Y'all Are Doing Suicide Prevention Wrong

Updated: Jan 28

Okay, that may or may not have been a sensational headline but there’s a reason for it. I feel like suicide prevention is something extremely serious and we’re not really committed to it in truly meaningful ways.

We all know the Suicide Hotline number (1-800-273-8255. Hell, Logic made a song about it.) And from time to time we all share it just in case. While I think it’s a good gesture and I don’t want to deter people from doing it at all...do you even really care when you share it, or are you putting it out there and moving on to the next thing because someone else shared it before you? It’s okay to not think about every issue non-stop because it would be all that we’d be sharing (kidnappings, various cancers, and diseases) and we need our moments of levity. But behind that, we need to realize that depression and suicidal thoughts are just as real as the other diseases. They don’t go away, they need regular treatment and sometimes treatment is being able to be open and honest with someone (but meds are important as well.)

So what’s a good example of doing suicide prevention correctly? Simple: Postsecret.

Postsecret has been going on for about 15 years now and is intrinsically tied to not only the Suicide Hotline (where its founder worked for at one point) but it’s a source of people coming out with their feelings of frustration regarding life and also their redemption from reading other people’s secrets. And it all starts with, what I believe, one simple principle: honesty.

Postsecret does a great job of bringing people together because the level of honesty is almost unmatched. Anonymous people send in their secrets and that’s when the magic happens. Every week new secrets come out and a counter at the bottom shows how many people are visiting in real-time. That rawness is what people relate to more than anything. Not the facade of Instagram or the clickbait of Facebook. People don’t expect to see what they do each week on Postsecret but they see the truth, which makes them trust, which makes them vulnerable but also brave. Knowing other people are out there who relate to them, who have similar fears and insecurities can make their world a little better to live in. That site does a great job and that’s why I’ve been frequenting it weekly for over a decade.

Want to know what isn’t inviting? Constantly showing that you’re someone that a person who may be depressed or suicidal can’t trust to come to for help. I don’t agree that going through with it is a cowardly act because it’s completely brave to go through with a permanent decision like that. Unfortunately, that bravery comes from feeling you’ve been trapped into a corner without a way out. I’ve been there before, one time so bad that I was in my own shower crying and contemplating how to poison myself and make sure my daughter would be okay. My frustrations were caused by my relationship at the time, money, insecurity as a father and being fired from a job. And you know who I wouldn’t go to about my problems? People who constantly talk about how people don’t deserve better wages at lower-paying jobs, people who talk about how weak men are for showing emotions over women, the prospect of a court system that favors birth mothers, and people who swear that just because I don’t have a college degree that I don’t deserve a better situation in life. You’re not creating an environment where people can trust you and so posting the hotline number just rings hollow.

You’re acknowledging that a problem exists but you want to do nothing to actually fix the underlying issues.

Soldiers have a high rate of suicide due to issues resulting from being in war. I keep hearing “support the troops” but that only seems to mean blindly encouraging the military and not really taking care of the people in it. Want to really support the troops? Have them not go to war. How about giving them better options when they get out. I see homeless vets and people who are hurting constantly get stepped over and given the runaround by their former employers because they were given millions per unit to kill people that don’t know their names but not enough resources to talk to someone about what they went through to get back on their feet. Somehow there’s a contingent of people who are cool with making sure a foriegn terrorist is dead with money we give them to execute but aren’t so sure that we pay for their pills when they get back. And the main issue is that the care isn’t there for the people at home first and so when THEY come back, we’ve dismantled everything that could keep them afloat.

Now replace soldiers with any poor person losing their job, any gay kid that gets bullied in school or a family member who lost another to suicide. Then think about what you’re putting out there on a regular basis and wondering why these things keep happening.

Some months back in a group chat I’m in that’s predominantly men, we ended up discussing depression and finding out things about each other that we never knew. And while it was refreshing and heartbreaking to hear about the pains my friends and I were/are going through, I think it’s worse that we’re still not at a place where we frequently express those feelings out loud for others to see or hear. To me, Postsecret shouldn’t be relegated to one site, we should all be able to lay some things bare in order to help ourselves and others. By putting that out there, someone can know that you’re a good enough person to come to or know that they themselves aren’t alone in their struggles. The world becomes a better place to live in when we’re not all begging for likes. My hope is that more people think about what they’re putting out there regularly and fostering an environment where we’re saving people’s lives by just being honest with each other and the outside world. And from there, maybe the suicide hotline will get fewer calls, not because it’s not necessary, but because we’ll be replacing it with our own inboxes.

Y’all be safe.