17 different women, 36 crazy children, 0 babies in utero
Adventures, Advice and Questions from a group of Mormon women who met in Queens, NY and have now scattered all over the place.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

On Suicide

I am a Tales contributor, but I will remain anonymous. I'll also try not to give details, out of respect to my sister (still living), but I desperately want advice.

My youngest sister now bears two large newly healing scars on her wrists. She claims she wasn't trying to kill herself. But trying or not, it is as serious as it gets.

I live far from her, she is in her teens, she is not involved in church, and most certainly dealing with depression. I don't know what to do. Another sister called and told me the news and I'm just kind of shaky.

What do you do when someone you love does this? You want to know you're doing all you can. Prayer is a given. Beyond that all I can think of is to write her a letter telling her I love her, and giving her thoughts of what is worth living for.

I know we have a good variety of readers and contributors and wondered if anyone had any thoughts on this important, albeit unpleasant subject.



  • I recently have been dealing with a younger brother (who doesn't live close to me)that has been struggling...all I can say is Love them. They don't want to hear your advice but, showing them you love them is what makes the difference. Pray and ask how you can show her your love so she will feel it. Call her and tell her you love her. They need to feel loved more than anything else. It is just not our place to judge the extreme trial they are going through. Other of my family members think that by not lecturing my brother that I'm just excepting his behavior. However, in talking to him I recognize lecturing or making him feel bad for his poor choices only makes him want to rebel or more depressed. Showing love to him has made him not afraid to talk to me and he knows I love him no matter what. He has even said to me that he knows I love him but, he recongnizes that I don't necessarily agree with his choices. Each person is different but, just try to put yourself in their shoes for a momment and think about how or what you would want from others. I hope this helps...I know it is hard...I was so sad inside for several days...then I was so grateful to have a chance to make a difference and set an example!
    posted by Blogger Family of 7 at 1/30/2008 01:48:00 PM  

  • It may be different for everyone, I don't know; I can only speak to my own experience. What pulled me through my depression and suicide attempt was a friend who simply refused to go away. Everybody else, it seemed (though then again that perception was probably skewed), left me -- clinical, suicidal depression is not easy to be around -- but she stayed. I don't remember anything she did or said in particular, but she stuck with me. She treated me much the same as she always had -- I didn't sense that I was a pitiful charity case to her -- and she checked in on me often. I don't know if she even knows it, but she saved my life.

    Don't let your sister push you away -- she may want to; she may feel like she's doing you and all her loved ones a favor by exiting the scene (I figured my family would be grateful after they got over the initial grief). Don't let her. Write to her, call her, email her. Be there and refuse to go away. If addressing the depression / attempt specifically makes her defensive (it did with me), just talk as you always have. Reminisce about the good times, your old funny stories, whatever. But just being there and refusing to be pushed away will help keep her tethered.

    Or at least, it did for me.

    I'm so sorry you and she are going through this. You'll all be in my prayers. {{{HUGS}}}
    posted by Anonymous Anonymous at 1/30/2008 02:03:00 PM  

  • My mother committed suicide almost 10 years ago after several attempts. Chances are, your sister needs more action than love and prayers. Is she in counseling? Taking medication? Has she been hospitalized (not just for the physical wounds)? She may need to spend some time in a psych ward until she has her depression under control. She should be evaluated, as her problems may be more than just depression. She needs help, professional help. Whatever you can do to get her the help she needs would be good.
    posted by Blogger Nancy at 1/30/2008 03:56:00 PM  

  • family of 7, anon, yes, the loving thing is important, I agree. I appreciate your experiences you shared. It really is hard to know how to show love for someone who is constantly pushing family away. I appreciate the don't give up spirit--I do need that--and surely she does too.

    nancy, thanks for your thoughts as well. I'm so sorry about your mother. From what I know my sister had been in counseling for a time but greatly resisted it. My BIL is a doctor and lives close to her--he's trying to talk to her to discuss meds and professional help options. He's someone who she's most likely to talk to and I'm learning through the evening that she's turning him down. My Mom told me she'd also chat with her about options as long as she'll listen. Hopefully tomorrow will bring better news.
    posted by Anonymous Worried at 1/30/2008 04:17:00 PM  

