If Your Friend Is Suicidal, You Need to Understand This

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Trigger warning: This post contains a frank discussion of suicide attempts when a friend is suicidal. 

I wish I knew better when my friend was suicidal. I was 12 years old. My brown curls were cut into sharp bangs that crossed my forehead, identical to the bangs of my best friend who sat facing me. She didn't look any different from the last time I saw her, still pale, still skinny. She wore a sweatshirt. And under the sleeves of that sweatshirt, I knew there were scars up and down the length of her arms. Three weeks prior, my friend was suicidal and she made her most recent suicide attempt. It was not her first nor her last.  

I couldn't conceive of what she was thinking the day that I visited. I didn't know if she felt better or worse than the night she tried to take her own life. To my adolescent mind, the fact that she was locked up in the hospital where we sat felt unjust, like a punishment. 

"Just call me," I said to her, "next time you feel like that, call me instead," 

She agreed. 

But only a few months after her return home, my friend was suicidal and she tried again. She had agreed to call me but she didn't. I felt betrayed. I couldn't understand why she had agreed to do one thing but did another. I couldn't know that in those moments of her suicidality, she was in hopelessness so vast that she felt her family and I were unreachable. I didn't understand until 10 years later when I was prescribed steroids to treat my Behcet's, a chronic autoimmune illness, that unexpectedly sent me into a depression I could not have thought possible. I'm proud I stuck by her side, but now I know there was at least one thing I would have done differently. 

Although My Friend Was Suicidal, Her Suicide Attempts Were Not About Me

I wish someone would have told me that my friend's suicide attempts were not a remark on my abilities as a friend. My belief that I should have been able to talk her out of her depression and suicidality was a horrible cross to bear, but it also made my friend feel responsible for me on top of everything else she had to cope with. When I experienced my thoughts of suicide years later, I told my mother and she had a similar reaction. It was apparent that she saw my feelings as a personal failure as a mother. This filled me with guilt and did little to alleviate my despair. 

My Mother Demonstrated the Importance of Support When I Was Suicidal

While both my mother and I made the mistake of making our loved one's struggle personal, remaining by my friend's side through years of suicide attempts is something I'm proud to have done. If my mother had not been steadfast in her support for me through my steroid treatments and my darkest moments, I don't know if I would have been able to recover. There were times when being there for my childhood friend felt draining and impossible; I felt like my presence meant nothing. But now I know that this wasn't the case. I know that I made the right choice when I stayed.  

If you feel that you may hurt yourself or someone else, call 9-1-1 immediately. 

For more information on suicide, see our suicide information, resources and support section. For additional mental health help, please see our mental health hotline numbers and referral information section. 

Breaking Down the Stigma of Attention-Seeking Behavior

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The stigma of attention-seeking behavior is everywhere. How many times have you heard someone dismissively say something like, "They're just doing it for the attention."? We talk about attention-seeking behavior like it's a low, manipulative trick when in reality, it's just the manifestation of a deeply-human need.

Sometimes, I need attention. Attention is not something humans just want or desire, it's something we need. In many ways, my mental illness makes that need even more important. Being neurodivergent means that my brain doesn't work like the brains of those around me, which has often made me feel very isolated and different. Because of that, I sometimes need even more attention than I would if I were neurotypical. I need people to pay extra attention to both me and my illness in order for them to understand my experience in this life.

For a long time, I didn't see attention as a legitimate need, just as a petty, pathetic desire that I was weak for craving so badly. I did my utmost to make myself as small as possible with as few needs, wants, or even preferences as possible, and mentally flogged myself any time I did something that seemed too much like attention-seeking behavior. This trapped me in a dungeon of shame, where the thing I was ashamed of was just me and my general existence.

The Consequences of Stigmatizing Attention-Seeking Behavior

This is what happens when we stigmatize attention-seeking behavior, despite the fact that it is the byproduct of an inherent human need. When we aren't taught how to properly fulfill a need, we can resort to ineffective or destructive methods for fulfilling that need. In my case, I internalized the stigma against attention-seeking behavior and tried to ignore and deny my own needs. If I could force myself not to need attention, then I would never be shamed or dismissed for reaching out. This has led to a lifetime of issues that I am still unraveling in therapy, but it did spare me from the repercussions of the alternative: externalized stigma.

