A few years ago, I found myself doing that whole online dating thing ...don't ask! What I found interesting about meeting new people was their response when I told them what I do for a living. Obviously I wait for them to ask me first, I don't just launch into a speech about myself and my work. That is not my style. Quite the opposite, I prefer to hear about other people than talk about myself. Anyway I digress, back to my work, my passion, what gets me out of bed in the morning [not too early though, as I am a night owl!]
Person: "What do you do?" [see I told you I wait to be asked.]
Me: " I am the Director of a small charity called Maytree". [Please note I have been conservative and reserved in my reply.]
Person: "What does the charity do". [They have shown interest or are just being polite, either way I have been given permission to talk about Maytree.]
Me: "We are a suicide prevention charity, who offer non medical residential support to adults that are suicidal. "
Right, pay attention because this is where it gets interesting, but before I share the variety of responses I have heard and faced, let me ask you this....what is your view on suicide ? What are your thoughts about people that feel suicidal, who have a plan to end their life, who cannot see any other way out other than taking their life? Don't rush, this is important, ponder, take your time.
Back to the variety of responses.
Mr Uncomfortable: "Oh." Which is followed by an uncomfortable long silence, the individual looks at the floor, shuffles their feet, looks around for the exit. I go into rescue mode, reassuring him that all is fine, the planets are still aligned, don't panic. Needless to say he doesn't arrange a second date.
Mr Judgemental: " Really ?! I think people who "commit" suicide are selfish, why don't they think about their family, the people they hurt and leave behind. " Or "It's a sin to take your own life, you don't have the right to take your life. " At this point, I take a deep breath, put on my boxing gloves, enter the ring and prepare for the fight. I challenge, I question, I explain, I share my experience and understanding of suicide in the hope that the individual may see another side, may listen and take on board what I am sharing. Needless to say, I don't arrange another date.
Mr Curious: " So what makes a person feel suicidal? What sort of people stay at Maytree? What sort of person gets that desperate? " I talk about "the perfect storm", the contributing factors. I explain that people from all walks of can reach that point of isolation, hopelessness, desperation, regardless of their age, gender, belief, faith, background. I share some stats with him and talk about Maytree, our aim and our work.
Mr Empathic: " My close friend ended his life last year. One night we were all out having a good time, the next day he hung himself...." I listen, he talks about his loss, how he wishes he could and should have said something to his mate that might have altered his friend's course, how he wished he could have prevented his friend from ending his life.
The fact is that suicide is often preventable. Putting aside your judgements and discomfort, your need to rescue, fix and make everything okay, your desperate need to brush it under the carpet because you don't know how to respond, or your need to fulfil your curiosity...put all of that to one side so you can truly be there for that person in that moment. By giving that person the space and time to talk about their darkest feelings, their fears and thoughts of suicide, to give them permission to cry, show their vulnerability, their true state of mind and feelings....might just help prevent them from ending their life.
Suicide is your business, because one day THAT person could be you.