(This is the second in a five part series on depression and suicide. This entry focuses on the power we each have to help someone else.)
I shared that this past December was very difficult for me. I struggled with professional and personal problems, isolated away from my friends and family, and spiraled into a dark hole. And yes, I found my way back out, but it just as easily could have ended very differently.
Since then, I have talked with a few friends about what I was going through. Each of them, of course, was supportive and encouraging… but mostly, they were surprised to hear how bad I felt things were. I was pretty good at hiding what was happening. I still laughed and joked when we talked, though our phone calls and personal visits were less frequent. When I talked about what was going on in my life, I was good at skimming over the details and quickly turning the conversation back around and focusing on the other person. And I found every reason possible for not seeing people face-to-face. I preferred to hide out at home and avoided get-togethers whenever I could.
I felt like I appeared the same to all of my friends, but I know that can’t be true. Those who are closest to me had to see, had to realize that I was struggling. And if they weren’t aware of exactly how bad things were, they at least had to get a sense that something was off.
I had at least one friend call me out on my mood and my lack of interaction, but I was pretty good at minimizing what was happening (“Oh, yeah, it’s frustrating, but you know, it is what it is. How are you?”)
Would my spiral of ended sooner had my friend pushed harder? I don’t know. I really don’t know if I would have found the words and shared exactly what happening or if I would have continued to dodge and deflect. I can be damn cryptic when I want to be.
And let me be clear here. I am not blaming my friends for any of the crap I put myself through. I am not judging them in any way, and I am not criticizing them for not being mind-readers and somehow, magically, knowing exactly what was happening with me in my life.
What I AM saying… the whole point of this blog… is that sometimes, people are truly struggling in their lives, and someone reaching out can make all the difference. If you have any reason to believe that someone you care about is in trouble, don’t remain quiet. Don’t stay silent for fear of embarrassing yourself of someone else. And don’t shy away from potentially life-saving conversations just because you think it will be uncomfortable.
Action 327 – Say Something. If you feel your friend is having a tough time with a personal problem, let them know you are available when they need to talk. If you think it’s gone farther than that, and your friend is depressed and not thinking clearly, don’t take no for an answer. Say to them, “I am worried about you and I fear you may be unable to help yourself through this situation.”
It isn’t important that you say exactly the right thing. It just matters that the person you are talking to knows that you care about them, you are worried about them, and you are there for them to talk through whatever is going on.
My suggestion is that you follow your instinct. If you sense someone is in trouble, do something. Say something. Stay involved. Better to overreact and know they will live to laugh about it another day than to dismiss someone’s pain and discover, too late, that they were on the edge.
We are not therapists or professional counselors. We are just people who care about others in our lives and want them to be okay. Sometimes, that means being willing to listen to them when they are not okay. And sometimes, it means not taking “I’m fine” for an answer when you know that they are not.