Compassionate Love: Displaying Compassion for Those Who Struggle with Mental Illness (c)2016 Nancy Virden
He’s frequently talking about death. She’s writing poetry about death. His artwork depicts death. She frequents a social media site about death. Are these young people obsessing? Are they planning to kill themselves?
While we tend to want answers, in my opinion, we want them handed to us easily. Most of us do not have the time, energy, or interest to invest in seeking out knowledge that contradicts familiar stereotypes or stigmas with which we are already comfortable. If a question can be satisfied by clear evidence, generally we are content to leave it there. In other words, we believe what we can see.
♦Our Comfort Zone = ♦Our Discomfort Zone =
•simple •explainable •complicated •unfamiliar or confusing
•measurable •easy “facts” •no clear parameters •threatens to undo easy “facts”
Staying in the comfort zone promotes stigma and ignorance and harms people who are hurting. Those easy facts we cling to are often false in the arena of mental health. People die because of the unknown and misunderstood. Moving to the discomfort zone requires time, emotional energy, and sometimes money. It’s worth it though, because we are empowered by knowledge.
Tools we have to help young people who are struggling include getting them to professional mental healthcare, learning to recognize when there is a problem and how to respond to it, and communication. Even then we cannot surmise to know what another person is thinking or feeling. A preoccupation or obsession with death is one of the warning signs for suicide.
Why might this be? Suicide itself tends to be an impulsive act. What has occurred beforehand is the questioning, “should I or should I not?” While struggling with the ‘why not’ and obsessing about death may be comforting. If not interrupted, thoughts become beliefs and beliefs become behavior. It makes sense that preoccupation with death can lead to suicide.
One young woman I met drew picture after picture of herself as she might look after her suicide. Another made a speech in class about death, having researched physical and philosophical details. Someone else wrote death-focused poetry. What does it mean to observe this kind of behavior?
Why wait to find out? A professional diagnostician is available to help with information we do not likely have. Reach out and ask for the answers you need. Talk to the teenager you suspect is preoccupied with death.
The young woman who drew the pictures is alive and thriving after finally facing an eating disorder that nearly killed her. The young person who gave the speech attempted suicide. I’ve lost touch with the poet but know she received treatment.
Making final arrangements goes beyond obsession over death. If a young person has begun to put their affairs in order, it’s possible they have decided to attempt suicide. Signs we may observe include:
- Giving away prized or favorite possessions
- Saying good-bye to family and friends
- Making funeral arrangements
Common sense tells us if a teenager is preoccupied with or obsessed over death, this is not normal and healthy. Writing it off as “just a mood” or a manipulation is dangerous. While we may think we know, we do not actually know what a person needs in the moment.
So take warning signs seriously. This series offers good information; this website has a list of references. You don’t have to become an expert in depression or suicide, but you can know what to look out for and how to respond.
The last of this series will deal with myths. Is suicide a selfish way out? Will talking about suicide put the idea into someone’s head?
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.