  • Be her friend. Talk to her on the phone often. I don't think you need to tell her reasons for living, that seems a little too judgemental to me (unless maybe its funny, inside joke reasons, then that might be kind of cool). Show her you love her. Don't treat her differently per se, but make sure the communication lines are open. Make sure she gets into counseling. Ask how counseling is going. Ask her if there is anything you can do to help her. Don't be overbearing or annoying about it, but reassure her that you're there and can talk to her anytime.
    posted by Blogger tamrobot at 1/30/2008 04:20:00 PM  

  • I attempted suicide in high school (slit my wrists but was able to stop the bleeding and NOT tell any) and had two friends react differently. The first found out shortly after my attempt (she saw bandages under my long sleeves and put things together) . She was so overwhelmed and worried that she ran in the other direction. Things were never the same between us. A few years later I confided in a friend and the reaction was the opposite. Lots of questions, a listening ear, support and checking in. My attempt was in response to an abusive situation not depression so wasn't something I needed treatment for. I just needed to get out of the situation. But what helped me was knowing that I had love and support from this one friend. I knew that she was always going to check in on me and that helped me so much.

    Be a friend to your sister in whatever way makes sense for your relationship. Don't talk around what is going on. Put it out there in the open, ask questions, tell her that you love her so much. Make a point to tell her the things that she is good at. She may have forgotten that she is of worth, that she has something to contribute to life, to your life. And then take her lead, see where she needs you to go.

    Good luck.
    posted by Anonymous Amelia at 1/30/2008 04:29:00 PM  

  • Tell them how much they would be missed. Tell them all the things they do to bless your life. Tell them the things only they bring to this world that would be gone if they were to leave.

    Tell them in a letter so they can take it out and read it again and again when they are in the fight.
    posted by Blogger SilverRain at 1/30/2008 05:04:00 PM  

  • And I agree with the "don't go away" advice, too.
    posted by Blogger SilverRain at 1/30/2008 05:05:00 PM  

  • My heart goes out to you and your family! Love is critical, but often not enough...one thing to keep in mind is that cutting is not always a sign of suicide, but rather a means for releif from the depression within. The physical pain from the cut is a relief from the intangible "pain" of the depression. At least the pain on the wrists or legs (the second most common site for cutters) is a distraction from the emotional pain for which they feel they have no other means with which to cope. Here are a few things to think about:
    1. Therapy will be critical. Your sister could even go with her, most states have a clause in the laws that allow for an adolescent to have up to 3 session of therapy without their parents consent or knowledge. This may be difficult to get her there, but often even the most angry/depressed adolescents I've worked with are relieved to finally have someone to talk to.
    2. If she is talking openly about suicide or harming herself more, take her to the ER and have her hospitalized, at least over night. It is nothing to take lightly.
    3. Anti-depressants are going to be helpful as well. The problem is that most take about 3 to 4 week for them to reach a therapeutic level, so close monotioring and lots of love and attention during this time.
    4. Here are 2 great resources for her and the fmaily to take a look at if she is willing. The first is written and illistrated by a 16 year old on her fight with depression. I have many adolescents clients who have really identified with this one. It written in almost a comic book/ Napoleon Dynamite style. Loaded with great information. It is called "Conquering the Beast Within: How I Fought Depression and Won . . . and How You Can, Too" by Cait Irwin. The other one was writen by Kurt Cobain's aunt, Bev Coabin called "When nothing else matters-- a survival guide for depressed teens." These can also be helpful for parents/family who don't truly understand the illnes that depression is and think that it can just be "shaken off."
    I hope these offer some help.
    posted by Anonymous Anonymous at 1/30/2008 05:06:00 PM  

  • This comment has been removed by the author.
    posted by Blogger brenbot at 1/30/2008 05:06:00 PM  

  • I had a suicide attempt when I was 17 about a month before I graduated high school.

