In the high of the Netflix TV adaptation of 13 Reasons Why, where a teenage girl named Hannah Baker took her life after recording her story on cassette tapes, I feel compelled to write about this. Not because it's a must-watch, but because it pays to know something about suicide. Just like Hannah's message in the film, knowing could give you a shot at saving someone's life.
Anyone can be a victim, even those you least expect, like my sister, Cara. Her bright smile and high-pitched voice instantly made anyone she met smile, too. She was a pure soul who saw the good in everyone. She was always so full of life, excited about every little thing. Her personality made it hard for some people to believe that somewhere along the way, she was diagnosed with mental illness, which happens to be the most common cause of suicide.
As triplets, we shared everything from the biggest milestones to the little things like inside jokes, warm hugs, deep conversations and lots of food. I clearly remember our last lunch together and shopping right after. Where was the sign that that day would be her last? I suddenly lost her to something so complex and unexplainable.
Unlike Hannah Baker, my sister could hardly point out her reasons why.
She couldn’t understand why she had suicidal thoughts when she already had all the good things: a loving family, crazy friends, all the good food she could eat, and a supportive work environment.
I have long since let go of the questions. I trusted in her voice in my heart telling me not to be sad for too long. I took consolation in the truth that she was now at peace with our Creator and had nothing to worry about. Still, if I could bring her back, I would. If I could have done something on that day to change what happened, I would.
I admit it was only after I lost Cara when I actively sought for material on mental illness, suicide, and preventive measures. I did my best to support her with my own means, but maybe if I knew more I could have saved her. Believe me, you don’t have to go through the “what ifs,” “could haves,” and “should haves.” You don’t have to wait for a tragedy.
If you feel like a loved one is at risk of suicide, here are some of the primary actions you can take to help them. These are points based on my personal experience and realizations as well as from my interview with Gary Faustino, MA, RPsy., Director of Loyola Schools Office of Guidance and Counseling of Ateneo de Manila University. It’s never too early to take precaution.
1. Create a safe space for them.
People who are suicidal tend to keep the thoughts to themselves for fear of being judged, misunderstood, or avoided. For them to share, they have to feel that they can trust you completely to accept whatever they have to say. If you respond with anger, blame, or guilt tripping, the person will most likely withdraw from you. If they do share to you about their suicidal thoughts, try not to panic. Instead, ask them questions about their thoughts so you are aware of their risk level. Let them know that no matter what, you will be there to help them get through this.
2. Listen with no judgment.
The best way to help them, primarily, is to listen. According to Mr. Faustino, they need someone who can be “like a clear mirror” to them, someone “who will be able to reflect to them what is happening to them” and remind them of “what is in the here and now.” Allowing them to let out their thoughts and feelings can also help them be more aware of themselves. It is better to ask them questions that will help them clarify their thoughts than to give them unsolicited advice. Take them seriously. Be careful not to say anything that may discount what they are feeling.
3. Seek professional help.
Trained professionals would know best how to help those with higher risk who already experience chemical imbalances in the brain. In this case, you can help them find a therapist or counselor they can be comfortable with. Remind them of their scheduled appointments and accompany them. Make sure they take their medication regularly if prescribed by a psychiatrist. Be wary of any side effects of these medications, as suicidal tendencies can actually be one of them. Seeking professional help may seem daunting, so journeying with them through this process will be of great help.
4. Be present.
Set aside time to be with them. Be mindful of their interests and initiate activities that will help them pursue these. If they ask you to join them for something as simple as working out at the gym, join them. You may think little of their invitations, but that might already be their cry for help. For people with higher risk, it would be necessary for them to have company all the time. They may enter trance-like states in which the person is no longer aware of what they are doing and you do not want them to be alone if ever that time comes. If you cannot be with them, make sure the people they spend the most time with are aware. Let them know they are loved.“Your presence, your objectivity and loving attitude towards them, your full acceptance of what’s happening to them gives them a reason to live,” says Mr. Faustino. Let them know that they matter. Let them know that they are enough and loved despite what they are going through. Let them know they are not broken and their dark days are only temporary. If they feel that someone truly cares for them, this might be enough for them to choose life. If you love them, go all out and let them know!
5. Remember to take care of yourself, too.
Caring for someone you love with suicidal tendencies can be emotionally draining. The last thing we want is you to spiral down, too. You may feel responsible for them, but their future will ultimately be up to them. Do your best to check up on them often, but make sure to check on yourself too. Make sure you have your own support system for when things get heavy. Hope and pray that, after everything, your loved one will be okay.
As you take steps to help your friend or family member, always remember that each person is unique. What works for others might not work for them. Some may be more responsive to counseling than medication. Some may seem upbeat and lively compared to others, but they need help just the same. Prayer or meditation may be helpful for others, while some would find physical activities to be more effective. One thing we can all agree on, however, is that everyone can use a little more kindness in their lives. A small act of kindness can go a long way, and maybe even save a life.