Last week, news that both Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain had passed away shook thousands of fans. Any time high-profile suicides make the news, many of us want to make clear that we're safe people to talk to & are avenues of support for those in our lives experiencing suicidal ideation. It’s a valiant impulse, and one that I share. But one of the most important things I’ve learned about support work is that you should not offer what you can't realistically give. It's dangerous for both you, and the person who comes to you in crisis, if you can't actually return on what you promised.
When I see folks posting words like "If you are thinking about suicide, message me and I'll talk you down," I’m startled and concerned. If you haven’t been trained to support someone in crisis, it's easy to accidentally do harm to them.
There are lots of different ways we can support each other & much of it, in my experience, comes from making checking-in a habit and a rhythm of friendship. We have to be there for each other consistently, not just when shit really hits the fan! it's easier to detect when someone might be having a hard time if you've intentionally built space for vulnerability within your relationship. It takes time to build that foundation.
If you want to support your friends but aren't sure of how to make yourself available to them, here are somethings you might offer to do/say when you notice they’re not doing well:
-if you want help seeking out therapy, i can help with research
-i can bring you food if you're having trouble leaving the house
-i can watch your kids if you need to get some fresh air
-i'm here if you want to watch a movie and be quiet together
-hey, i miss you! i havent seen you in a while. I’m coming over so we can catch up.
-i'm ready to help you process ___, and while we do that i need you to respect ___boundary.
-do you want to talk about __?
-let me know if you need alone time and i'll ask your housemates to step out for a while
-lmk if u want memes or funny dog videos
We have to check in with ourselves as much as we check in on each other. Thinking through what we can realistically do for each other is important for everyone involved. While you may not be able to offer acute crisis relief, there are many other ways to show the people in your life that you’re looking out for them. Incorporating intentional space for honesty and vulnerability within friendship makes it easier to ask for help when bigger issues come up, and may even help you identify skills and offerings you didn’t know you had. Interdependence - the idea that what we all bring to the table will be enough to keep us full - is key to helping our communities grow stronger together. In times like these, it’s okay to lean on each other. In fact, it’s what will get us through.
Hanne Williams-Baron (she/her) is a fourth-year at Oberlin College in Oberlin, OH. She majors in Comparative American studies and studies fat liberation, harm reduction, and transformative justice. You can find more of her writing on Medium at @hannewilliamsbaron.