    I remember pushing everyone way. I remember feeling like people were being fake nice to me because they were trying to make me feel better. I remember being completely irrational about everything. I didn't know that then, but looking back it is obvious. It was like I had those blinders on that carriage-pulling horses wear. I could not see the whole picture that would make it obvious why I wanted to live. Instead I saw a dark tunnel that led to only one place: suicide.

    I don't feel that meds ever really helped me. Counseling helped the most, but only once I wanted to get better.

    My advice is be there for her. I know you live far away but if there is anything you can do to encourage her to talk to someone, exercise, eat better, etc - do it.

    Also watch out for her later on - even when she seems better. Obviously she has a problem with depression and you said she is not involved in church. She has a high chance to get involved in drugs, alcohol, unprotected sex, etc. When you are depressed, you don't care about consequences.

    Anyways, I think I am rambling and this is getting long but I hope this helps.
    posted by Blogger brenbot at 1/30/2008 05:09:00 PM  

  • Another thing to remember when talking with your sister is to be sure to seperate the symptoms from the person. In this way it seperates the disease or "beast" from your sister. This helps to be sure that suggestiosn are not then criticisms of her, but creates a common "enemy" outside of her. Using phrases like "that is the depression talking" can be helpful. Just one more little idea.
    posted by Anonymous Anonymous at 1/30/2008 05:16:00 PM  

  • Someone who cuts is likely dealing with more than depression. Borderline? Bipolar? Seek a second opinion before it is too late.
    posted by Anonymous Anonymous at 1/30/2008 07:28:00 PM  

  • I've never contemplated suicide, but I did get to the point of contemplating just disappearing entirely once. Luckily, my dad talked me out of it (luckily, I told him about it). He told me straightforwardly that I was not a waste of money, resources, or love, that I was not a disappointment to either them or to God, and that my depression was a disease, not the real me.

    Rational thought, in my experience, flees during depressive episodes. I was horribly sad, and didn't know why, and sat there trying to come up with reasons for myself as to why for months, and my reasons always involved my own failings. It took me a long time to figure out how to stop thinking I was a failure and start avoiding the downward thought spirals.

    I think the thing that helped me the most when I was seriously depressed was a simple rule that I'd made, partially as a joke, several years before the depression hit. Dying is not allowed. I shared the same rule with several of my friends when they were struggling with severe depression also. For the couple of them that wanted to know why dying was not allowed, I told them it was because if they died, I wouldn't be able to deal with it, they were important to me, I wanted to spend time with them, etc, even though there were (and are) a great many other reasons as well.
    posted by Blogger kadusey at 1/30/2008 07:36:00 PM  

  • I think you have a lot of good advice from people who know what they are talking about. I had a few friends in high school that were "cutters". And their cutting wasn't suicidal in nature (at least not yet). But they did need serious counseling to help them learn to cope with their pain.

    It's so hard to be far away and feel so helpless in a situation like this one.
    posted by Blogger TftCarrie at 1/30/2008 08:54:00 PM  

  • Here is an interesting article on WebMD about Cutting: http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/features/cutting-self-harm-signs-treatment

    Like Carrie said, not all people who cut their wrists are suicidal. While your family should definitely take the situation seriously and get her the help she needs, I would be wary of completely not believing her in her response that it wasn't suicidal. It seems like a really hard situation. You don't want to lose her trust if she is being honest (she might feel like everyone is just disregarding her), but at the same time you also want to acknowledge that this is a serious problem.
    posted by Blogger tamrobot at 1/30/2008 09:34:00 PM  

  • Oops, here's the WebMD link on Cutting
    posted by Blogger tamrobot at 1/30/2008 09:35:00 PM  

  • You have gotten some really good advise. It is hard being far away at a time like this. We had a similar experience in my family last year. The hardest part is trying to put yourself in a role where you will be of help to the person & not be part of the problem even if that means not doing anything at all.

