I don’t know how many times I have said this in the past, nor do I know for how many more months I’ll continue to say this, but damn, times are tough. I have more clients than usual who are in a state of suicidal crisis. While I am by no means negating the prevalence of the coronavirus, I do think it is important to point out that the number of suicide attempts and suicide completions far outweigh the number of covid cases in our world. Again, I say this not to take attention away from the seriousness of the pandemic, but to also point out the suicide pandemic that receives little attention.
As a therapist, I am frequently in contact with other care providers who work with my clients, such as doctors, school counselors, and parents. Lately, when suicidal urges increase among my patients, I find more and more doctors, school counselors, and parents having the same response: “I really think he/she/they is just doing this for attention. I don’t think there is any real threat here.”
This statement really hits me like a ton of bricks….not because I feel judgment towards the people who are saying it, but more or less because I find it to be so sad that we have quite literally shamed, chastised, and ignored people for wanting and needing attention from others. When people tell me that they don’t think suicidal urges are anything to be concerned about because it’s just a plea for attention, my response is usually
“Yes, this very well could be for attention, but that doesn’t make those urges any less real. And why risk it? At the end of the day, if you’re child/patient/student/spouse/parent is saying this for attention, then that means something is very wrong and we do need to give this person the appropriate level of attention and care.”
Why do we do this? Why do we condemn people for wanting and needing attention? Why is it such a bad thing to want attention from someone else.? I’ll be the first one to admit it: I love attention. I need it. I crave it. And most of all, I deserve it. I deserve to have others know when I am hurting so that they can help me. When my pain isn’t heard or validated, my suicidal thoughts and urges only become louder.
Now with this being said, I do acknowledge that there are people who can be manipulative with their words or are seeking attention in dangerous or unacceptable ways. I’m not suggesting we should be okay with this. What I’m suggesting is that we stop writing folks off when they say they feel suicidal. Sure, it could be an attempt at getting attention, but often enough, the attention that people happen to be seeking is much needed, even if it’s not necessarily needed in the form of crisis intervention. And besides, why risk it? Why label a suicidal person as ‘attention-seeking’ and then just wait and see if he/she/they really mean it?
I’ll say it once more – life is hard right now. Like, really friggin hard. And the more I speak to doctors and school staff and parents and other providers, the more I see how hardened we have become to the needs of others. All I ask is this: let’s stop shaming and criminalizing others for being “attention-seeking”. Instead, let’s ask ourselves what kind of attention this person might need and how/if we might be able to help. Let’s all do our best support each other through this so we can all make it out on the other side of this pandemic happy, healthy, and most importantly, alive.