About a couple of weeks ago, an 18 year-old Rizal Technological University (RTU) student jumped to her death from the fifth floor of SM Megamall’s Building B. Two days later, the same thing happened, only this time, it was a DLSU student jumping off the 20th floor of one of the university buildings.
The World Health Organization estimates that approximately 1 million people die each year from suicide. While the Philippines has one of the lowest suicide rates in the world, statistics have steadily climbed over the years and it was estimated that in 2012 alone, as many as seven Filipinos took their own lives in one day.
Mind you, it’s a misconception that only the poor are susceptible to suicide. A good number of those who chose to take their own lives were young and attractive, came from good families, studied in the country’s top universities, had plenty of friends, and seemingly had everything to live for. Yet depression is such an insidious disease that it can convince even the best of us that the only way forward is out.
And failing to be there for someone at a crucial moment can literally be a life or death scenario. So, if a friend or a family member comes to you with thoughts of suicide, how can you help?
1. Listen with an open mind
Depression is a debilitating mental illness, and it can be very hard for sufferers to open up about it, even to the ones closest to them. So, if someone trusts you enough to reveal something this personal, resist the urge to react right away and instead, hear them out. Ask them questions about what they’re going through and how they’re feeling (“When did you start feeling that way?,” “How are you feeling today?,” “Do you want to talk about it?,” etc.), and give them your full attention.
Most importantly, reassure them that they are not alone and that you are there to listen for as long as they need you to.
2. Encourage them to get professional help
If you’ve noticed that your friend or family member has been stuck in a depressed state and it’s been affecting their appetite, sleeping habits, and overall functions, it’s time to bring in outside help.
A good psychiatrist can give them better leverage with the issues they’ve been struggling with. S/he can also prescribe the right kind of medication to bring the patient’s brain chemistry to order so that the latter has more resources to draw on in dealing with the said issues.
If your friend or family member is hesitant, you can volunteer to look up a psychiatrist’s contact details and perhaps even accompany your loved one to an initial consultation.
3. Read up and educate yourself about depression
The last thing you want to do is blurt out something really insensitive and make the patient feel a lot worse about themselves. To avoid that, learn all you can about depression and how it manifests itself in different ways. The better you understand about what your friend or loved one is going through, the easier it will be for you to respond to their needs and to help them fight the disease.
4. Help them out with their chores
Depression can sometimes make it difficult for someone to get out of bed, let alone take care of themselves or their home. When this happens, you can provide some practical help.
Drop by your friend or family member’s place and see to any urgent tasks that need to be done. Whether it’s clearing up dishes left on the sink, restocking the fridge with healthy food, or simply doing a bit of sweeping, every small chore that you do without them asking is a big help.
More importantly, practical assistance is solid, tangible proof that you are serious about being there for them.
5. Take them for a walk
Exercise and a bit of sunlight may not cure depression, per se, but they can only be good for patients. This doesn’t mean that your friend or family member has to complete a round of crossfit exercises on the front lawn either (though if they’re up for it, why not?). Inviting them to join you for a leisurely stroll around the block in the afternoon works just as well too.
6. Check in with them regularly
You don’t always have to do so in person either. A quick call or a short Facebook message asking how they’re doing can make all the difference, especially when you haven’t heard from them in a while.
And after you two are finished talking, remind them that you’ll be checking in on them soon so that they know that someone is thinking of them.
7. Look after your own mental health
You cannot take care of someone with depression if you yourself are suffering from mental illness, so don’t forget to take care of yourself too. Spend quality time with friends who make you feel good about yourself, read or watch something that will make you laugh out loud, eat right, exercise, and so on.
Keep yourself strong so you can carry another person on your shoulders, if need be (figuratively, of course).
Watching a loved one suffer from depression is certainly devastating, but it shouldn’t make you feel helpless either. While you may have no control over other people’s thoughts and actions, you can make them feel less alone and empower them in the battle against mental illness.
And sometimes, that’s all it takes to prevent another tragedy from happening.