What happens if you try to kill yourself and survive?
She got so depressed that she tried to kill herself. But when she laid down in front of a train to die, she lived.Trigger warning: Descriptions of death and dying, but no images.
People attempt suicide for many reasons. When we know someone is struggling, we try to tell them all the right things.
But what does the field of suicidology have to say about what reduces suicide?
When the World Health Organization and the Associated Press Managing Editors Association wanted to know how they should talk about newsworthy suicides, David Phillips, a suicidologist at the University of California told them this:
"Think of a suicide story as a kind of commercial. If you make the product attractive, people will want it. But if you say, 'By the way, when a person kills himself, let's say by shooting he looks terrible afterwards.' Or 'When a person poisons himself, he often fouls the bed sheets.' If you talk about the pain and the disfigurement then I thought that would make it less likely that people would be copying the suicide."
The research around negative public portrayals of suicide support this notion. When people talk about suicide in a positive light, people are more likely to attempt suicide. When people talk about suicide in a negative light, people are less like to attempt suicide.
Another suicidologist, Thomas Niederkrotenthaler, says mentioning helplines and telling stories of people who find another way out of their problems can help reduce suicidality in others.
So let's do all of those.
The CDC reports that for every completed suicide, there are 25 failed attempts.
Many of these people (487,700 of them in 2011) end up in the emergency room, seriously injured. Sometimes they recover, but often their bodies are permanently damaged — which is what happened to Helen Galsworthy.
"When I woke up in hospital, my mum was next to me and I said to her, 'I've lost my legs, haven't I?' And she said, 'Yes.'"
Helen lost her legs in her suicide attempt, but she's made a great recovery both emotionally and physically. That's wonderful, but surely it would have been better if she'd been able to get effective help before her attempt — we could have lost her forever.
But it could have been much worse.
Surviving an attempted poisoning with carbon monoxide, chemicals, or prescription medications can permanently damage the brain, heart, esophagus, stomach, intestines, or kidneys. Surviving a long fall can result in disfigurement, internal organ damage, shattered bones, or paralysis.
Surviving a shot from a firearm can result in brain damage or paralysis. Or worse, a person may survive only long enough to feel pain and regret, but not long enough to be saved.
Kevin Briggs is a retired California Highway Patrol officer whose beat included the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge, one of the most popular places in the world for suicide attempts.
In his 23 years of service, he responded to countless reports of suicidal citizens on the bridge. Here's what he has to say:
If someone you know is struggling, be a compassionate support for them and don't be afraid to show them what can happen if they try to take their lives.
If you are struggling, seek help. Suicide is messy and potentially permanent. Recovery can also be messy, but it too can be permanent.