Lifelines or guardrails?
"When suddenly it dawned on me: This isn't suicide prevention."
As I scrolled through various social media outlets, one trend clearly stood out. The posting of heartfelt messages, pleading for those in need to find help. For those who are on the brink of despair, to reach out. In many posts that I saw, the link was posted with the number you see above. Many folks, including myself, made themselves available to talk for anyone who needed it. It was a wonderful outpouring of support.
Sometimes a person just needs to hear that it's purely mental illness telling them that they're completely alone, that there's nothing but darkness, that there's nothing but despair. It's purely mental illness that tells them that the most logical solution to this endless pain is a simple impulse, one simple, quick, and final act. It took someone telling me just this. The impulse seems so bloody simple and obvious when everything else has turned to blackness. The impulse to kill one's self, completely abhorrent or inconceivable to the rest of the population, becomes not so much a matter of why but how. You forget to reason whether or not you should, and instead start to plot out plans. Talking about it with someone else can very quickly knock that impulse completely out of you. Sometimes it can be that easy. Others may need more than just talking, but IT STARTS WITH TALKING.
When suddenly it dawned on me: This isn't suicide prevention. Oh sure we might be preventing A suicide. We may be turning a person away from that impulse. It might take just one more call, one more voice, one small speed bump to knock someone out of the impulse or the impulse out of the someone. So yes, by the exact wording, yes this would be a prevention of A suicide.
But I actually think this is suicide rescue. By the time someone is facing the impulse, we are essentially too late. Sure we might save that one caller, but we know that we won't save every single one. Or that the caller might face the impulse once again some day. Or worse, that there are so many, far too many, victims who never make the call in the first place. A suicide call-in prevention line is a life preserver thrown on a line out to the victim who has fallen overboard. It prevents death if it is successful, and if the person in the water is willing to grab the ring.
How did that overboard person get there in the first place? What happened to the guardrails on our ship? Our society wants to increase our ability to reach out to suicidal individuals with a lifeline, but as a society we are still too slow to put up the safety features to stop people from falling overboard in the first place. The recognition of mental illness as a health epidemic remains lagging behind reality.
Resources to diagnose, treat, and support sufferers remain lacking. The only thing that isn't lacking is still the stigma, the shame, and the willful avoidance of the problem. So many with mental illness must continue to be marginalized in the dark, the metaphorical equivalent of spreading banana peels over the deck of a rocking ship while cutting out all of the railings.
Please don't misunderstand me: the Prevention Hotline does more than just act as a call center. They provide resources and support for individuals BEFORE they get to the point of needing a lifeline. But they can only do so much. Our society needs to do so much more. Our society needs actual mental health reform which would truly be a preventative action, not just a rescue. And we need to step it up. The seas only look stormier ahead.