How should I respond to my suicidal sibling's email?
June 23, 2010 10:50 AM   Subscribe

Should I send this email to a potentially suicidal sibling? (posted for a friend)

I have a sibling who two days ago sent a very long, heavy, suicidal email. I am the only person they are reaching out to and they trust me to keep their "secret". I am going to encourage my sibling that this should not be a secret in my response to the email. My sibling is aware that today I would take the time to write a thoughtful and detailed response to this first email. However, today they sent a second email that is only two sentences, vague, and about how much worse things are.

I drafted an email explaining (in more eloquent terms than here) that this vague email is inappropriate, that i cannot carry the weight of their sadness, and to find a therapist. I don't know if I should send this email - if it would be the right thing to do, how they would take it, etc. Does anyone have experience with this?

(Also I don't know if this is of relevance but they want to keep it a secret because of fears of being re-committed to the psych-ward and being discharged from the navy.)
posted by Felicity Rilke to Human Relations (27 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Pick. Up. The. Phone.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:51 AM on June 23, 2010 [37 favorites]


Please do not keep their secret. The VA has a suicide prevention hotline. http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/Veterans/Default.aspx There are others. You should call one. If you really believe the person is suicidal, and you cannot get to them, or send a family member to be with them, please, please contact the authorities. The world is filled with stories like this that do not end well.
posted by dpx.mfx at 10:53 AM on June 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


"(Also I don't know if this is of relevance but they want to keep it a secret because of fears of being re-committed to the psych-ward and being discharged from the navy.) "

No, they want to keep it a secret because mental illness protects itself from being cured. These are rationalizations a depressed person tells himself to help him stay depressed. Would your friend rather have a sibling temporarily pissed off about being in a psych ward or discharged from the Navy, or have a sibling dead? INTERVENE.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:56 AM on June 23, 2010 [15 favorites]


Yes, yes. Pick up the phone. This is not for you to deal with alone.

fears of being re-committed to the psych-ward and being discharged from the navy

Neither of these things is worse than being dead, though it might feel that way.
posted by fiercecupcake at 10:57 AM on June 23, 2010


Okay, honestly? I wouldn't send that letter. The part about "I cannot carry the weight of their sadness," even vaguely put, seems really cold. I wouldn't send any letter, frankly. I'd be on the phone trying to convince my sibling to get help. And if that didn't work, I'd take a trip to be with my sibling in person while he/she got help.

Please tell your friend to take this seriously. Seconding Eyebrows McGee's statement that mental illness protects itself from being cured and the rationalizations really get in the way of the person getting help.
posted by cooker girl at 10:57 AM on June 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Seeking help for suicidality doesn't necessarily mean comittment. It depends on how bad the person is feeling (e.g. they feel generally hopeless but don't have a plan, or they bought a gun yesterday and have given away all their stuff). Please do not keep this a secret. Encourage the sibling to reach out to any current mental health professionals. A therapist who knows him/her might be able to help them and keep them safe without hospitalization. Good luck.
posted by ShadePlant at 10:59 AM on June 23, 2010


Call you sibling right now and make him or her promise to pick up the phone call you whenever they feel suicidal. Having someone they can reach out to at anytime just might save their life.
posted by archivist at 11:00 AM on June 23, 2010


SEEK HELP NOW. You are not responsible if the worst happens--but you still have a chance to be responsible for your sibling surviving a deadly illness.
posted by sallybrown at 11:02 AM on June 23, 2010


that i cannot carry the weight of their sadness

ug. Please don't ever tell them this even if it is the truth.
posted by archivist at 11:02 AM on June 23, 2010 [8 favorites]


this vague email is inappropriate, that i cannot carry the weight of their sadness, and to find a therapist

You should never say this. I don't blame you for feeling that way, but you really should not say this.
posted by grouse at 11:08 AM on June 23, 2010 [17 favorites]


today they sent a second email that is only two sentences, vague, and about how much worse things are.

Your friend shouldn't even be wasting time reading these responses. They should be making a call RIGHT NOW, and/or rushing over there.
posted by MexicanYenta at 11:10 AM on June 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Please do not send that letter! Call a suicide prevention hotline for guidance.

I know how difficult it is to deal with someone else's suicidal BS from personal experience (all the depressed whoa is me stuff can be hard to take after a while), but your friend needs to be his/her brother's lifeline right now. If your friend tells his/her brother that he doesn't want to deal with it, your friend will deeply regret it should the brother make good on his suicidal thinking.

My husband could not handle his own brother's constant stream of depressed, self-pitying, angry, and occasionally abusive emails. He eventually told his brother pretty much exactly what your friend intends to say: Dude, I love you but I can't be your punching bag/therapist, and you need to see a professional rather than dump all this on me. His brother stopped talking to us about his depressive episodes, and so we played along that everything was suddenly fine. We then missed the big warning signs right before he took his life. I don't know for certain that we could have saved him, but god knows I wish we had tried harder to help him.

Your friend can call for help for himself. He can and should learn the warning signs that a suicide attempt is imminent and have an action plan to get help for his brother the moment he sees them. Having his brother taken in to protective custody is much better than burying him.

Big hugs to your friend. This is a terrible thing to deal with, and it will take a good deal of strength.
posted by SuburbanTomboy at 11:14 AM on June 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Saying 'I can't carry your sadness' is a terrible thing to say.

