Published 8:00 am Thursday, September 1, 2022
NOTE: The following column talks about suicide and prevention.
We sat side-by-side on the steps in the stairwell at Southern Miss. The dorm was virtually empty that weekend, so we were not worried about our conversation being interrupted.
He told me he wanted to kill himself. He wasn’t sure how, when or where, but he knew he wanted to end his life. He was depressed. He couldn’t think of anything worth living for, nothing worth putting his hope in for this life. So why not end it and be done with it all?
I sat there staring at my clasped hands in my lap. I had no idea what to say.
I remember wondering why he was telling me this. We knew each other and were friends in the same way anyone who greets each other in the hallway and classroom were friends, but we didn’t really know each other all that well.
I remember asking God why people seemed to seek me out to talk about stuff like this. I didn’t have the answers. I was just as messed up as they were. My depression, anxiety and ADHD kept me so muddled mentally I didn’t know what day it was most of the time. I wasn’t making the progress in my life I wanted to be making. Why were they asking me for advice? Or were they? Maybe they just knew I would quietly listen.
We just sat in silence for what seemed like a long time, we two 18-year-old clueless students.
Because I felt like I had to say something — afraid that my silence would be agreement that he should take his life — I told him I didn’t think that was a good idea. He asked me why.
So I told him a story.
I told him about another person I had known at school, someone I’ll call JW. JW seemed really sad in class one morning, so when it was just the two of us I asked him what was up.
“I was going to kill myself last night,” he said.
He told me he had sat at his dad’s desk, with the loaded double-barrel shotgun lying across it. He had written a letter and was about to put the end of the weapon in his mouth, but suddenly decided not to. He didn’t want his younger brother to be the one who found him. So he unloaded the gun and locked it away. He tore up the letter and he went to bed.
I told him how relieved I was that he didn’t go through with it. He asked me why — we weren’t even close friends. I said because his life mattered, to God, to his family … to his little brother. I asked him — no, I begged him — not to do anything harmful to himself without first talking to me face-to-face about it. He promised, and he kept that promise.
That was the end of my story. The friend sitting to my right on the stairwell didn’t say anything, and I didn’t say anything else.
Finally, he said, “Thanks.” And he stood up and walked down the steps and out the door. I was so relieved when I saw him the next day and he thanked me for the encouragement I gave him in the stairwell.
All I did was tell him — indirectly, even — that his life mattered. To God and to others. I’m glad he listened.
September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide or self-harm, please call the new 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. Trained counselors would love to talk with you, or just listen.
I ask you — I beg you — not to do anything harmful without talking to them first.
Because you matter.
Brett Campbell can be reached at email@example.com.