Friday, September 14, 2012

Suicide and Seeking Other Permanent Solutions

Trigger Warning:  Suicidal thoughts. If you are feeling suicidal right now, here is a validating website: Suicide: Read This First.

My senior year of college, I had a dorm room directly under the piano in the common room.  Every single time someone played the piano, I had to get up and find someplace else to go.  (I could only ask them to stop after 11:00 pm).  When I told a school counselor, she asked if I could move the piano to a different spot. So I asked my RA if we could move the piano above the bathroom instead, and in no time the problem was solved. I wished I had thought of this solution earlier, but when I told other people about the problem, they acted as if it was no big deal and that nothing could be done to fix it. When you're surrounded by people telling you that you just have to live with something that you're not okay with, it can be hard to see the way out. When I was on vacation with my friend's family last summer, my friend's sister said that a blinking light on the air conditioner was bothering her at night. I began looking for something to cover the light, but no one else even acknowledged what my friend's sister had said. Everyone else expected her to just live with it when there was a very clear and simple solution.

While most people will agree that "Suicide is never the answer," so many people respond to problems with "Get over it," "Live with it," "Toughen up," "Stick it out," or "It's only going to get worse later on." If someone is thinking about killing themself, then they are saying in the plainest way possible that "living with it" is not an option. And if someone is not okay with the way things are now, then why on earth would they want to continue living if things are going to get even worse?

How about, "Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem." This is a true statement, but answer this question:
Your dorm is so loud that you can never do anything in your room, and this is a very, very big problem for you. You would rather:
a.  Deal with this on a case-by-case basis, searching the campus for a new quiet hideout each day, only to  have to move each time it becomes loud.
b.  Live in a quieter dorm.
We want permanent solutions to problems, including problems that are temporary.  Sure, you'll only be in that dorm for a year, but why would you want to be miserable for that long?  Not all problems are temporary in the first place, but even if they are, the "permanent solution to a temporary problem" expression implies that you would only want a temporary solution, not a permanent one.

So how do we fix these reactions?  Validation.  If someone is suicidal, you should let the person know that you believe there are other solutions and that you will help them reach those solutions. But validation comes in long before a person gets to that point.  It comes in when someone talks about doing something that would solve a problem or make them feel better - quitting school, quitting a job, getting a divorce, etc. and you're supportive of whatever works for them.  It comes in when you take someone's problem seriously and try to help. Because most of the time, people try to be validated before considering suicide. I recently read that students who are "at-risk" for school shootings are not just loners - they're students who have made failed attempts at connecting with other people, students who have tried talking to people who wouldn't listen. A person doesn't become suicidal overnight - it's a culmination of failed attempts at getting people to understand. It matters every time you support someone in fixing a problem.  Even small ones - even just pushing the piano across the floor or hanging a dishtowel over a blinking light make a difference.  These acts tell the other person, "I'm listening, I'm taking your problem seriously, and I'm trying to help you find a solution." And if that person is ever in a bigger crisis, they can trust you to do the same thing.

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