How to help someone having thoughts of suicide
My girlfriend sometimes has suicidal thoughts. Is there anything you can suggest to her, like a book?
Hi PERFECTION –
Scientists will argue that some non-human animals can choose to end their lives out of grief or misery, but for the most part, humans are the species prone to such thoughts. While we dogs, if we’re lucky, end our lives with a willingness to transit to the next world, you don’t see us choosing to go, or even thinking about it. No, to us, life is too precious.
But our brains aren’t as big as yours.
You brilliant folks have such greater senses of the past and future, of the importance of certain situations, that we simply can’t grasp. So if I love someone and want their love, and they reject me, I feel horribly sad and hurt, but the idea of that meaning I should run into traffic just never comes to me. And since we pups don’t experience shame (that requires more self-consciousness than our brains hold), we would never think of jumping off a cliff because we’d failed at something we were trying to do.
But your brains think that way all the time!
People who aren’t remotely upset will find these thoughts going through their brains – I could open that door from this airplane and jump out! I could eat that bottle of pills and never wake up! I could turn this car around and speed into oncoming traffic! – and never really consider doing any such thing.
Most people have the experience of actually considering suicide, like your girlfriend, because of feeling awful and/or hopeless. They’re sad, they’re humiliated, they’re fearful, and they don’t see any good way out of it. In these cases, the trick is to simply remind them of something that matters to them. I know a guy who would feel that way, but then remember his niece, whom he loved very much. And he’d make himself picture what it would do to her if he killed himself – how she’d be so devastated and perhaps wounded forever. And that’s all it would take. Note that he wasn’t arguing that he was incorrect about anything bothering him; it was just that he’d rather live with whatever’s awful than to take a chance on hurting her.
The bigger danger is when someone is so depressed that they can’t even conceive of something like his love for his niece. Their world is awful, they see no way out of their problems, and they’re so overtaken by their depression that nothing else matters. That’s almost always what’s happened when someone actually follows through by trying to kill themselves.
If this is the case, a friendly talk or a book won’t be enough. They need professional help, and right away. A qualified therapist, and possibly some antidepressant medication, are your best bets to help them through this. But be warned – they may not appreciate your advice. After all, suicide is what seems to them to be the solution to their problems; you’re trying to take that away!
I’m assuming your girlfriend is more in the “considering” than “dangerous” category. I don’t know any books for her, but I can recommend two of the greatest movies ever. One you’ve probably heard of, It’s a Wonderful Life. It tells of a man who feels he’s such a failure that he tries suicide, but a guardian angel comes to show him what his world would be like without him in it, giving him a sense of his own meaning and worth. The other is a great Japanese film, Ikiru, which means “To Live.” It tells of a man who’s not only dying of a disease, but whose life has become so drab and meaningless that it’s almost not a life at all – and what changes in him to make him a very different sort.
Neither of these movies (and this is why I like them so much) say that the person is wrong to see things the way they do. They just argue that if you look at your life in a different way, it can all gain meaning and purpose, and thereby joy.
So I’m really suggesting two tactics for you: First, remind her how much she means to you and to others in her life, and how devastating it would be for her to do such a thing. And second, to show her these movies, to help her find her own meaning in her life.
But I have a third, and I’ll bet you can guess what it is: GET HER A DOG! No way could she want to end things if each morning greets her with a wagging tail and a cold nose! And she’d have someone every day saying “You’re the most important thing in the world to me! And you’re the greatest!” I always argue we’re the best antidepressant a person can ever have, but we’re also unending proof that our person has meaning and worth.
And we’re never wrong about that!
So at least try my first two suggestions, and if it’s possible, go for the third. As she improves and learns to love her own life, she’ll also love you like crazy for doing this!
All my very best,