When Someone is in Suicidal Crisis - The Post We Are Not Equipped to Handle
This is a piece on suicide posts. But first this rather lengthy preamble:
I am a great believer in the wisdom of the community. This is a variation of the “wisdom of the crowd,” which tends to yield better answers to certain questions than individual experts. Wikipedia is a stellar example of the wisdom of the crowd.
The community here at HealthCentral is another example. Since 2005, I have been writing on bipolar here as a “health guide,” and more recently on depression. My original designation was “expert patient,” and I am well-credentialed in this regard (you can check my bio here). But my writing - here and elsewhere - has always tended to raise far more questions than answers. Sort of in the spirit of: “Here’s some cool stuff I ran across. What do you make of it?”
“What you make of it” turns out to be very compelling reading. Many of your comments are nothing short of brilliant. Indeed, were we to organize them between two covers, I would advocate they be required reading by everyone who presumes to make a living off of our misery.
But it doesn’t stop there. What seems to happen is that the commenting process assumes a dynamic of its own. As more people get involved, a form of “higher answer” (usually a series of higher answers) tends to emerge. Thus, Jane may say X and Joe may say Y, but when read together they are both driving at Z.
A case in point: Yesterday, over at Bipolar, I wrote a piece based on reader comments to an earlier piece of mine. That piece had to do with keeping our sanity over the crazy holiday season, particularly at family gatherings. There were a lot of very interesting X’s and Y’s, but the Z’s proved to be true eye-openers.
See where I’m going with this? Instead of writing “Ten Ways to Survive Crazy Family Holiday Gatherings” based on the assembled spoutings of various high authorities, I used YOU as my source. Your "higher answers” offered far better guidance at getting through a very demanding time of the year than anything an expert - or a writer relying on experts - could have produced.
Hence, the wisdom of the community.
There is another aspect to the wisdom of the community. The community is well-placed to assist individual readers in need, to offer suggestions based on having lived through it. You know what I am talking about. We have been through hell and back, yet are still breathing. Nevertheless, no matter how well we seem to be doing at the moment, we know this for a fact: We can never trust our brains again.
Our brains have quit on us - once, twice, maybe hundreds of times. This simple recognition has a way of making wise elders of all of us. Instinctively, it seems, we know exactly how to respond to someone in need. Collectively, our wisdom is a source of wonder.
But there is one vital area where we need to acknowledge the limits of our collective wisdom. This involves anyone who posts about wanting to commit suicide.
First, let me make it clear what we are NOT talking about. We are not talking about people in severe psychic pain who say they cannot endure it one more day. Basically, this is what severe depression is. We have all been through it. Our collective wisdom may not take away this individual’s psychic pain, but it can certainly help him or her through it.
We are also not talking about simple suicidal ideation. If you’re like me when depressed, you tend to think how a lot easier life would be if you were dead. But this is not the same as actually intending to do something about it. Indeed, I’m looking forward to your collective wisdom on this particular topic, but that’s for another time.
We are also not talking about how to plan ahead, should the day come when you find yourself in extreme distress. Susan Blauner has written a great book on this topic, but, again, that’s for another time.
What we ARE talking about is an actual life-threatening psychiatric emergency. We are wise people. We know what this looks like. A suicidal crisis is the equivalent of a heart attack. In either situation, we don’t talk about it, we don’t wait for the wisdom of the community to emerge. This individual needs his or her crisis attended to NOW, by trained professionals. The usual place is the emergency room.
The best we can do is to urge this person to pick up the phone RIGHT NOW. The national suicide hotline in the US is 1-800-SUICIDE..
Our standard procedure at HealthCentral is to take down these posts ASAP and contact the correspondent privately. I trust you appreciate this.
Our collective wisdom - the wisdom of the community - is a marvel. And a major part of that wisdom is knowing our limits. I know you understand.