Today, I awoke to the news that a very good friend chose to end his life this week. Amidst the cyclone of emotions came the thought that suicide is something that we need to talk about.
Everyone experiences pain, whether it be physical pain or mental/emotional pain. And everyone has different resources to help cope with that pain: for physical pain – analgesics, acupuncture, herbal medicines. For mental/emotional pain – spending time with friends and family, exercise, anti-depressant medications, counselling, etc. But when the pain one is experiencing overwhelms the resources one has to deal with it, then often suicide starts to become a viable option in one’s mind.
How do you react if someone tells you that they’re thinking about ending their life? Most people react in an emotional way – “That’s a terrible idea, things will get better, you’re just feeling down today, only a coward would think of doing that ” or even worse, “You can’t end your life – you’ll go to hell if you do”.
Instead, try not saying anything and just listen. When a friend is stuck in the black spiral of depression, it can seem like nothing will ever change for the better. They feel trapped in their own heads, locked in with the negative voices that get louder and louder, and which drown out the voice that is always there reassuring them that, in fact, things will get better. And it helps just having someone to listen to them talk. It allows them to – for a moment at least – speak over those voices and feel like they’re not alone with their dark thoughts.
If you are experiencing such mental pain that you are thinking about ending your life – I can promise you that you haven’t tried everything yet. Pharmaceutical anti-depressants can be a lifesaver for some people, especially when combined with something like cognitive behavioural therapy. (Although in my opinion, they are overused in our society - given to people who didn’t really need them in the first place and who find themselves stuck on a medicine that they can’t manage to get off.) Non-pharmaceutical options - regular exercise; supplements like 5-HTP, vitamin D, omega-3s; herbal medicines like St. John’s Wort (which has been shown in clinical trials to be as effective as SSRIs in mild to moderate depression); eating a healthy diet; making future plans for something that you can look forward to; engaging in activities that you have enjoyed in the past; the list goes on.
For my friend, I make this pledge: if you are someone who has considered or is considering suicide, I will always be someone who will listen in a completely non-judgemental way, and only offer advice if that is what you need from me. And if you are a person who finds themselves uncomfortable when someone tries to talk to you about suicide, then please learn to open your heart and mind and just listen. You may be given the chance that I wish I had been given - to try to help save a life.
(Caution: natural supplements should only be used on advice from a health care practitioner, as they are potentially harmful, especially if taken with other medications).
Reuben Dinsmore is a naturopathic physician in Vancouver, BC interested in opening up the lines of dialogue around health.