Saturday, October 14, 2006

Suicide Ettiquette

Although I may sometimes come off like I am full of a lot of piss and vinegar, I think I tend to be a very patient and compassionate person. I am very forgiving. I am a good listener. I know this about myself. If you know me very well, you know this too.

In my years of youth and young adult ministry, I have often had to deal with situations where students want to end their lives. It is heartwrenching when I have to hear this heartache from students. It is even worse when you have to visit someone in the hospital or mental health facility after a suicide attempt. My heart goes out to folks like this. It is a confusing place to be when you look at life and feel like it will never get better, and that you have nothing to look forward to. I try to assure them of my love and acceptance, and even more of God's love and mysterious purpose for their lives.

There is, however, some people who have tried my patience when I worked with them through this process. And, one of the things that tried my patience was that this person did not have proper suicide attempt ettiquette.

So, if you chose to inform me of your desire to kill yourself, please keep the following rules of propriety about doing so in mind:

1. If you are suicidal, do not try to begin an emergency phone conversation with 5-10 minutes of small talk. Do not ask me about my day, about the weather, or about what I ate at lunch that day. I may just say that I am busy and decide that I do not have time to exchange pleasantries. This is especially true if it is your 4th or 5th suicidal call of the day.

2. Please allow your vocal effect and body language to match the emotional state you are trying to communicate. When you tell me you are suicidal, do not do so sounding like a cheerleader, following by saying "Isn't that cool?" Do not do so tilting you head and with a smile. Do not tell me you are suicidal and then ask me what I am doing, and when I share that I am watching the ball game, say you will call me back in a half of an hour and hang up. If you are suicidal, it is your job to appear either angry, morose, or depressed. Or act like a zombie. The more drama the better if you are suicidal. It lets us know you are serious, and allows us to gage our response accordingly. If you are not going to be suicidal with passion, there is no point in being suicidal at all.

3. If you are reaching out to me for help via phonecall, please inform me of your whereabouts so that I may find you and do my level best to help see you through the crisis. Don't call, tell me you are going to kill yourself, and then not disclose your location or plan to get help. You make me think you are making threats for attention, and I am less likely to want to care or listen to what you have to say.

Thanks for listening, and being suicidal with proper manners in the future.


Anonymous said...

My goodness. Can't say I have dealt with anyone who's suicidal to that degree.

So you are coming out to visit my neck of woods next month. Where and when?

rubyslipperlady said...

Hope everything turned out ok.

'neice said...

I think you are a little off on the etiquette. It's a hard thing to bring up and hard to reach out and admit you need help. I have been in the hospital where it has been written on my chart that my affect does not match how serious my depression really is. It's what happens all the time for me. I can tell someone of some of the abuse I have suffered and have a smile on my face.

Gretchen said...

Man, what a position it is to work with youth. I actually laughed reading this because it shows the craziness that comes along with being 16.

The Thief said...

Don't you think that the 5-10 minutes of small talk might be the young person's way of gearing themselves up for the big confession? Or could it be that they've convinced themselves that nobody really cares, and unconsciously they are trying to prove that you don't either (after all, if you don't have ESP and figure out that there's something else going on when you're talking about the weather, you "must not care"...

And many of these young people have felt enough pain and they have put on "the mask" so frequently that they don't quite know how to how to take it off. Thus the expressions that don't match the words. Besides, then they can cut and run if they don't think you're serious about helping them out. "Oh, I was just kidding" they'll say.

I completely agree with rule #3. 100%, and I empathize with you having to deal with this. It's really hard, and we both know it, and my prayers are with you as you minister to young people who need God's touch so badly.