It is pretty natural for people to react to a suicide by saying that they are there to talk. I have lost two friends to suicide. I’ve probably said that while I was grieving or other times when I was feeling the isolation of my own mental illness. Listening and talking is good. That’s something a lot of people find comfort in and a nice thing to do. At the same time, talk is kind of cheap.
Giving a lot of exposure to a celebrity suicide actually tends to convince more people to do it. So, that stated, I wish you wouldn’t, even in order to advertise yourself as a resource or ask for support. I respect people’s right to commit suicide, but I think most of the time, people can simply function acceptably (in their own terms) if they’re given access to a combination of medical treatment and totally reasonable social accommodations. I think it’s unconscionable that our society is currently structured to promote suicide risk by reducing access to these things.
You can help. Here are some things you can do. I’ve made a short list that should be doable for literally any person who reads this.
1) Collect a list of all the nearby medical facilities that treat mental illness and inventory their services. After you have written down the name, telephone number and address, you should call and ask the following questions:
- do you provide inpatient (hospitalization) mental health services?
- do you provide outpatient mental health services?
- do you provide medication management? If yes, on an inpatient AND outpatient basis?
- do you provide individual therapy? If yes, on an inpatient AND outpatient basis?
- do you provide group therapy? If yes, on an inpatient AND outpatient basis?
- do you accept medicaid and medicare? private insurance (which ones)?
- do you treat the uninsured?
- do you work on a sliding scale?
- what sort of fees do you charge for a first time visit?
- are you equipped to treat children? adults? geriatric patients?
- Is there a wait time in excess of two weeks to be seen as a new patient? (the answer is usually yes, just write down how long the wait is and try not to sound disgusted)
- Have your inpatient facilities been full to capacity 2 or more times in the past year? If yes, do you feel this city has an adequate number of inpatient beds?
- Ask for refferrals to other providers.
This is my favorite way of helping. There are websites with directories of this sort of stuff, but in my experience, they’re always years out of date. This sort of information changes quite often.
If you don’t have a severe mental illness, I think this is an important exercise to expand your empathy. People who are in crisis are trying every day to find a place to get treatment with the right combination of yeses to the above answers. It is really hard.
Having these answers in hand is a tangible asset. When your friends are in crisis, you can offer them some resources. You can still listen, but it’s also good to help them get real treatment. Instead of saying “get help” you can be help!
2) Strongly, actively, stridently oppose war
…and also violent military operations that, for whatever reason, are deemed some lesser thing; a “strike” or “blockade” or whatever. The military is really spectacular at traumatizing people and really crappy at supporting them. We could prevent thousands of suicides by simply spending one presidential administration without sticking our missiles in some other country. I should add that this is something our country has never done in its entire history.
3) Stop avoiding awkward conversations about homophobia and cissexism
Especially with school aged children or the parents of school aged children. Maybe you will never change their mind, but the evidence is there that school age bullying, family rejection and other manifestations of cissexism and homophobia are driving GLBT to commit suicide at elevated rates.
4) Support evidence-based rape prevention, rape crisis and rape education efforts. Ditto child abuse prevention, intervention and education efforts.
Both child abuse and rape are serious risk factors for mental illness and suicide.
5) If you are employed, see if your employer has an equal opportunity office. If they do, see what protections and services they offer to people who are mentally ill.
You will probably be the first person to ask. They may refer you to another department or simply give you a flat denial. Equal opportunity departments generally work to promote (a narrow vision of) diversity, but they are often lax on disability protections. If your employer has inadequate support for the mentally ill, encourage your company to change that.
6) If you are in school, see what services your school has that help people with a mental illness complete their program.
If you’re not sure what to ask, here are a few questions. Are there special procedures when requesting a leave of absence related to a mental illness? Is there documentation required? If so, what kind? Is there a liaison, advocate or special advisor for people with mental illnesses available? Is there documentation required to access them? If so, what kind? (To teachers) have you been educated on how to accommodate students with mental illnesses? Is there a counselor available at our institution? Is there a psychiatrist available at our institution? Is there documentation required to access them? If so, what kind? If any of this seems inadequate, ask them to address it.
7) Stop spreading ignorant, dangerous misinformation about prescription drugs
8) If you did step #1 and came up short, contact your local politicians. Tell them about the shortage(s) with mental health coverage in your area. Or tell the media. Or tell your other friends who don’t have mental illnesses. Or all of those.
Thanks, folks. I hope you heed the call.