While increasing numbers of Americans are being prescribed antidepressants, the Centers for Disease Control reports that suicide rates increased 28% from 1999 to 2010. Trained professionals remain unable to predict who is at risk. Their guess is as good as chance.
Additionally, current prescriptive practice is based on an alarming gap in research – and so, in turn, of informed consent and care – on the risks associated with the long-term use of antidepressants (typically, human trials are 6-8 weeks). Practitioners rarely understand that symptoms of post-acute psychiatric drug withdrawal can last for months, even years, and can include reoccurring, even impulsive thoughts of suicide.
Given this gap in knowledge, how can providers understand and support a patient whose withdrawal process includes suicidal feelings – the experience they’ve been trained to see as a brain disorder in need of medication?
I believe Wallace’s own words – which he used to point out our most dangerous liability as human beings – aptly names a large problem with our medical model of mental health care: “Blind certainty, a close-mindedness that amounts to an imprisonment so total that the prisoner doesn’t even know he’s locked up.”
The solution, Wallace suggests, to this problem of certainty, is a humble willingness to pay attention to what’s right in front of us, “and to truly care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.”
Yesterday, I sat at my desk for two hours to write then delete the last paragraph of this blog. I wanted to illustrate what might it be like to take Wallace’s advice in service of supporting someone who is depressed, or suicidal. But my memories, old and recent, of being with other people who were feeling suicidal, were hazy or somehow missing. Unable to draw from lived experience, the exercise felt too cerebral.
That’s when my good friend called. I was glad to see his name come up on the caller ID. His humor, our laughter, I thought, would be a welcome break in my labored task and frustration.
I picked up the phone and said, “hello”. In a quiet voice, he explained that the night before he had checked into a hotel and attempted suicide. He was badly hurt, disoriented, and feeling unsteady. He did not want me to call an ambulance. He asked for my help. He gave me the nearby address. My whole body shook, then kind of shut down. I couldn’t believe I had been called to serve a friend in this way, just as I was writing about it…
Read the rest of this lovingly crafted, informative, and moving blog post here.
The bravest thing I ever did was continuing my life when I wanted to die.