Hello, dear ones. I hope you’re healthy and finding some gratitude this week. September is about suicide prevention and awareness. I thought that it’s something we need to talk about. Many of us are touched by suicide in one way or another, whether we have passing thoughts sometimes, near-constant passive thoughts, have a friend or loved one with an attempt or thoughts of suicide, have an attempt in our past or have lost someone we care about, most of us feel the incredible pain of suicide at one point or another in our lives. It’s important that we talk about it because keeping suicide quiet is fatal.
I see so many teenagers having thoughts of suicide and I see parents who live with fear every day that their depressed child will take their own life. Both of these paths are so unfathomably hard to walk.
Understanding the Taboo
Suicide is often a taboo topic for a few reasons. One is that a healthy brain has a hard time comprehending it. Human beings have a very strong drive for survival. Taking one’s own life seems to foreign when we’re healthy. In fact, many people that I work with who have had thoughts of suicide in the past have a hard time understanding what could have possibly been so bad to put them in that situation now that they’re feeling better.
Hint, hint, for my friends who are struggling: that means it does get better! 80% of people with depression recover and feel better and there will likely be a day where you question “what was so bad that I felt that terrible? I can’t imagine feeling that hopeless today”. What doesn’t help is being judgemental or offering advice (which usually comes off as being judgemental). When I hear things like “It can’t be that bad”, I cringe.
Suicidal thoughts and actions are NOT about being weak, but rather being strong and holding it all together for too long. We need to show empathy and support rather than trying to quickly shut down any talk that sounds like it might be evidence of suicidal thinking. Let’s start with some basic tips from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
If You’re a Support
It’s OK to ask. Be specific.
- “Are you thinking about hurting yourself?”
- “Are you thinking about suicide?”
- “Have you thought about how or when you’d kill yourself?”
Prepare yourself for any answer. Try to keep your emotions calm. If you start bawling and asking what’s wrong or make it about you, they’ll learn that you’re not OK to talk to. Most people who think about suicide feel like a burden and afraid to make anyone else sad or scared by sharing how they really feel. Let them know you can handle it and help them.
If they are thinking about how to kill themselves, it’s an emergency and they need to go to an emergency room. You can also be specific about asking what’s triggered this depression and how they’ve been dealing with it. “I can’t believe you’ve been dealing with this on your own! How have you been managing?”. Don’t guilt-trip them. Rather than asking “you’re not thinking of hurting yourself, are you?”, ask as if you’re honestly interested in the true answer.
And lastly, don’t feel personally responsible for convincing them that life is worth living. Don’t try to guilt “What would it do to your parents?”. If they’re at a place where they don’t see any hope at all and aren’t able to wait for it to get better, call for help. Go to an emergency room or offer to sit with them while they call a hotline.
Support, Not Shame
Let them know you care. “I’m right here with you”. “I’m glad you’re sharing this with me. We’re better fighting it together”. “What you’re telling me won’t make me love you less. You’re fighting a hard battle and I respect you for it”.
Connect them to resources. Offer to help them google a therapist near them or call their insurance for a referral. Let them know there’s help out there.
Make check-ins normal. Ask how they’re doing. Again, being specific is helpful. “I wonder if you’ve been stressed about work” or “You’ve been up in your room for a few days and I’m wondering how you’re feeling.”
If someone refuses help, it might be time to get some care for yourself. If they’re not currently safe (they have a plan or a time they want to end their life), get help immediately. This shouldn’t be a secret even if they want you to promise it will be.
Signs to Look For
As mentioned above, many times people struggling with suicide will try to hide it because they don’t want to burden or scare people they care about. The following can be signs that someone is struggling:
- a big shift in personality or mood (consistently agitated or tearful, etc)
- preoccupation with death or dying
- searching for means of killing themselves (google search history, etc)
- talking about feeling hopeless or like there’s no point
- increased risk-taking
- a stark increase or decrease in sleep and appetite
- giving away a lot of important possessions
Get a professional involved. We’re trained at looking for risk and protective factors to help assess the seriousness of risk.
If You are Struggling
Reach out as you are able! Just because no one is asking doesn’t mean that they don’t care. So many people are uncomfortable talking about suicide and sometimes they are afraid that if they ask, either you’ll think about it even more than before or you’ll reveal something that they have no idea how to help you with.
You are not a burden. It’s not that they’re too lazy to help, it’s usually that they don’t know-how. It’d be like offering to help someone with making an elaborate evening gown when you don’t know how to sew a button on.
Call and make an appointment if this is something that has been going on a while and doesn’t feel like an emergency (if you’re not confident that you will able to keep yourself safe until the time of your appointment, it’s an emergency, in which case you should go to an emergency room or call 911 immediately).
Perspectives Therapy Services has many wonderful therapists who are eager to help you build a life worth living and correct any unhelpful thinking that keeps you feeling so hopeless. Here are some hotlines that are available 24/7 if you need someone who can help right now:
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline– 1-800-273-8255 (also has an online chat option)
2-1-1 is a national helpline that can help in a mental health crisis and also has lots of information about local help (help with utility bills, food assistance, housing, etc).
LGBTQ+ 1-866-488-7386 and https://www.thetrevorproject.org/ (there is also a chat option on the website)
Text “TALK” to 741741
Going to get help in person is safer and usually more effective than calling a hotline but it can be scary and require more energy than we have sometimes.
Your life is worth it. You matter. Stay until it gets better.
Lastly, check out organizations like NAMI and American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). AFSP hosts walks that raise awareness for suicide prevention each year called Out of the Darkness Walks. In fact, Perspectives Therapy Services sponsors and attends the one in Lansing (Saturday, September 21 this year). These events are a phenomenal opportunity to connect with others who are struggled, have struggled, loves someone who struggles, or has lost someone.
Sending you love and hoping that if you’re needing help, you find it. We’re here for you and ready to help. Whether you’re the person struggling or you’re the support, we can help.
Kayla Valley is a Licensed Master of Social Work (LMSW) who works at the Highland location of Perspectives Therapy Services. She became a therapist to help people struggle with the depression and anxiety that she understands intimately. She loves being a Michigander and is an avid sewist who loves spending time with her cats and sugar gliders.
Perspectives Therapy Services is a multi-site mental and relationship health practice with clinic locations in Brighton, Lansing, Highland, Fenton and New Hudson, Michigan. Our clinical teams include experienced, compassionate and creative therapists with backgrounds in psychology, marriage and family therapy, professional counseling, and social work. Our practice prides itself on providing extraordinary care. We offer a customized matching process to prospective clients whereby an intake specialist carefully assesses which of our providers would be the very best fit for the incoming client. We treat a wide range of concerns that impact a person's mental health including depression, anxiety, relationship problems, grief, low self-worth, life transitions, and childhood and adolescent difficulties.