Compassionate Love: Displaying Compassion for Those Who Struggle with Mental Illness (c)2016 Nancy Virden
The young man sat sullen, his entire face darkened by the storm cloud behind his eyes. He would not, or could not fix his attention on anyone else. When coaxed to do so, his focus lasted but a second until he seemed to slip away, out of sight, into the tunnel of depression that was his reality.
His body was hunched even as he sat rigidly, not squirming. Tension curled his legs under the chair, and fear gripped the seat. He appeared ready to jump up and run without notice, yet strangely seemed to lack the motivation to do so. Thoughts of suicide had slowly overpowered hope until they defined what he heard, saw, and felt.
In his mind, every idea that challenged suicide as an option was a lie. No matter how kind the intentions of those urging him to believe in his purpose for living, their words were met with a type of condescension. This was not an attitude of superiority over the opinions of others, but rather a simple understanding that he knew what no one else did; his life was worthless, they would be better off without him, and they would get over his death quickly.
He was in danger of suicide.
Gladly, the young man described here received emergency help and is alive. He functions at a low level of energy and drive. One might guess he is just skating through life at ease, but I know him. Venturing into the world of social interaction, constant change, and adventure requires his courage. He has to learn how to deal with life on life’s terms and is making progress.
Depression is a disorder often judged by those on the outside as a personality or spiritual flaw. People with depression are human and can be as selfish and sinful as everyone else. However, confusing depression with specific behaviors is unfair.
Teenagers, with their self-preoccupation, moods, anti-authority attitudes, and deep longing for peer-approval can seem to show warning signs of depression and/or suicide. How are you or I supposed to know if what we observe is problematic? The Jason Foundation provides a guideline. “If the signs are persisting over a period of time, several of the signs appear at the same time, and the behavior is “out of character” for the young person as you know him/her, then close attention is warranted.”*
Most importantly, we cannot assume to know what someone else is experiencing. Call 1-800- 273- TALK for advice on what to do should you see a young person struggling with any behavioral warning signs of suicide. Be proactive and discuss your concerns with the teenager. Seek professional help, even if just to make sure all is well.
Possible behavioral warning signs of suicide: *
- Depressed, negative mood
- Increased use or abuse of alcohol or drugs
- Physical complaints without any other explanation, such as headaches, stomach-aches, loss of energy, etc.
- Taking excessive risks, being reckless
- Problems staying focused or paying attention
- Once the decision has been made to end their life, some young people begin making final arrangements. Giving away prized or favorite possessions, putting their affairs in order, saying good-bye to family and friends, making funeral arrangements
More behavioral signs **
- Loss of interest in friends, hobbies, activities previously enjoyed
- Change in Personality – sad, withdrawn, irritable, anxious, tired, indecisive, apathetic
- Change in Sleep Patterns – nightmares, oversleeping or insomnia
- Change in Eating Habits – loss of appetite or overeating
- Acting erratically, harming self or others
- Lethargic, unmotivated
This list does not cover all the possible warning signs of suicide. Part 5 of this series goes into more detail on verbal clues a suicidal teen may express. Most of us are not diagnosticians. We must be willing to ask questions of experts.
The next part of this series will cover known risk factors for suicide.
Comments are always welcome (see tab below). NOTE: I am not a doctor or mental health professional. I speak only from personal experiences with and observations of mental illness. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental health care.
If you are struggling emotionally today or feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone who is, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Hope and help can be yours.