While I internalized the stigma against attention-seeking behavior, other people sometimes externalize that stigma by "acting out," a term that also stigmatizes attention-seeking. In reality, people who externalize the need for attention are simply engaging in an experiment of trial and error. Because they were never taught a safe and effective way to obtain the attention they need, they seek attention through whatever means necessary. This can lead to others labeling them as "attention-seeking," "manipulative," or "dramatic," which can be just as damaging as the issues resulting from internalized shame around the need for attention.

Reframing the Discussion Around Attention-Seeking Behavior

So, if attention is a basic human need and stigmatizing it only results in psychological pain, what can we do instead? I think the best way to fix this problem is to reframe how we see the need for attention and the resulting "attention-seeking behaviors."

I have started to process my own issues with my need for attention, but I think things need to change on a cultural level in order to prevent individuals from having to do this work alone. We need to start actively teaching our children how to get the attention they need in a healthy, helpful way. This would decrease the number of people who develop internalized shame and self-loathing from trying to deny their needs, and it would cut down on the dangerous and self-destructive behaviors that many people engage in when they lack clear instructions on how to get their needs met.

Have you experienced stigma surrounding attention-seeking behaviors? Share your story in the comments below.

4 Signs Anxiety is Starting to Take Over Your Life

Here's what's happening on the HealthyPlace site this week:


How can you tell if anxiety has started taking over your life? Here are 4 signs that anxiety is controlling you more and more.

4 Signs Anxiety is Starting to Take Over Your Life

Anxiety has a way of insidiously creeping in until you’re constantly agitated. But how do you really know if anxiety has begun to take over your life or if you’re just overanalyzing it? Knowing signs of an anxiety take-over can help you know if you need anxiety help or if you can let this worry go.

4 Signs that Anxiety is Taking Over Your Life

  1. The fear of anxiety causes anxiety. You have anxiety about your anxiety. Your old anxieties are still hanging around, and you worry about them like you always have done. But now, you worry about the fact that you’re worrying.
  2. Worrying is consuming a lot of time. You might find yourself standing in an aisle at the grocery store fretting about nutrition labels (maybe you even look up sketchy ingredients on your phone and get caught in link-clicking stress). Maybe you worry that buying packaged snacks makes you a horrible parent. Whatever it is, anxiety is slowing you down.
  3. You no longer do what you used to enjoy because you’re driven to tend to your anxieties.
  4. You find yourself constantly asking people, “Do you think I worry too much.”

If you find that anxiety is controlling you more and more, don’t add it to your worries. Use the insight as a way to take steps to reduce your anxiety.

Related Articles Dealing with Increasing Anxiety, Mental Illness

Your Thoughts

Today's Question: If you’ve had anxiety take over your life, what signs and symptoms did you notice? We invite you to participate by sharing your thoughts, knowledge, and experiences on the HealthyPlace Facebook page.

From the HealthyPlace Mental Health Blogs

On all our blogs, your comments and observations are welcomed.

Feel free to share your thoughts and comments at the bottom of any blog post. And visit the mental health blogs homepage for the latest posts.

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Most Popular HealthyPlace Articles Shared by Facebook Fans

Here are the top 3 mental health articles HealthyPlace Facebook fans are recommending you read:

  1. 8 Reasons Teens Experiment with Alcohol
  2. Help! Anxiety Says Everything Is My Fault
  3. Can a Pet Help with Depression and Create Bliss?

If you're not already, I hope you'll join us/like us on Facebook too. There are a lot of wonderful, supportive people there.

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Mental Health Quote

"People are not addicted to alcohol or drugs, they are addicted to escaping reality."

Read more addiction quotes.