    My youngest sister is a cutter (what we've learned is that she will never not be a cutter just someone who can deal with their demons in a different way) & a year ago she had a really bad 'episode' that landed her in a facility for a 72 hour hold/suicide watch. I made the 30 minute drive at least once a day to bring edible food & I didn't ask her any questions, I let her lead the conversation. I also brought my daughter who loves her aunt so that she could have 1 relationship that wasn't 'tarnished' by this experience come to visit her. She had just turned 17 & when she got out I didn't know how to act. After much prayer I decided that I just needed to be there for her & listen & not to give advise or an opinion of any kind. I also told her that I wouldn't tell our parents anything she didn't want me to & as hard as that was I kept my promise & she tested me a couple of times too. To get her away from my parents house we went on 'sister dates' & after about 3 awkward meals where nothing was said & me not pushing her, she opened up. I asked her to tell me 2 things that I could do to help her deal with things better, even just in the short term, & I followed thru. My number one rule when I was talking to her was not to get emotional because that would push her away.

    It took 2 therapists before we found someone that she wouldn't lie to & would trust (it also helped that the last one wasn't a member of the church). Now she jokes about her 'happy pills' & will still come to me when she's having a hard time. It's hard being a sister & a friend while still respecting my parents position & 'right' to know things. Other than a little guilt every now & then I still feel that my role in her life is what I need to be doing. Now that she is doing better I still have kept up our 'sister dates' to make sure that the lines of communication stay open.

    If cutting is the problem then this is going to be a life-long struggle for the individual. They have a 'quick & easy' way of dealing with depression that even after the scars have faded will still be in the back of their heads. I am no expert but I do know what you are going thru & what helped my sister. One thing my parents didn't do, which is disappointing because they added to the problem most of the time back then, was that they didn't go to talk to someone about how this changed their reality. This is her problem but most likely others may need to get someone to talk to (a different therapist of coarse).

    I know that you aren't as close as you would like to be but when things calm down I hope & pray that you can find an opening into her life that will help her.
    posted by Anonymous Empathetic friend at 1/30/2008 10:14:00 PM  

  • Thanks everyone. I really appreciate such good words of advice, thoughts, and sharing such personal experiences. I guess after how the day played out I should retitle the post "On Cutting" because that is what she does. This last one was just much worse. From what I hear it really scared her how bad it was. Thankfully she talked with family--or should I say texted--and agreed to meds but not counseling. That's a miraculous start. I hope she follows through. I think she finally recognizes she needs help.

    I love the thought on separating her from the disease. I feel like I don't really know "her". Age and distance don't help, but the depression really doesn't help. Thanks also for the book recommendations and the idea of having parents/sibilings go to counseling without the individual--I think that is brilliant. This is so tough on my parents.

    After reading this I am much more hopeful. I hope she feels the same hope soon.
    posted by Anonymous Worried at 1/31/2008 06:59:00 AM  

  • I was like your sister many years ago- and I was "dragged" to a psychiatrist by my parents, and the doctor gave me some medication. It didn't work, and to make a long story short, I was hospitalized, which helped, and then found the right combination of medication for me. During those months, though, I received more cards, photos, and flowers from family, friends, and youth in my ward which kept me going. During part of this time, I was far from family, and the phone calls helped. So, make some calls to your sister, make sure she gets to a doctor, and don't toss out the idea of hospitalization. I'm praying for you, your sister, and your family.
    posted by Anonymous Anonymous at 1/31/2008 10:30:00 AM  

  • My sister is bipolar and my mother is bipolar as well. I went thru a similar situation with my sister. She did not try to kill her self, but she was incredibly destructive. I found that when it was explained to her that she had a chemical imbalance and that it was NOT her fault for having a chemical imbalance, it took the blame and shame off of her. She was on medication for years and now has overcome the state of being bipolar. I think it is important to simply explain that this is a disease and not the persons fault for feeling this way.

    I agree with listening and sending love...but really...you need tough love if you want to save a family member. It takes intervention and quick!

    As mentioned with my mom, she didn't know she was bipolar until it was almost too late. She spiraled down REALLY quick. Long story short...she tried to commit suicide one night by overdose. An “angel” found her passed out outside and called 911. Long story short, she is healthy and happy today and CANNOT BELIEVE what she tried to do. Now that she is on medication and had some counseling, she is back to great health. My mom truly believes it was someone else living in her body, that is how out of control she was of her own actions. She has always been so close to lord and never strayed from the church in anyway. I guess what I am trying to say, is this is a serious disease, and unfortunately affects some of the BEST people. Do not place blame, just take action and get them help ASAP. Chances are, they don’t even know how bad it is.

