Victoria Safford, stirred by the events of September 11, wrote an article about ‘hope in a time of fear.’ She shared the following poignant anecdote:
I have a friend who traffics in words. She is not a minister, but a psychiatrist in the health clinic at a prestigious women’s college. We were sitting once not long after a student she had known, and counselled, committed suicide in the dormitory there. My friend, the doctor, the healer, held the loss closely in those first few days, not unprofessionally, but deeply, fully — as you or I would have, had this been someone in our care.
At one point (with tears streaming down her face), she looked up in defiance (this is the only word for it) and spoke explicitly of her vocation, as if out of the ashes of that day she was renewing a vow or making a new covenant (and I think she was). She spoke explicitly of her vocation, and of yours and mine. She said, “You know I cannot save them. I am not here to save anybody or to save the world. All I can do — what I am called to do — is to plant myself at the gates of Hope. Sometimes they come in; sometimes they walk by. But I stand there every day and I call out till my lungs are sore with calling, and beckon and urge them in toward beautiful life and love…
If we found ourselves standing at the gates of Hope, what could we say to help someone who was feeling suicidal?
Here are some suggestions:
- You are not alone. Stay connected.
It feels like a barren and desolate existence. You believe no-one cares. You are convinced no-one understands. You feel the burden of responsibility. This is your mess to sort out. But we don’t function well on our own. We need the input of a trusted friend. We need the wisdom of those who understand the dangers of isolating ourselves.
- You are not to blame. There are many causes for your pain.
There may be a lingering thought that you deserve the pain. You may believe your actions warranted it. You may see death as a fitting reward for your stupidity. Or you may feel overwhelmed by the pain. It’s real, but you are not responsible.
- You are valued. Don’t give up.
Suicidal feelings are temporary. You are important to the people who care for you, who believe in you. Don’t let them down by acting or behaving in a selfish or reckless manner. Continue to fight even when times are tough. Remember what Winston Churchill said to the boys of Harrow School. “Never give in, never, never, never, never…’
- You are loved. Don’t hide your struggle.
Letting yourself be loved can be terrifying. It may mean accepting your vulnerability. Ann Voskamp reminds us that love is an act of surrender.
“To let yourself be loved means breaking down your walls of self-sufficiency and letting yourself need and opening your hands to receive.”
You need to allow others to speak into your life. You need to be willing to hear and open to receive their words of affirmation.
- Don’t entertain self-lies. They magnify shame and guilt.
Don’t fall for the lies. They are often insistent and the message consistent. They seek to pull down rather than build up. They are a destructive force, targeting your self-worth. “You are unlovable, unacceptable, and unwanted. You have fallen. You have failed. You are finished.”
- Don’t abandon your dreams. You have a future.
It is common to go through periods when you feel your helplessness and hopelessness. You imagine that nothing is ever going to change. But life is ever changing. It happens, whether we initiate it or not. Granted, there is no guarantee that things will get better. There also is no guarantee that things will get worse. You can be something other than a statistic. You owe it to yourself to find the motivation to live.
- Don’t be controlled by your feelings.
Your feelings are important. You should never dismiss them as being silly or unnecessary. Some feelings may build over time or fluctuate from moment to moment. You may be considering ending your life based on a feeling that people would be better off without you. You can’t know that you will feel this way forever. Don’t rely on feelings to determine your future.
- Don’t give in to irrational thoughts and actions
Thoughts about taking your life are just thoughts. It doesn’t mean you have to act on them. Thoughts have a way of tearing us down and blurring our vision. Irrational thoughts can affect our life in dramatic ways. They can undermine healthy relationships and destroy our enjoyment of healthy pursuits. Irrational thoughts can endanger life, your life. It is vital you tell someone if you have a specific plan to end your life.
- Remember the past. It holds the key.
Think about the times
– you have overcome your fears,
– you have been strong in the face of opposition,
– you have not compromised your beliefs despite the pressure to do so,
– you tasted success,
– you basked in the approval of your peers,
– you felt the sun on your back and a cool breeze on your face.
Remember when life was good. It can be good again.
- Replenish your resources.
Pain can be wearisome. Unrelenting pain can render us defenceless. We may lack the energy to manage it. It might be that our coping reserves are at an end. One way to take control is to write down our own ‘coping statements.’ For example,
That is my depression talking, not me.
It’s not that I want to die; I just want the pain to end.
There are other ways to end my pain, even if I can’t see them right now.
Suicidal thoughts are a symptom, not a solution.
Suicide prevention is a shared responsibility. We are all called to stand at the gates of Hope and bear witness to life. It is our duty to address the pain felt by those who are hurting. It is our duty to speak words of comfort and encouragement to those who are feeling abandoned. It is our duty to inspire belief in the beauty of life and the uniqueness of each individual. It is our duty to bring hope to those who can no longer see a reason to live.