yourself physically, get rest - all the stuff you need to do.
This blog post is not intended to be therapy, and is provided for informational purposes only. However, this topic is sensitive, and you may want to talk to a professional for support. Dr. Burlingame-Lee is currently taking clients, and if you would like to work with her, you may reach her at (970) 776-6043. You may reach her via email at email@example.com.
If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or feelings or feel like you might hurt yourself or someone else, please call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. You don't have to be alone, and there ARE people who care. Reach out for help - we're here. Please, please - you are worth it and even if it doesn't feel like it, there IS hope.