Andrew Torrens is a peer navigator for GRH's specialized mental health program at the Freeport Campus. He offers his personal insight about the best ways to help someone who may be experiencing suicidal thoughts.
I had my first thoughts of suicide at eight years old.
Looking from outside, I was a happy kid, laughing and playing with friends. Meanwhile, I was only doing what I thought was expected of me. Much of the time I was in turmoil.
When I thought about suicide, it wasn't because I wanted to die, but because I was in such intense emotional pain I could not see a way to live. I felt alone. My depression led me to feel like family and friends were offering support out of obligation, not because they cared about me.
Here were some things I was told that didn't help:
"Think of your family" I did think of my family. I thought they'd be better off, or thoughts of them would just add guilt and shame to the heap of emotion.
"Life is going to get better" At the time, life felt like it was continually getting worse. Statements like this felt hollow in the face of my life's experience. And let’s face it. Sometimes life isn’t going to get easier. Also, the distant “better life” did not take away the pain of the present.
"Think of all the things there are to live for" While this is important, starting the conversation here feels dismissive of my pain and my situation.
“You can do it” Sometimes I could. Much of the time I could barely move, and barely think. Going for a walk felt like signing up for the Boston Marathon. Many people were dismissive of my struggles, so “You can do it” would feel like they didn’t see how hard things were for me.
Here are some of the things that did help:
Being willing to hear about my pain and my reasons for wanting to die. While it's not a comfortable conversation for most people, this was incredibly important for my recovery. The people who genuinely listened to me and were willing to show empathy for my pain were the first who helped me feel less alone in my struggles.
Encouragement without pressure. Acknowledging how hard it was to do the most basic things helped people's encouragement to feel genuine. Encouraging me to make changes without judging me if they didn't happen. Helping me find ways around the obstacles I faced rather than simply telling me to “try harder”.
Finding meaning and purpose. It was most helpful to acknowledge that life sucked (at least for the time being), and instead focus on what I was going to do next, what I wanted, and why. Finding meaning and growth from my experiences. Acknowledging the terrible and looking for the little consolation prize.
Ultimately, the people who helped me the most weren't necessarily the ones who had the most knowledge or who pushed me the hardest; they were the ones who would genuinely listen to my situation and experience, and who supported me in finding my path to recovery.