I read a post by Giving Voice to Depression about the phrase “a cry for help,” and it got me thinking. The phrase itself should be a benign request for assistance, with no judgement tacked on whatsoever, but that’s not the case. It has this pitiable sense, as if we are to automatically feel bad for someone asking for help. Stigma has coopted the phrase to the point where a lot of people say “cry for help” with a dismissive, even patronizing affect. To me, a “cry for help” is just the manifestation of a person’s pain in whatever way they know how to express themselves at the moment, which often isn’t in words. When your head is all scrambled up from mental illness, it can be nigh on impossible to express yourself sensibly. Sometimes a half-hearted attempt at suicide is the only way one knows to get the medical attention one needs. You’ve simply forgotten how to say the words.
This post contains some potentially triggering self-harm and suicidal imagery.
As someone with Borderline personality disorder, I am used to a people being fairly dismissive of my behaviors as “cries for help.” I used to self-harm a lot and all my friends knew about it. I have scars on my hands and my arm that are deep and puckered, white and pink and permanent. Self-harm in particularly is often judged as simply a “cry for help” and not the result of desperate psychic pain, which they always were for me. I never once cut myself so that I could get attention from another person. It was always a desire to hurt myself, for one reason or another. Maybe subconsciously it was a way to show how much I hurt, but it was never a conscious choice for the attention of others.
The first time I overdosed I did so badly because I didn’t know how much of anything would kill me and though I was massively depressed, I wasn’t positive I wanted to do. I just didn’t want to feel the way I was feeling any more. In a sense that attempt was a cry for help because I needed assistance but I didn’t know what to say to ask for it. All I knew was to take out my pain on myself, or take myself out so that I wouldn’t be in pain any longer. This was a message to the world that I wasn’t OK, that something needed to change, and I needed help. I got help, though it was a traumatizing experience. I blame myself too because I could have gone to the nicer hospital right next to my house, but no, I was too stuffy and worried about being judged for going there since we’d been making fun of it my whole childhood and adolescence to that point. I accept now that it was mix of factors that got me there and it’s not my fault, per se, but I still regret that I was so close-minded. Granted I was only 14 and self-image is very important at that age, but still.
I know that when I was feeling kind of crazy I would tell people about what was going on in my head so that they would listen to me attentively, and maybe worry enough to take care of me. I don’t know if those behaviors count as cries for help or simply asking for help without saying, “Help me.” Regardless, the fact that “cry for help” has such negative connotations is a true detriment to our acceptance of mental illness and hinders the accessibility of help for those in need. Why not consider a “cry for help” as a cry for help. If someone were drowning and cried out for help, you would throw them a life jacket without thinking, “Oh, they just want attention.” Yes, they want attention because they’re drowning
People who attempt suicide are not doing so for the fun of it. There is a serious message behind these actions and we are remiss if we do not listen. I know those of you with BPD will understand what I mean. I hope the rest of you do too.