A close friend told me in March that she has had social phobia/anxiety for over 4 years. I was stunned by her revelation. She has always been reserved in general. She is in the medical profession with advanced degrees and is generally a pleasant, but very driven person. She had started some therapy due to becoming physically ill before some meetings, even if she knew the attendees. Since January, she has taken about 30 days of sick time, which isn’t a problem as far as work goes. This is unheard of for her! She travels a great deal with her work and last Saturday started to become unhinged. I drove over an hour to meet her since we now live a couple of hours apart. Saying she was distraught doesn’t do it justice. I literally held her for hours, getting her to a place where she could let it out. This went on all night at a hotel. The next day, she was more herself and we went our separate ways and I felt okay with that. I was prepared to follow her back to her city if need be.
On Monday morning, I get a call from her brother that she has taken scores of Adderall tablets. REALLY? She doesn’t have ADHD that I know of, but the RX had her name on it I’m told. There was a strangely written note and after reading it, I can’t say it’s a traditional suicide note. This is all so out of character and it’s nearly overwhelming. I have healthcare POA for her and she for me along with access to bank accounts and some other account types when she travels. I now have everything business-related under control, but I am now processing my own feelings about what was a very real attempt at ending her life. I feel empathy and love for my close friend, not anger. We have never let each other down. She is done with observation and will go to another place for at least a couple of weeks- by choice. Another first and I’m happy for that. Besides being supportive and meeting with her Psychiatrist soon, is there something I should or shouldn’t do? There was a situation for me in 2001 where I could have given up my survival skills also. It was a specific event that triggered that thought process in me and she helped get me through it. This is far different for her. I just want to be loving, supportive and empathetic, but I’ve never dealt with a suicide attempt of someone close to me. Any suggestions?
Your friend is fortunate to have someone in her life who cares so deeply about her well-being. There are several ways that you can assist your friend in this situation. You could offer to drive her to therapy appointments or attend the first several with her, if she allows or believes that it would be helpful. You could also encourage her to attend a support group for individuals who are experiencing severe anxiety.
Psychoeducation about severe anxiety may help you to better support your friend during this difficult time. The more you know about anxiety the better able you can empathize with her situation.
Finally, being able to empathize, love, care, and support your friend during this difficult time are some of the greatest gifts that you can offer. Focus on providing your emotional support and don’t feel obligated to offer psychological advice. Suicide is a very complex matter that requires the treatment of mental health professionals. Though friends and family mean well, they’re simply not trained to deal with the complexities of mental illness and suicide. I hope this helps. Please take care.
Dr. Kristina Randle