Right then, we needed someone to listen
I was a senior in high school when a friend asked me what I was doing after school. I told him I was heading to work, as usual. He told me his family was all going to be gone when he got home and he was going to use his dad’s gun to kill himself.
He said he was worried a sibling would find him, and he wanted to know what I thought.
I was stunned.
First, I would never have guessed that this particular person — I’ll call him Davis because I don’t know anyone by that first name — was depressed or suicidal. As far as I could tell, everything that could go right for someone was going right for him.
Second, why was he asking me? Did he think I would suggest a “better” place to commit suicide than his home, or a “better” plan? Or was he hoping I’d talk him out of it?
I know I thought that if I didn’t say something, do something, I would be responsible for Davis’ death by letting it happen. I didn’t ask him why he was depressed. I didn’t call him selfish or blow it off. I asked him not to do it. I asked him to reconsider. He obviously loved his family — he told me he didn’t want them to think it was their fault.
I offered to take off work and sit with Davis so he wouldn’t be alone, but he said no. I asked him to promise me he’d call me before he made up his mind to do something that would end his life. He promised he would. Since this was before the days of cell phones and we didn’t have an answering machine, I hoped he really would wait to talk to me.
I went to work and Davis went home. I was so relieved to see him the next day and we never spoke of it again.
I regret that I didn’t tell someone else, though. I should have told my mom or dad. They would have known better how to help him, or who to talk to about it. Thankfully, God kept him from going through with his original plan.
As a freshman in college, an acquaintance I’ll call Max met me in the stairwell of our dorm one Saturday. He was always very talkative and this day was no different, but something was “off.”
Max told me he was very depressed, that nothing in his life was going right — at home, school or anywhere else — and that he was planning to kill himself that night. He just hadn’t decided how yet.
We sat down on the concrete steps and I asked him to talk to me. For over an hour he talked and I listened, and I prayed silently. I prayed a lot — God help me keep my mouth shut instead of saying something wrong. If I say anything, make it what he needs to hear.
Thank God, Max is still around. I got a friend request from him on social media not long ago.
I don’t know why these guys came to me. Truth is, we were never that close. We haven’t kept up with each other over the years much, either. But I’m glad they didn’t make permanent decisions to end their lives. I’m glad I never made that choice, either. But it wasn’t because I didn’t want “out” at times.
I’ve had good friends, family and even strangers who listened, who said the right thing at the right time even when they had no idea what I was going through and when my face was not the face of depression or despair.
This is Suicide Prevention Week, in Suicide Prevention Month.
Mental health issues have been covered up by a blanket of shame for far too long. Make a difference for someone. Be encouraging and helpful to everyone. You never know who’s going through what.
And look for help if you need it. Someone will listen, I promise.
Davis is still alive. Max is still alive.
And so am I.
Lifestyles editor Brett Campbell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Conservative newspaper columnist George Will is a magnificent political observer and a marvelous writer. Whether it’s politics or baseball, Will’s... read more