Comforting isn’t mentioned very much. But it has powerful effects on people.
There is even a theory of comfort which has been used with people at the end of life. Interestingly, people contemplating suicide are at a self defined end of life, so I wonder if the theory would work here?
What I’m not sure about is how people determine what is comforting when they perceive that they don’t, won’t, or can’t belong where they wish.
For me, it is about someone else’s deliberate and voluntary – as opposed to accidental and incidental- presence. It includes touching – a pat on the arm or shoulder or reaching out and holding my hand. It is sustained touch – not an air kiss and a phony hug. It is action and not words. It is especially not a phony, “is there anything I can do?” question which puts all of the support responsibility on me. Of course, I always declined because that is the intended and correct response to that question.
But that comfort is totally out of reach for me. I only imagine what is comforting, because I’ve never received it in my lifetime. No one voluntarily interacts with me on any basis – except a slumlord who is harassing me in an to force me to move so he doesn’t have to make repairs to this falling apart attic oven. No phone calls except robo appointment reminders. No personal mail or email. No face to face meetings.
What happens when a person presents at an emergency room for help with suicidality? First, he is placed in a locked environment no different than a prison. Usually an untrained worker is assigned to continually observe, but not interact with, the distressed person. A variety of people – a social worker, a nurse, a physician or physician’s assistant, and students all may ask a battery of questions and become annoyed, angry and retaliatory when the distressed person can’t answer to their satisfaction. At no point does the person receive comforting, reassurance or care. Confinement, intense and intrusive scrutiny and the probability of being forcibly medicated, restrained and contained while being denied civil rights, basic humanity, respect and worth are what the distressed person faces. That’s the state of the art treatment for suicidal people.
Not only does this not help to de-escalate suicidality, it reinforces isolation, of being deemed the defective and unwanted “other”, and it intensifies despair. It is cruel punishment, and it is not right.
What’s comforting when one is experiencing thwarted belongingness? I can only imagine.