Editorial Notebook

Matters of life and death: every bit helps

I remember reading a story about a man named Kevin Hines. In September of 2000, he, a 19 year old college student, dropped all his classes and took a bus to the Golden Gate Bridge, crying hysterically all the way. He planned to kill himself.

But he made a pact with himself: If one person came up to him and asked him, “Are you okay?” or some variation, he would not jump. As it turned out, things panned out far worse than he’d hoped. The bus driver angrily told him to get off, seemingly oblivious to his anguish. Then, he spent the next 40 minutes on the edge of the bridge, still crying, trying desperately to calm himself down, to convince himself he needed to live. No one took notice.

Eventually, a woman approached him, but instead of asking if he needed help, she asked him if he could take some pictures for her. Frustrated, he decided that this was the last straw and jumped a few minutes later. Miraculously, he survived with no permanent injuries. Today he—a mental health advocate—tells his story and works towards the goal of reducing suicide.

I’m not a paragon of niceness. I don’t think my life has helped all that many people. But I can remember one instance this year.  A while ago, someone from Quora (a Q&A and social media site) reached out to me and asked for help. I don’t remember her name, just that she was a college freshman, an international student from India struggling with depression. She talked a bit about what she was going through then I did what I had to.

I told her that everything would be fine, and that she’d demonstrated commendable initiative by reaching out to me. With a lack of real-life contact though, I told her there wasn’t much that I could do except give advice. I urged her to use her school’s counseling and medical services—voicing the anguish inside of you and taking some medicine can go a long way. Or maybe it won’t. It took me almost a year to find medicine that worked for me. Despite my insistence on going to counseling, I haven’t done it myself. But I’ve heard that it’s worked wonders for other people. And I told her to reach out to a friend she trusts, even though I failed to do just that a year ago.

Perhaps I’m a hypocrite for that; for giving out advice that I struggled and failed to follow, and for not practicing what I preached. But that’s my problem to fix. As for her, I hope that everything turns out amazing and that she ends up with a bright and happy future. And I hope that I, an internet stranger, helped, even if it was just a little.

Most of all though, I hope that she doesn’t make the same mistakes I did.

I have my own story. In August 2017, I planned to kill myself late at night on a very specific day. Long story short, the day was horrendous. I tried to avoid interacting with anyone, but every single person I did end up interacting with, with the exception of one, was a jerk.

But it was the “exception” that stopped me—that saved my life. She didn’t do anything remarkable, but she sat beside me and tried to make friendly conversation a few times throughout the day, even though we were only friends for a few weeks.

I tried my best to act uninterested. If this was truly the last day I’d be alive, I didn’t want her to feel responsible for my death. Maybe she did notice something was wrong with me that day, which is why she acted even more friendly than usual, but regardless, I didn’t have the heart to hang myself that night. Her voice, burned into my head, was all I could think of. That same night I also went on this website called 7Cups and talked to two separate people. I’d never done this before and was scared, but, without telling them I was going to kill myself, I shared my struggles with them and they helped me calm down.

Those three people. My friend, and the two anonymous people online, saved my life. One did so by just being a good friend. The others did so by volunteering (they don’t get paid for this). Neither of them knew how much pain I was in but they helped me more than they’ll ever realize and if I could see them today, I’d thank them.

You don’t have to do much. It might just take a smile to help a depressed person. It might just take an “Are you okay?” to stop a suicidal teen from killing themselves and you can be the one to say it.

These suicide hotlines, these articles (including this one), this push for niceness and compassion might look weird to someone who’s never experienced the unrelenting brutality of depression. But from the perspective of someone who has, they work. They can mean the difference between life and death for someone.

Every bit helps.