Join us for “The Ripple Effect”
By Sonia Wagner, EVP
In the many years when I worked at a crisis response center, answering hotline calls from people who had suicidal thoughts, I was often amazed by a common theme – their sense of being invisible.
I had expected the feelings of isolation and hopelessness that callers also related to me, but I was taken aback by something that seemed to run still deeper and often against all evidence to the contrary – their conviction that no one noticed their pain or, by extension, them.
I have known many people who have struggled with depression, and their withdrawal from life was quite palpable to nearly everyone around them – the phone calls that went unreturned, the food that went uneaten, the parties that we were missed, the sick days that were called in. I have also known people who could feign happiness, at least for a short time. However, after the party was over and the guests had gone home but well before the dishes were put away, the heaviness would set in and the energy required for all of that levity would visibly take its toll.
Many who struggle with suicidal feelings believe that no one notices these things. Without a doubt, many of their friends, relatives and colleagues have noticed and may be quite worried but are afraid to bring up their concerns or simply don’t know how to pursue the issue when they are told “Thanks, I’m fine – just a bit tired.”
Eventually, people stop asking questions. For the depressed person, this may falsely translate to “nobody notices or cares.” Kevin Hines, a passionate mental health advocate, leaped off the Golden Gate Bridge at the age of 19. Being among a very small number to survive this jump, he subsequently described his bus trip to the bridge, during which he was in tears. At the time, it seemed to him that nobody noticed his distress; at least, nobody approached him. He told himself that if anyone said anything of concern to him, he would not jump.
It is hard to imagine that people sitting near him didn’t notice his crying. Perhaps they were afraid to talk with an emotional stranger, or perhaps the bystander effect kicked in and they felt sure that someone else would intervene. Whatever the reason, Kevin Hines felt increasingly invisible and ultimately jumped.
How does it help to understand that a false sense of invisibility is a common ingredient in suicidal thinking? It has given me much greater comfort in asking questions, commenting in a gentle voice on what I’m seeing in someone that concerns me, and not being dissuaded by their trying to put me off. When we overcome our own discomfort and inquire about thoughts of suicide to someone who is struggling, offer help or insist on getting help, we address the fundamental human need of that person to be seen.
Sonia Wagner is the Executive Vice President of The Mental Health Association of Rockland County. The agency is co-hosting a showing of the film “The Ripple Effect,” featuring Kevin Hines, on September 26 at 7:30 pm at Nanuet Stadium 12 & RPX. To order tickets, go to https://gathr.us/screening/24062