Here are three stories from my diaries of long ago. I’ve changed the names.
Simon had popped a packet of Paracetamol and a few mouthfuls of vodka when he realised that he didn’t really want to die and phoned for an ambulance. What was he thinking… what was going on in his head?
A cry for help or just attention seeking?
Sharon didn’t want to have to talk to her parents, so she usually avoided breakfast. But that morning, her mam caught a glimpse of a red line on her forearm. She pulled her daughter’s sleeve back to reveal a dozen or so red slashes across her wrist. She had been cutting herself!
What was Sharon up to, just trying to get some attention?
When we come across people with a mental health problem we sometimes wonder how genuine they are, and I have often heard myself say, “Oh don’t worry, they are just attention seeking”. It’s a dangerous little phrase, that one.
Even if it’s true, we don’t know for sure and shouldn’t see it as an excuse for not doing everything we can to help. Here’s my third story.
Suzanne had two teenage daughters and they were worried about her. I popped in to see her a few times and she was depressed yet seemed to be coping. But one day after walking the kids to school one of her daughters ran out of the house and grabbed me, ‘Mum’s done something silly’, she said.
Mum had taken enough tablets to lose consciousness and stop breathing; she needed CPR until the ambulance arrived. Suzanne recovered though and we all assumed that it was a ‘cry for help’ that had gone too far. Only a few weeks before she had taken a small overdose of pills and recovered, so that seemed to confirm our conclusion.
About two months later, when her street was deserted and the house empty, Sharon took enough pills to ensure that she never regained consciousness. I was thunderstruck to realise that her previous attempts were not ‘attention seeking’ or ‘cries for help’ but rehearsals.
Attention seeking, a cry for help, or a rehearsal? None of us can judge what is really going on, can we? So let’s not jump to conclusions and be proactive when someone needs our support.
Of course, some people are just seeking attention. I do sometimes; it’s just that some go to strange lengths to get it. When that happens we should give our friends what they need – the best of our attention – and leave our judgements to one side.