Paying attention: it could save a life

There are less than four weeks left in the semester. Large assignments are coming due, time is ticking down and pressures are mounting. As a respected professor of mine recently said, this is the point in the semester when students start to break.

At this point in the semester, it’s likely that we have all engrained ourselves into our routines. We probably see the same people around the same time on the same days of the week: classmates, roommates, coworkers, members of our ward. That being said, hopefully we’ve started to notice the people that move in our spheres along with their patterns.

Has one of your classmates suddenly dropped off the face of the earth? Has the person that sits in front of you at church stopped coming?

Have you stopped hearing from someone you used to talk to regularly with no apparent reason?

Is a roommate sleeping much more than usual?

Have a friend’s eating habits recently changed?

Do they smile less than they used to?

Do you just have a gut feeling that something is wrong with someone you care about, but you convince yourself they’re fine and that you’re just being overly concerned?

Be overly concerned. It could save a life.

Ask questions. Reach out.

I have not been personally touched by suicide in the life of someone around me, but I’ve heard too many stories of people who wish they had noticed or spoken up sooner.

While it’s true that no one is responsible for the actions of another, we are each supposed to be our brother’s keeper.

We are rapidly approaching finals week, but I bet, for some students, that is not their biggest concern.

I bet someone is brokenhearted. I bet someone has suffered a loss. I bet someone feels trapped or isolated. I bet someone feels irredeemably broken.

While finals are important, they’ve probably been pushed out of the minds of some due to something deeper.

Perhaps this isn’t just affecting finals for some but has impacted their entire semester. Maybe they’ve been carrying this weight for a while.

So what can we do to help those around us who are struggling? How can we “lift up the hands which hang down and strengthen the feeble knees”?

There are no simple answers to those questions.

In my short years, I’ve learned that people are made uncomfortable by the suffering of other people. This sometimes leads people, subconsciously, to try to ease their own discomfort instead of the person who is suffering.

In their well-intentioned effort to be helpful, people offer such wisdom as “Hang in there” or “Things will get better,” as if this kernel of knowledge is new information and will miraculously show the suffering individual that there is a silver lining to life. These kinds of overused tropes seem to do more to comfort the comforter than the one suffering.

To be truly helpful and supportive, find out what the person needs in order to feel supported. It may take time, and it may be uncomfortable. Sometimes, the best consolation you can offer is the sacrifice of your time and comfort.

I’m sure this is not breaking news, but life is hard for everyone, and we all cope with life’s difficulties differently.

The best thing we can do for each other in times of difficulty is to be kind, be patient and be aware of those around us.

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