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That's it for now. If you know of anyone who can benefit from this newsletter or the HealthyPlace.com site, I hope you'll pass this onto them. You can also share the newsletter on any social network (like facebook or stumbleupon) you belong to by clicking the links below. For updates throughout the week, follow HealthyPlace on Twitter or become a fan of HealthyPlace on Facebook. Also, check out HealthyPlace on Instagram, YouTube and Pinterest, where you can share your mental health pins on our Share Your Mental Health Experiences board.

back to: HealthyPlace.com Mental-Health Newsletter Index

APA Reference
Peterson, T. (2019, September 9). 4 Signs Anxiety is Starting to Take Over Your Life , HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, September 20 from https://www.healthyplace.com/other-info/mental-health-newsletter/4-signs-anxiety-is-starting-to-take-over-your-life

Last Updated: September 10, 2019

How Writing Helps Me Understand My Mental Health

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As a form of expression, writing can help us understand our experiences with mental health. Many mental health advocates talk about journaling specifically as a tool for mental health recovery. But, journaling isn't the only form of writing beneficial to mental health.

Different Forms of Writing Can Help Unravel Mental Health

Even I often think of journaling about mental health as the thing that kicked off my understanding of what was going on with my mental health. I was always fascinated with diaries as a child, but I really began journaling in my second year of university when my mental health took a serious nosedive as I struggled with depression, anxiety, and excoriation disorder. I was skipping class, I stopped caring about everything, and I started planning to end my life. ("Understanding and Helping the Suicidal Person") In an act of desperation, I picked up a notebook and started writing, trying to sort out the chaos that was in my mind.

But, if I think about it, journaling isn't the only writing that helped me better understand my mental health. Apart from journaling, I was an avid writer of poems, songs, and stories as a way to express myself. Even my fictional writing is a reflection of my mental health struggles to some degree.

No matter whether it's journaling or fiction-based, the act of writing forces my thoughts to slow down. I saw a post on Facebook that read, "People with anxiety don't have a train of thought. We have seven trains on four tracks that narrowly avoid each other when paths cross and all the conductors are screaming."

I don't know where this post originated, but it's a perfect depiction of the chaos I mentioned before.

Writing Led Me to Better Understand My Mental Health, Which Helps Me Fight Stigma

Because writing helped me slow and quiet the thought chaos caused by my mental health, it led me to better understand what I was experiencing. I began to see myself as someone dealing with mental illnesses, not just a messed up person. This lifted a giant weight off my shoulders. This allowed me to look stigma in the face because I could see that what it was telling me—what it tells all of us—is a lie.

Stigma says people with mental illnesses are freaks. I know now I have illnesses. Stigma says people with mental health struggles bring it upon themselves. I understand there are many factors contributing to mental illness, none of which are my fault. Stigma says we should be ashamed of these illnesses. I see now there is no reason to be ashamed of being sick ("Mental Illness Myths and the Damage They Cause").

Whether it's writing, visual arts, music, dance, or something else, there are plenty of tools at our disposal, and they can be used in conjunction with traditional therapy and treatment options. It can be difficult to sort through your struggles when the chaos is loud in your head. Don't be afraid to explore the options to quiet those thoughts and gain a better understanding of your mental health to recognize the difference between stigma's lies and the truth about mental health and mental illnesses. Trust me when I say these are great steps to take on the road of recovery.

Videos on Addictions and Sleep Problems from Real People

Watch Videos from Real People with Addictions and Sleep Problems

APA Reference
Writer, H. (2019, September 8). Videos on Addictions and Sleep Problems from Real People, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, September 20 from https://www.healthyplace.com/other-info/sleep-disorders/videos-on-addictions-and-sleep-problems-from-real-people

Last Updated: September 18, 2019

Videos on ADHD and Sleep Problems from Real People

Watch Videos from Real People with ADHD and Sleep Problems

 

APA Reference
Writer, H. (2019, September 8). Videos on ADHD and Sleep Problems from Real People, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, September 20 from https://www.healthyplace.com/other-info/sleep-disorders/videos-on-adhd-and-sleep-problems-from-real-people

Last Updated: September 18, 2019

Videos on Depression and Sleep Problems from Real People

APA Reference
Writer, H. (2019, September 8). Videos on Depression and Sleep Problems from Real People, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, September 20 from https://www.healthyplace.com/other-info/sleep-disorders/videos-on-depression-and-sleep-problems-from-real-people

Last Updated: September 18, 2019

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