“What’s the best thing to say to someone when they tell you they are having suicidal thoughts?”
This is the most asked question I receive from adults when I run my mental health training courses.
My background is dance and drama and my adult courses support education programs that facilitate theatre arts experiences for disadvantaged children and young adults in WA.
Our young people are faced with confusing emotions and challenges in their lives every day; the Arts are a powerful means of self-expression and development, used to help young people explore their emotions, develop self-awareness, cope with stress, boost self-esteem, and work on social skills.
“Can we hug the person who is sad?”
That’s the most asked question I receive from the young people I work with on these programs.
I have travelled a lot (remember travel?); I have worked in Africa and the UK, as well as all over Australia.
Over the last few years, I have spent a lot of time in regional and remote communities, both teaching and learning from people.
I have found the children I teach always teach me so much.
They are kind and they are good listeners.
Somehow, they know that it’s okay not to fill each gap with ‘talk’.
They unreservedly offer a hug… sometimes multiple hugs!
When children express some sad or confusing part of their life, they always take a moment to reflect on what is being said by someone (often without it actually being spoken) before they react (often with a hug).
And this is where I think as adults, we could learn so much from our wonderful young people.
Just take a moment.
We all have an awful lot going on in our lives.
We seem to be busier than ever but with nowhere to really go.
We have ageing parents, young children, animals to care for.
We try and juggle work and housework with their needs, and then realise that we are running on empty ourselves.
When we feel low, that is often where the cycle starts.
The “what-can-I-do-to-make-myself-feel-better” thing comes tumbling in and we don’t always make good choices when it comes to making ourselves feel less tired, less lonely, less unhappy.
When we self-medicate (with food, alcohol, work, internet…) it often leads to feeling worse and the cycle can quickly spiral out of control.
As adults, we like to fix things… and sometimes people (my husband would win first prize at this!).
While it’s reassuring that we care for one another so much that we actually want to fix them, people aren’t really broken and don’t need others to repair them.
What we all need is someone to listen, to show us kindness and to walk alongside us when we need extra support.
This is where we can step up as a community and be aware of one another.
Look out for or check in on people around us.
Notice one another.
Mindful Margaret River is encouraging us to do more of this.
Encouraging us to connect.
There are services on their website that are local.
Services and information to help with that “awful lot going on in our lives” thing.
I am so proud to be a part of the team at MMR; community members that want to make a difference.
And back to that earlier question: “What’s the best thing to say to someone when they tell you they are having suicidal thoughts?”
There’s no best thing.
You validate their feelings; you encourage them to get professional help.
You may go with them to seek immediate help if they need it.
But know this, by listening to someone properly without trying to fix them – and taking a moment – is the best piece of advice that I have learnt from the children I have taught over many years.
You might even offer a hug.
Mindful Margaret River is an alliance of mental wellbeing professionals, government agencies and community members aimed at promoting health and wellbeing in the AMR Shire. Mindful Margaret River is funded by Lotterywest and supported by the Shire of Augusta Margaret River. Find out more on our website mindfulmargarteriver.org.au and follow us on Facebook.
First published in the Augusta Margaret River Mail 10 March 2022