There’s a lot of well-intentioned “Be There” rhetoric floating around Facebook this morning in the wake of Robin Williams’ tragic suicide. And while I agree with the overall message – surely it’s better to be there for a suicidal person than to not be there – I must admit that the oversimplification and (at times) implied shaming is getting under my skin a little. Like everything else you see on Facebook, there’s a lot more nuance to it than that.
So, yes, I feel the need to add my voice to the “be there” chorus. Yes, by all means BE THERE.
Be there…with reasonable expectations. Know that you cannot single-handedly cure someone’s depression. Don’t get discouraged or frustrated with them when your mere presence doesn’t magically make them sunny.
Be there…with small, good things every day. It doesn’t have to be grandiose stay-up-all-night gestures all the time. Bring them a coffee. Invite them to a movie or a walk on the beach. Send them a link to funny cat videos.
Be there…and know that sometimes “Oh man, that really sucks!” is a more loving thing to say than “Cheer up! It’s not so bad!”
Be there…and understand that while you may have disappointed this person many times over the years, you did not make them depressed. This is not your fault. Depression doesn’t work that way. It just doesn’t.
Be there…as quiet or loud as they need you to be. Someone might really want to hear lots of advice and affirmations. Someone else might just need to vent and needs you to listen without judgment. And someone else might really just need a distraction. Not sure how to proceed? It’s okay to ask or offer a choice. “Do you want to talk about it or do you want help taking your mind off it? Do you want advice, or do you need me to just listen?”
Be there…if they actually want you there. It’s okay to give them space. Just check in and make sure that’s what they actually do want.
Be there…but recognize that someone else’s depression doesn’t necessarily trump your own. Take care of yourself, too. Even if you don’t suffer from depression yourself, it can be incredibly helpful to check in with your own therapist for advice and support.
Be there…to the extent that you are truly able. Understand that there are circumstances under which it’s just as heroic to call 911 or ask another friend or family member to step in.
Be there…on your own terms. It has to be said: You don’t owe anyone your body against your wishes. You can’t screw anyone back to health. All jokes aside, I’m willing to bet that getting laid has probably never stopped a suicidal person from committing suicide.
Many abusers (maybe most; the data isn't clear) threaten suicide at some point. A suicide threat is not a license to abuse someone and still make them stay, any more than it's a license not to pay a bill, or a license to get out of a lawsuit, or a license not to be prosecuted for a criminal offense, or anything like that.
Hell. To. The. YES. If you fear for your own safety, or if you’re just exhausted and broken from constant emotional and/or verbal abuse, you can leave. Call 911 if you’re worried he’s going to attempt suicide after you leave. Call mutual friends or family members and ask them to step in for you. An abuser’s depression does not trump your safety and well being. Under any circumstances. Ever.
And that’s my two cents on the whole “being there” thing. For some really helpful background info on depression, nothing says it better than Hyperbole and a Half’s excellent story from a few years back. Here, read it again.