Reflecting on our Suicide Scale

The Emmengard Suicide Scale has been going routinely viral, and as a result we have had the chance to talk with various people about it in the comments section, which has been really wonderful. We appreciate the opportunity to talk to people about the scale and how they have been able to use it to help themselves and the people they care about. It has also given us time to reflect on the scale. So we thought we would answer some of those questions people have asked us, and clarify some of our own criticisms of the scale. [ Yes, I know we made it, but we also know it is not perfect, nothing is. It is okay to be critical of the scale. In fact, we encourage it.]

The origin of the scale

As to how we came up with it, it started years ago as a sort of shorthand with our best friend. I honestly am not sure which Emmengardian thought of the idea, but it was a very good and necessary one. Our best friend is autistic and when she is distressed she sometimes struggles to find her words. We too will sometimes lose our words, depending on who is triggered to the front in a crisis. 

We used the scale to help communicate our safety needs back and forth for years and it helped both her and us get through some really thought times together. 

When we lost a friend to suicide she and us regretted that we had not talked more openly with our broader friend group about the things we struggled with. We knew if we had, there was a chance we would not have lost a friend. 

So we, Emmengard (our best friend has no artistic talent), started illustrating the shorthand we had been using for years. Ariadne researched scales of suicide ideation that psychiatric professionals use with clients, and added some of the symptoms to the scales to try to make it a little clearer and hopefully more universal, as people experience suicidality differently and we didn’t have all the things the psychiatric scales mention in our original shorthand. It was more we knew what a number meant for our best friend and she knew what a number meant for us. After getting the wording settled Finna started illustrating the scale. Because she started the illustrations she sort of set the style that other Emmengardians used to help finish the scale. 

Criticisms of the scale

Once it was finished we started sharing it with our friends and it was posted on Reddit somewhere. And from there it was reposted a lot, and some of those reposts went viral in a way we really did not expect. 

People often take issue with the first couple panels and the false dichotomy or happiness and suicidality, and they are absolutely correct in their criticism. We did those first couple panels a bit tongue in cheek. We were drawing them days after loosing a friend, and honestly we were just trying to get our best friend to smile, because she was a lot closer to him than we were, and our best friend has a really weird campy yet morbid sense of humor. 

She has always struggled with suicidal thoughts. And she still does. We do too, but not as consistently as she does.  Even in the shorthand we always made 1 ridiculous and unattainable. It was a small morbid joke between us about how no one can really be that happy. Even though we knew they could. We knew there were people who had never once had a thought of killing themselves. But it was a little too sad to face that reality as people who struggled as we did. 

When the scale went viral, it became quite hard to explain to the myriad of people who found the scale that the tone was a little tongue and cheek, an almost sort of gallows humor shared between people who struggled with suicidal thoughts daily. 

The truth is, we were very much influenced in our tone for the scale by Allie Brosh’s comic “Hyperbole and a Half” and especially her “A better pain scale.” It is a favorite between us and our best friend. She actually owns a copy of Allie Brosh’s book. The suicide scale has a bear theme because in Brosh’s “A Better Pain Scale” 10 is “I am actively being mauled by a bear.” 

If we were to do it again, we might change things a little bit. Everything is always clearer in hindsight. We did our best, and at the time it was doing what we wanted. Our best friend did smile. Too sad to laugh, but we got her to smile. 

Taking the scale with a grain of salt

We hope that if people find it useful for opening a conversation and communicating their safety needs that they will use it. But it is just a tool and a very subjective one. We are just artists. We hope they take the scale with a grain of salt.

We are actually sort of glad we made the tone so silly, not just because it makes a very heavy topic less intimidating, but it undermines the scale’s own authority, so people are more likely to take it with a grain of salt. Or at least that’s our hope. 

We don’t mind the scale going viral. We appreciate that the re-posters are here for the people who reply. We wouldn’t be able to handle so many comments, especially when so many are  from people who desperately need help.  We are grateful for the re-posts.

Take care, take care of yourself/selves, your loves ones and each other,

Ariadne and Elric Emmengard