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Drama Mamas: Suicide threats

Dodge the drama and become that player everyone wants in their group with the Drama Mamas. Lisa Poisso and Robin Torres are real-life mamas and experienced WoW players -- and just as we don't want our precious babies to be the ones kicking and wailing on the floor of checkout lane next to the candy, neither do we want you to become known as That Guy on your server. We're taking your questions at DramaMamas (at) WoW (dot) com.

Warning: This week's topic is very much on the serious side and has nothing to do with WoW except that it occurs in-game a lot. Because it brings up some sensitive subjects and is very close to home for me (as you will see), I may be very heavy-handed with the moderating. I would appreciate it if you kept all of the comments constructive and non-trollish so I don't have to. Making fun of me, Robin, is ok though. I'm already laughing at me, so you can only laugh with me.

Drama Mamas, I recently went to ToC5 with my RL friend, and in the party there was a mage. A very chatty mage. I humored him and chatted away. Today the guy whispered me and talked about wanting to do some instances etc.. Nothing out of the ordinary, I guess. I think he said something about not having any friends as well. But later the same day, he started talking to me about how he hates his life because he has no friends, and his girlfriend just broke up with him.. He actually started talking about wanting to kill himself.

I've talked to the guy for maybe 15 minutes total (except for that one quick instance run), and he's spilling his guts to me..

It seemed legit, so I talked to him and tried to explain that there is always a light at the end of the tunnel as long as you keep your eyes open. He didn't share the same view. Apparently, the guy has no friends at all in real life, and his girlfriend dumped him because she fell in love with someone else. Anyone can agree: that sucks. It really does.

I really have no idea how to handle that sort of situation, so I tried advising him to talk to some friends, or maybe a relative or something. But he really didn't want to see it that way. He's done at school in about a year, and after that he can move wherever he wants and start with a clear slate.

The reason I'm writing you is that I want to know what would be the appropriate thing to do -- if you think I handled it OK. I don't want the suicide of some teen i don't even know on my conscience. So I tried to help him to the best of my abilities. I'm sitting here with mixed feelings. I'm not a psychiatrist. Should I be giving this guy advice at all? All I tried to do was to cheer him up... didn't really work though. Signed, Nameless Rogue


Drama Mama Robin: I wish I could say that yours is an unusual situation, but unfortunately this kind of thing happens all too often. Whether bipolar, clinically depressed or just going through an extreme angsty phase, people of all ages will go online to seek the comfort of real people, without having to get dressed and leave the house. These Depressios find it easy to talk to friendly people on the internet, but you can imagine how hard it is to broach the subject of suicide to a total stranger face to face in a coffee shop. Just like online cheating, mentally ill people (either temporarily or suffering from a permanent disorder) have gone online for support during their rough times. Since the beginning of college message boards decades ago, people have been chatting up total strangers with the goal of sucking them into their own drama.

Let me be clear: Suicide is selfish. Suicidal threats are selfish and manipulative and actually carrying it out is extremely selfish. These people who off themselves by getting hit by trains are the most egregious. They mentally scar the train driver at minimum and kill many other people in the worst case scenario. But those who just quietly kill themselves in seclusion still harm other people. Let's say they really don't have people who care about them (so often not true), there are still the people who discover them and the people who have to remove their corpses. Look at what happened when Andrew Koenig hung himself. His friends and family had the whole world looking for him for days, asking people for help via everything from Twitter to more traditional publications. The real tragedy there was all of the living people hurt by his choosing to end his life.

Do I sound harsh? I'm going to out myself here. I am bipolar. I've been going through cycles of severe depression for almost as long as I can remember. For me, it's like everything I have ever done wrong, every person I have ever hurt, every embarrassing moment -- they all come knocking at the door, reminding me of every incident. It is beyond overwhelming. The only thing that kept me from ending it all at certain points was that I had two cats who I didn't feel had anywhere to go if I abandoned them like that. So believe me when I say I can relate to a truly suicidal person.