Explain that you don't have the means to help them and that they would benefit much more from someone who does have such means.

Suggest where your sibling can find a good professional help if possible.
posted by randomizer at 11:15 AM on June 23, 2010


Sometimes, the worst thing to do is keep a secret for someone.
This person needs help - help you can not provide.

You need to get them help, even if it requires screaming it from the mountain tops.
posted by Flood at 11:16 AM on June 23, 2010


At the top of this hotline's website is an invitation to "Call for yourself or someone you care about." If your friend isn't sure what to do, and doesn't feel prepared to handle his/her sibling's secret, your friend should call this or another suicide prevention hotline and get some expert advice.
posted by Meg_Murry at 11:17 AM on June 23, 2010


People survive being admitted to psych wards and being discharged from the military. They do not survive suicide. Do not send that email, you will regret it for the rest of your life. Call for help.
posted by desjardins at 11:25 AM on June 23, 2010 [5 favorites]


i cannot carry the weight of their sadness

You probably can't carry a 200-pound man with a broken leg, either. What you can do is call for someone who can, and stay with him until help arrives.

I don't mean to contribute to the pile-on about this particular sentiment, but please tell your friend not to think of it this way right now. He's not required or expected to lift his sibling all the way up to mental health; the immediate mission is just to get him somewhere safe.
posted by Metroid Baby at 11:30 AM on June 23, 2010 [8 favorites]


i don't know where you are, but Crisis Intervention very often has mobile units that will go out to somebody - it's not related to insurance and has no cost.

i volunteer for a help line that helps Crisis sometimes, so we've gotten some training on what they do.

if someone is seriously considering suicide, CALL SOMEONE near them. you do not need to be responsible for handling their sadness, but you can help them find someone who will be able to help.

no one wants to go the psych ward, but if you are going to harm yourself or others, then sometimes, that's where you need to be.
posted by sio42 at 12:02 PM on June 23, 2010


Don't keep the secret.
Write back briefly but call-call-call-call!
The focus here is not "I'm gonna scold you for expecting me to keep a secret" but instead should be, "I love you very much and I need you and I will be devastated if you commit suicide, and I will help you through this, let's find help right now."
posted by pseudostrabismus at 12:07 PM on June 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


If your sibling is in Canada (given your profile info, a reasonable guess) and a teenager, Kids' Help Phone is there for them.

I suspect the sibling is older, in which case The Centre for Suicide Prevention is a good Canada-based resource for both you and your sibling. Get in touch with professionals who want to help you, whether or not your sibling is likely to do the same for themselves.
posted by thatdawnperson at 12:07 PM on June 23, 2010


I drafted an email explaining (in more eloquent terms than here) that this vague email is inappropriate, that i cannot carry the weight of their sadness, and to find a therapist.

As someone who used to be potentially suicidal, receiving a reply like that from the one person I opened up to would have solidly confirmed that no one really gave a shit about me, and I may not be here today.

If this is how you're going to deal with it, best you just completely ignore the email. As cold as that is, it would be better than what you were going to email.

If you actually want to help, then follow the other suggestions in this thread. But DON'T SEND THAT EMAIL.
posted by splice at 12:10 PM on June 23, 2010 [9 favorites]


Nthing DON'T SEND THAT EMAIL!

Would it be possible to call up mutual friends and tell them to call up and say hello? You don't have to tell the details- just say he's feeling down and needs a pick-me-up call.

And yes, call the crisis center for advice.

You don't have to carry the sadness- it's his. I doubt he's expecting you to or even sees it that way. He needs an ear and a friend, and possibly some intervention. That's it. That's your entire role, nothing more.
posted by small_ruminant at 12:19 PM on June 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Just to add my voice to the crowd, DON'T SEND THAT EMAIL! The email makes the situation about you and your feelings. Your feelings are important, but, since you (presumably) are not contemplating suicide, your feelings are at the moment MUCH LESS IMPORTANT than your sibling's. Help him resolve his situation and THEN deal with how it affects you.
posted by cerebus19 at 12:45 PM on June 23, 2010


As much as it doesn't feel like it, this email was a very depressed and ill person asking (in the way that his depression allows him to--not in the most functional way, the way that a healthy person might be asking) for some help. He's giving you a chance to intervene, and it may not come around again if he goes untreated.
posted by so_gracefully at 2:34 PM on June 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


I have had a suicidal sibling. I sent him this article, way back before it was on the Internet. He has finally gone to the VA and gotten great help for serious depression and several other health issues, and is doing fine. He has often thanked me for sending the article. I don't think it saved his life, but it reminded him that he is loved, and that suicide was a bad idea. I've posted this article in Ask.Me a lot. It's one of the single best things I've ever read, and I read a lot.
posted by theora55 at 2:36 PM on June 23, 2010


please get him help - either by his own doing or not. don't let him be part of this statistic for next year.
posted by nadawi at 3:54 PM on June 23, 2010


so, I suggest YOU call the crisislink hotline and a listener can walk you through various options on how to help your sibling. Here's the website: http://crisislink.org/

CrisisLink
1-800-273-TALK
1-800-SUICIDE

You can also provide those numbers to your sibling who may call and talk to a listener who is trained to listen to your sibling.

I would remain calm and neutral toward your sibling - set boundaries but call the hotline to learn how to get him/her the appropriate help.
posted by dmbfan93 at 7:07 PM on June 23, 2010


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