It’s Not Enough to Just Tell Someone to “Reach Out”

CN/TW: discussion of depression and other mental health conditions, suicide and prevention; mentions of police brutality, institutionalization/hospitalization, ableism and sanism

September is Suicide Prevention Month, and September 10th is Suicide Prevention Day.  I hear this solution to the problem all the time (and you’ve probably heard it too): if you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, reach out to someone.

The problem with this is that it’s often not enough for many people to reach out to someone.  There are many barriers that prevent people from doing so.

One of those barriers is that there aren’t enough adequate mental health resources available, especially in low-income communities and communities of color, so the first thing that people think of when someone is in a crisis is to call the police.

That can create more problems because the police aren’t properly trained to help someone who’s having a mental health crisis—police are trained to tase or even kill a person if they feel that said person is being unsafe.

Case in point: former ER actress Vanessa Marquez—she was recently shot and killed in her home by police after having a crisis.  Kayden Clarke, an autistic transgender man from Arizona, was also killed by police in his home while he was in crisis.  In both Marquez’s and Clarke’s cases, the police were called to their homes.

Another thing that keeps suicidal people from reaching out is if you call a suicide hotline and you tell people that you want to kill yourself, they will refer you to the nearest hospital with a psychiatric ward or the nearest psychiatric institution, and that can be very traumatizing in itself.

First of all, psych wards in hospitals are often filled to capacity upon arrival to the emergency room—many times there aren’t any beds available.  Sometimes a patient will have to wait hours, days or even more than a week to get a bed.  In the meantime, they become very distressed, sometimes even more so than when they arrived at the emergency room.

And being admitted to the hospital can be very traumatizing too because oftentimes there are not a lot of things to do while staying in the psych ward or hospital, so patients are often under-stimulated, adding even more distress.

There needs to be better mental health services in all communities, especially late at night because that’s when these crises happen the most. Perhaps a 24-hour mobile crisis unit in every jurisdiction, where a mental health professional can talk to the person in crisis so they won’t have to go to the hospital.

Telling someone to reach out isn’t enough. We as a society have to make people want to reach out.