A Stranger Told Me She Was Considering Suicide
Trigger warning: depression, suicide
I am a married dad in my mid-30’s who has fought a lifelong battle with depression and anxiety. I am open about this struggle.
Recently, I wrote a Facebook post about how I occasionally meet with a therapist and take prescription medication to manage my mental health. My hope was to help normalize the use of doctors and medication to help treat mental illness, particularly among men. The post went viral, which is wonderful, and always unexpected. I was happy to see such an important cause garner so much support.
The most unexpected part, however, was when a mother messaged me a few days later to say that my mental health post stopped her from “putting an end to the pain.” This is not the first time I have received a message like this.
For the past several days, I haven’t been able to get that message out of my mind, and I think it’s because I don’t feel qualified to help. Sure, I’ve been battling depression and anxiety my whole life. I can recall times when it was better or worse. I can recall taking many different medications, and I can recall a million different life changes that I’ve made to get here, right now, where — for the most part — I am a functioning father and husband. And while I have a pretty good idea of what has works for me, and what hasn’t, none of this has made me an expert in treating mental illness.
Not even close.
The fact is, I’m not qualified. I’m just some late-30-something dad of three who happens to battle my own demons. I’m qualified to listen, to empathize, to reaffirm, and I will do that for anyone who needs it. We are all qualified to do that. But I’m not qualified to help someone stay mentally well, and chances are, you aren’t either. Nor are your friends, family, or spouse.
Listen: this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t reach out to family and friends for help managing your depression and anxiety. You should. But if you are struggling with depression, anxiety, or any form of mental illness, get help from a medical professional. Get the counseling and medication you need to be well. There is no shame in seeking out a medical professional for help with mental health. There isn’t.
Additionally, if you are someone who is in the position to listen, empathize and offer support, then you should. But — and this is crucial — you should also make sure that friend has access to the proper resources to seek professional help. Make sure they have the crisis numbers. Make sure that they know they are valued, loved and worthy and that you want to ensure their safety by making sure they seek the appropriate follow-up care.
If you are like me, chances are your depression will never completely be gone. It’s a lifelong battle, but it can get better. I get it, the distance between suicidal ideation and high-functioning depression and anxiety can feel like a huge journey. You may feel like you’ll never get there, but once the medication is right (and this can take time, along with trial and error) and the life changes are in balance, happiness and relief can be found.
And that happiness can mean being there for not only yourself, but for the family that loves you so much.
Don’t let those voices of insecurity get to you.
You are worth it.
You have value.
Take medication. Seek help. Insist on self-care.
I believe in you.
Remember: if one of your family members or friends reaches out to you for help, realize that you have a role in all this, but you are not the expert. You need to be there for them. You need to listen and love them because it is the human thing to do, but you are not a doctor. You are not the end of their struggles. You are not the cure. You are not fit to give them advice on what they should or shouldn’t be taking or how to approach their healing. What you should be doing is helping them get help from a trained expert.
I know this might sound harsh to some of you, but please realize that if you really love someone, you cannot be the end point of their struggles with mental illness. You are one gear in a support system that should have a medical professional at the wheel. This does not downplay your importance. Not one little bit. It is critical, though, that you understand your place in supporting someone with mental health concerns.
I cannot stress this enough, when telling someone to get medical help for mental illness, you must do it the same way you would if you suspected the person might have diabetes or heart disease. Seeking help is not shameful. If you are the friend of someone with mental illness, help them normalize the use of medication and doctors and therapy.
When that mother messaged me, the first thing I did was tell her to seek professional help, if she had not already done so. I told her to take her medications as prescribed (if she has them), and that she deserved to be happy. Then I hoped with all my might that she heeded my advice. If she didn’t, though, I hope that she reached out to someone else and they are pointing her in the same direction. With enough support, hopefully, she will help find the help she needs.
Hopefully all of us who are struggling can find the help and support we need.
We have to keep speaking up about our own struggles, we have to keep being honest about the help that we receive in order to thrive, we have to keep being empathetic, and we have to normalize seeking professional help to deal with our mental health.
This is a battle that is meant to be fought alone.
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