Have you every wondered whether a friend may be suicidal? Dave Grauwiler did, and asking the question changed him.
We meet up once a year for lunch. We are old friends who used to work together. We are not in regular contact, but look forward to a time of reflection together on the year that has passed. We talk about our kids, our jobs, our holidays and what we are reading.
This year my friend arrived uncharacteristically late. He was having a tough day at the end of a few stressful months. Our conversation followed the familiar pattern. But there were a few times that my friend mentioned how stressed out he was. He talked about how he wished “someone could put him out of his misery” and that he knew how in the coming months, things would not be any different. He talked about the collapse of a significant friendship and the unrelenting pressure of the workplace.
We ate, I listened. We said good-bye in the parking lot and wished each other all the best.
The Uncomfortable Question
On my way back to work I reflected on the conversation. I thought about the advice we give when it comes to “warning signs”. I remembered a colleague saying that we can always offer help, ask a question or share an observation with someone who is stressed out. At the worst it might be awkward and embarrassing. At best it may start a conversation about mental health or thoughts of suicide which can move from hopelessness to support.
Why is it so hard to ask? What was I afraid of? Is it crossing into someone’s private world without an invitation? Is it “un-Canadian”?
I sent a quick email to my friend. I mentioned how much I appreciated the time we spent together. I mirrored his words back to him and I asked if he needed help. I offered time and a listening ear. I empathized. In hindsight the email may have been a cowardly way to follow through. What is important though is that I did something. I did not hear back right away so I phoned to “check in”.
The response? My friend was grateful. It wasn’t awkward. We reassured each other. He knew someone had his back. We talked a bit more about how important it is to “check in”. We said we would not wait twelve months to talk again.
Asking was good. It was the right thing to do. I will do it again if I ever have to.
For more about male suicide, see Why Men Commit Suicide: The Three Warning Signs Most People Miss.
Originally Published by David Grauwiler, Executive Director, Canadian Mental Health – Alberta
Photo by Chris Connelly.