    Worried...it is hard to know what to do, but books and listening doesn’t always cut it. They are WONDERFUL suggestions and I know can often help, but this generally isn’t a faze someone goes thru. If you really want to help, you need to get really involved and fast. You will never regret it and your loved ones will thank you later for taking action even when it is so hard to do.
    posted by Anonymous Anonymous at 1/31/2008 10:31:00 AM  

  • I feel like an expert although I am not. I have struggled with depression for many years until there was medication and counseling that helped me. I have had suicidal episodes, although I never actually did it. I have been fine for over 10 years now.

    My son, who is almost 20, started with depression and cutting and suicidal feelings when he was about 13. It has been a loooooooong road. His first hospitalization was very scary and he got much worse and learned worse behaviors. Not all hospitals are equal. Check them out as best you can or actually, your parents should. I also overreacted...I learned that this was not the right thing to do. He still cuts a bit, but not so much anymore. But his left arm is total scarring from his many times. I prayed and prayed. The answer I got was to just love him. I make sure he knows that I love him. Counseling did not help as he set himself against whichever therapist I tried. If your sister doesn't want to talk to one, she won't. I always made myself available. Sometimes when it was awful, he wouldn't talk. But usually after he calmed down he would. If he was in danger..suicidal, someone always sat in the room with him, either me or my husband. He got to know when he was dangerous and would (eventually) come to us when he was, once he learned that we wouldn't freak out and could just let him be until he felt safe. You have gotten a lot of good advice in the comments. Be available and non-judgmental. Don't MAKE her talk, but be there if she wants. Love her, love her, love her.
    posted by Blogger annahannah at 2/01/2008 09:59:00 AM  

  • I am so impressed with everyone's responses and am so touched that you all would take the time to share such personal experiences to help someone you don't know. I am the older sister of "worried" and live near our younger sister who is struggling with her cutting addiction. Your comments have been so helpful and inspiring. We were able to convince her to get medication yesterday. I know it doesn't fix everything but I know that it can help calm the anxiety and lift the depression while you learn the coping skills that are needed to deal with the emotional pain that is behind the cutting. I think the hardest thing now is going to be getting her counseling and letting her know we love her without making her feel like she is a "charity case" or that we are all gossiping about her behind her back. She hates that. She has opened up to my husband and I just a tiny bit and I am soooo afraid that the slightest push will make her go back into her shell again. She has such a hard exterior but I know she is tired of the cycle she is in and that is why she was willing to try the meds. I am definitely going to try and spend more time with her (even though she has flat out rejected all my attempts these last few days) and not ask questions or give advice (actually, that has been my philosophy for a long time now and I'm not sure it's working) but maybe I just have to try harder to see her more and talk less. My sister reminded me that valentine's day is coming up and it's a perfect time to sneak a little LOVE to someone who might not be so receptive otherwise. I like that idea. Lots of love to all you who care enough to read and help and remember on valentine's day to give those around you some extra love, especially those who struggle with low self-worth issues and addiction like our baby sister.
    p.s. I made an appointment to see a counselor who works with kids with this kind of addiction to see if I can learn more about how to help my sis. and how to help the rest of us cope.
    posted by Anonymous Worried's older sister at 2/01/2008 10:06:00 AM  

  • I live across the country from my younger brother who may or may not have recently attempted suicide. For me it's been one of those numbing, almost paralyzing experiences because it's so delicate and I'm so far away from the situation. But I love him deeply and so want to help! There's a bit of a history of un-addressed mental illness in my family and while I'm a big believer in getting help via therapy and meds I also think that they only work once a person is invested in getting better. In the meantime, the action that's working for my brother and I is simply talking. A lot. About ANYTHING. It doesn't have to be about anything deep, or even anything real. This is my long-distance form of the "friend who would not go away" approach. If she's ready to talk about what's hurting her great, if not, keep talking. Talk about clothes, weather, sports, school, food, movies, music, anything. Eventually those conversations will build a safe space between you or reinforce a safe space that already exists. You may hesitate to talk about what's really hurting her directly for fear of sending her back into a thick defensive shell (I definitely have with my brother) but hopefully if you can keep a line of communication open no matter what, then when she's ready to talk about it she will. It's worked to some extent with my brother and I'm very hopeful that it will continue to help. Hang in there...
    posted by Anonymous Anonymous at 2/01/2008 02:05:00 PM  