I'll pretend to speak to Chatty Mage for a moment. It's part of the illness to make mountains out of molehills and feel like nobody loves you. Also, your friends and family come with baggage that may have to be dealt with if you go to them for help. You also may not want to burden them with your troubles -- they may have enough issues to deal with in their own lives. But that doesn't mean you have the right to put such a serious burden on a total stranger who was nice enough to converse with you online. Yes, if you go an official route, like you're supposed to do, then the authorities get in on things making life afterward even more complicated. I understand that too. But not only do you seriously affect these kind strangers you confess your troubles to, they are not qualified to help you. Neither are your guildies. Of course they don't want you to hurt yourself. You count on that when you talk to them. You use their compassion against them, pulling them into your anguish and causing them to not be able to enjoy their own lives as much. You need help. It's good that you know that. If you have insurance, get yourself to a psychiatrist ASAP. If you don't, get yourself to a mental health clinic. If there isn't one nearby or you can't bring yourself to go somewhere, call a helpline like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you're not really suicidal, but just want this kind stranger to take your woes seriously, then please seek professional help anyway.

Nameless, most tips for helping suicidal people are meant for actual friends and family of the Depressios -- not total strangers who have no physical access to them. Here are some tips to help you, as an online acquaintance, deal with Chatty Mage and others like him:
  • Take the suicidal person seriously: Even if you think Chatty Mage is just seeking attention, he still needs help of some kind. So treat the threat as a serious cry for help and talk to him accordingly, as it seems you did.
  • Remain calm: Yes, take him seriously, but don't be alarmist. If he's really at risk, he needs to remain calm himself and not react to your reaction. Again, you seem to have done this.
  • Don't offer solutions to the problems he relates to you. He doesn't really want the kind of solutions you can offer him. Your solutions are correct. Your outlook is right. But he needs help getting to the point where he can actually act. If he is truly depressed, action toward fixing things may not be physically possible for him. It will just add to the to do list that is already weighing him down. I'm sure he appreciated the sentiment behind your suggestions, Nameless, so don't feel like you harmed him. But unfortunately, you didn't help him either.
  • Ask him about his professional help options. Professional help is the only solution you should offer and he needs to do it. He needs to see a psychiatrist. He or she will refer him to any other resources as necessary, but only a psychiatrist is qualified for proper diagnosis and prescribing medications, at least in the U.S. If he has insurance, he may still need to jump through bureaucratic hoops to have access to behavioral healthcare. So you can offer to help with that part of it, but only if you really want to take the time to help him. And it's very OK if you don't.
  • If he seems serious about ending his life, contact a GM. Unfortunately, GMs have to do this a lot. They can track down the location of Chatty Mage and call the local authorities to come and help him. Don't tell Chatty Mage you are doing it. And don't worry about bothering people and being wrong about his commitment to ending his life. Better to err on the side of helping him and if it was a fake threat, the hubbub will hopefully deter him from doing it again. Note: If you put "suicide threat" in the subject of your GM ticket, it will be moved to the top of the queue and acted upon almost immediately.
  • Remove yourself from the situation. This is the hardest part of the whole experience. If you just put him on /ignore or ask him to leave you alone, you will feel guilty and worry that you were the "final straw." But you aren't responsible for his actions, no matter what he does. So say something like this to him: "I am not at all qualified to help you myself, but I really want you to get help. After you've started seeing someone professionally, send me a tell and we'll do some instances. I gotta go now, but I hope to hear from you soon. Good luck!" and then log off.
  • Make yourself scarce for a few days. This sucks, but it's for the best all around. He'll either get help or go off and find another victim or both. But stay off of the character he knows as much as possible for a while so that you don't have to deal with him trying to suck you into his drama some more.
I really hope he gets help and that you can enjoy the game on your own terms again. /hug

Drama Mama Lisa: These are all sound resources and solid suggestions. I wouldn't add a thing beyond reiterating Robin's closing idea and urging you not to let yourself be sucked back into the mage's swirl of emotions. You're not responsible for being his sounding board or his soapbox. Use extreme caution replying to any additional whispers from him. You were right to be concerned, and now you're armed with more ideas and resources to respond even more effectively should this happen again.

Thanks for being a living, breathing, caring member of the WoW community. Keep it real.


Remember, your mama wouldn't want to see your name on any drama. Play nice ... and when in doubt, ask the Drama Mamas at DramaMamas (at) WoW (dot) com.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Drama Mamas

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