We’ve all watched friends go through hard times. As early as preteen years I began struggling alongside friends who found themselves in a dark spiral of depression. While this didn’t always lead to suicidal ideation and attempts, there were plenty of nights that it led to staying up to see someone through the night.
I never thought much if it, though obviously it did impact me. I just thought this was what people did for their friends who had a harder time with mental health as they grew up.
That assumption was challenged when on one particular day, after having arrived to work with bloodshot eyes, I was asked if I was okay. I replied that a friend had gone through a rough night and I stayed up to help. The woman speaking with me went on a tirade about how people “like that” are users and I shouldn’t allow them to waste my time. I was shocked at the callousness and carelessness this woman displayed.
Having gone through that experience and my own struggles with suicide, I find much of the issue to be misunderstood. While I see the need for venting in those who help out during these times, I also see the need for sensitivity as so many suicidal folks feel that they are a burden anyway.
With that in mind, it is true that being on-call to comfort someone who has found themselves in a pit of despair can be taxing. Self-care is extremely important for anyone working to support someone through their mental health journey. I’m quite fond of the analogy of a plane crash where, in order to help others, you must first put on your own oxygen mask. This concept underlies all of my self-care tips for those who find themselves on the end of working diligently to prevent a suicide attempt.
Here are 10 tips I have for self-care during these times based on my own experience. If you’d like to watch this content rather than read, the video can be found here:
1. Get sleep
As I mentioned, many of the times I’ve been there for friends who were suicidal, it has been at night. I think that is because that is when we often feel the loneliest and most helpless.
It may not be feasible for you to sleep during the night if you are being there for someone, but do make sure that at some point you get some sleep. Take a nap during the day and maybe go to bed a little early so that if they call or message you, you’ve gotten a bit of sleep first.
2. Delegate where possible
You can only go so many nights without sleep before you cannot really help anymore because you can’t think straight. As someone who has both struggled with and has helped someone else struggling, I know that folks who are on the edge don’t just trust anyone, which makes delegating help hard.
3. Call for backup
If the situation appears to have escalated beyond your capacity to help, call the authorities immediately. Try to ascertain the individual’s location as soon as possible and have someone out of earshot call and explain the situation.
Yes, you may lose the person as a friend because of the breach in trust, but you cannot allow that to manipulate you out if doing what is right by trying to save their life.
4. Remember to eat
I know this may seem simple, but if you are like me and lose your appetite when you get stressed, it is a really important point. On the other hand, stress eating can be just as bad.
During this time of turmoil, you want to nourish your body so that you can continue to be healthy and help where you can. Try to eat good ratios of fat, protein, and carbs so you don’t make yourself sick from not eating or from eating junk.
5. Remember to drink
This is the same principle as #4, your body is made up of a large percentage of water and you need to replenish it continuously to avoid dehydration. Energy drinks may help you stay up but they aren’t ideal.
Try to drink water with lemon in it instead of something sugary or caffeinated. This should allow your circadian rhythm to recover quickly once your friend is stabilized and you have the opportunity to sleep at ease.
I know that prayer can seem like “doing nothing” and it can also be difficult to talk to God during a time where you feel like the world is dark, but I believe it is imperative to give our worries to Him. It is an active thing to pray and it can help us heal from the trauma of trying to help someone who does not want to live.
7. Write in a journal or color
Journaling or coloring can be a way to expressive and let go of some of the anxious energy that often comes with challenging times. It can help you unleash some of the emotions you may bottle up while you are in crisis mode.
8. Get counseling for yourself
I’ve mentioned this a lot, but I am a huge fan of counseling. It can be life-changing, especially when you have an amazing and compassionate counselor.
I once made friends with a counselor at my local library in the past year. We had a wonderful discussion about how folks who do counseling for a living or find themselves in a position of being there for someone who is mentally unstable really need counseling for themselves as well. There is no describing the kind of trauma that comes with being in that position and the degree to which self-care like this is discussed is very minimal at best.
9. Don’t blame yourself – no matter the outcome
There can be a certain amount of survivor’s guilt that comes with a loved one being successful in a suicide attempt. You may ask yourself if you didn’t do enough or say the right things, but ultimately it is the choice of that person.
Even in circumstances where the person survives or gets help, your relationship may be fundamentally changed for the worse. No matter the outcome, know that it is not your fault and that you did the best you could.
10. Don’t live your life in fear
After a particularly awful successful attempt of someone I knew that happened close to home, it was difficult for me to deal with the mildest mopey behaviors in people around me. I felt abandoned, lost, and scared to get attached to anyone for fear it would “get” them next. That’s no way to live.
We aren’t promised specific people or a certain number of days here on earth, so we must work to love the people we have while we have the time. Don’t allow fear to drive, but rather love. Live life to the fullest, tell people that you love them, and find your worth and identity not in what you have lost, but what Christ has gained for you.