  • Background: Brother committed suicide on his third try in really horrid circumstances to which I wish I didn't know and my sister tried more than a few times as a teen, she says now for attention. So we've been through the ringer. And I'm really sorry you're going through this.

    Anyway you can pray. Fast. Pray. Read scriptures. And pray for guidance.

    For her, you can really only offer support and let her know you love her and support her. And if she makes mistakes, its ok, you'll love her.

    I know I'm repeating myself a lot but you have to be careful.

    You have to let her learn, make mistakes, etc. You have to get to where you cannot judge. If that means that eventually you have to pull away simply so that you're not down on her if she makes mistakes then so be it. (I Have a sister like this towards another brother who's made lots of mistakes)

    I never had the depression three of my 5 siblings did until I got pregnant. It got worse with each pregnancy. The only thing that pulled me through was having had gone through a brother's suicide and seeing how selfish and pointless it is. So I got help when I saw it getting bad.

    She'll be resistant to a lot of things. And she has to learn on her own. So just be there.

    One thing that not many people know and understand is the Church's stance on suicide. After my brother died we received a packet including Public Affairs statement and conference talks. One of the talks very clearly stated that we do not believe those who take their own lives are damned to hell or anywhere else. We cannot judge their state of mind, only our Father and our Savior. And that is the bottom line. We. Can. Not. Judge.

    Over the last 10.5 years (I was 14 and he was nearly 16) I have really come to terms with these things. I've been blessed to come into more than one life at a crisis and share with them that knowledge after a family member committed suicide. So I can be as candid as you need. Though we don't know each other, I'm happy to listen and give feedback so you can decide how you should react. But if just this comment, no worries. My heart goes out to your family. Good luck.
    posted by Blogger Angela at 2/01/2008 06:42:00 PM  

  • Nancy is right. She does need more than love and prayers. BUT. You can't force someone to get/accept the help they are offered, even if they are a teen. Its their choice and so you need to keep that in mind if your parents aren't able to get her to get what she needs most. So that is where the love and prayers can help because they are way more than nothing.

    The other thing to remember is that certain anti-depressants have been found to increase thoughts of suicide/lead to suicide attempts. It doesn't mean they don't all work but you need to be really careful!

    Good luck.
    posted by Blogger Angela at 2/01/2008 07:03:00 PM  

  • It can be hard if you don't live close. But go ahead and make connections with her. Be consistant so that she can start to count on you.
    Since she is a teenager, she may see the world through a less than realistic view. She may think her parents don't really love her, etc.
    Pick and day and time each week and start calling her then. You don't have to tell her "I'm going to call you every Tuesday at 4 pm" just start doing it. The only way to know what is going on in her life is to start listening. You will need a LOT of background to know why a friend saying this, or a teacher doing that is so hurtful.....or why it is a triumph when something goes well.
    Consider sending her things consistantly. Once a week mail her something (or email). An interesting article (not about teen suicide) that you find interesting--who knows, she might find it interesting too. A funny card. A note to say you are thinking about her.
    posted by Anonymous Anonymous at 2/02/2008 04:26:00 PM  

  • Angela and last Anons,
    Thanks for your thoughts. I'm definitely learning that any "treatment" will only work when she is willing and wants it for herself. The family is being really good at gently offering, but leaving things up to her. I like your ideas on how to be that non-judging friend. I'm definitely going to work towards that.

    The best part about this whole thread is I can share it with my parents and the rest of the siblings and we all have a lot more ideas, perspectives, and information. Thank you everyone.
    posted by Anonymous Worried at 2/04/2008 07:43:00 AM  

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