September is Suicide Awareness Month and I wanted to have a conversation about it. We need to have conversations about it. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among persons aged 10-14, the second among persons aged 15-34 years, and the fourth among persons aged 35-44 years. source
An estimated 9.3 million adults reported having suicidal thoughts in the past year and 17% of students in grades 9-12 in the U.S. seriously considered attempting suicide in the previous 12 months.
Suicide is something that we need to talk about.
We need to stop the stigma.
Mental illness is real. The struggle is real and we need to stop the shame surrounding it. The shame of being able to say:
“I don’t have the skills to cope right now.”
“My depression is making things difficult for me.”
“I need help.”
Depression is a medical condition. It’s no different than having a broken bone. We don’t expect those people to keep using the part that’s broken and causing them pain. We don’t tell them to get over it. Do we tell them to fake it until they make it? No. We offer to help them. Mental illness is no different. We’ve got to offer to help.
Crisis and Information Resources
If you’re in crisis or experiencing difficult or suicidal thoughts call the National Suicide Hotline 1-800-273 TALK (8255)
Looking for more information, referrals or support? Call the NAMI HelpLine 800-950-NAMI (6264)
If you or someone you know is in an emergency situation, call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or call 911 immediately.
Almost 11 years ago now, I was going through a pretty hard time. I’d just broken up with my first ever boyfriend and it shattered me. At that point, I didn’t have any coping skills, the heartbreak got to me, and I felt suicidal. It wasn’t the first time. I’d felt suicidal so often as a teen and almost every day during the turbulent relationship I was heartbroken over, but it felt different that time. I had made plans before and tried to talk myself into going through with it. This was the first time that I felt in my bones that if I didn’t do something to stop, to slow myself down, I was going to go through with it.
How It Feels
I want to talk about what went through my head, just in case you haven’t been there before. I can only describe how it felt for me to be in that mindset. It felt like this frantic energy inside of me that needed to be let out. It felt like a compulsion and it felt like I had to listen. That something in me would feel better if I just did it. It feels like you’re in a pressure cooker and there’s so much pressure, it’s unbearable, you have to let it out. You just have to.
And you are so convinced that no one will care, and even if they do care they will be better off. You know with every single freaking fiber of your being that all you do is drain the people around you and mess things up. There is not a single doubt that there is something unlovable about you, that the people who love you now are not going to love you forever – because you are so damaged – it’s just a matter of time. Get it over with now so you don’t have to feel the pain of abandonment again. Over and over again. Because you are not strong enough to take it. And it hurts so much. You can’t ever imagine it not hurting and your brain is so consumed with all of this.
It’s all you can think about.
It’s like your brain is brainwashing itself repeating over and over again that if you do this – it will be okay. No one will get hurt. It’s not going to damage anyone – it’s for their own good. It’s for your own good. Just do it.
And it’s not a passing thought. It’s not something you can block out by exercising or meditating. It’s there every second of every day and you are convinced that it will be like that forever and you will never find relief.
That’s what I felt like.
I called a crisis line and they told me that I should check myself into the hospital. The thought of that overwhelmed me and I couldn’t do it. What would people say? What would happen to me? How could I go through that? What about my job? The thought made it so real and so scary but it also showed me that I didn’t want to die. If I was willing to reach out for help, obviously there was hope for me. We had a talk and it calmed me down and put things into perspective for me. It brought the crisis-level down, just talking and reaching out.
Just saying “I want to kill myself.” to another human being opened that pressure cooker. It let it out and It made me not alone with that agony. It was out in the open and carried by someone else – this stranger on the other end of the phone telling me I would be okay.
I didn’t end up going to the hospital. Instead, I called a friend, and I said those words again “I want to kill myself. I am not okay.” He came over, he let me cry, and then we stayed up all night watching tv.
I was so glad I reached out for help.
A few days later I posted about my experience on Myspace (ahhh, the good ‘ol days) and I received such an outpouring of support. Tons of “You could have called me.” And “I’m always there for you if you need to talk.”
It made me realize that in those dark times we feel so lonely and so helpless, but in reality, there are so many people, people that you might not even really know, that would be there for you if you asked.
That experience taught me to never freaking shut up about those feelings. I never held it in again. I found people I could talk to and I said something, I said those words. And I never got to that point again.
What can you do?
Let’s say you’re worried about someone and feel that they might be suicidal or someone comes to you and admits that it’s something that they’re struggling with. Aside from making sure that they have the right numbers and resources, (which you can find up above) what can you do? I made a list with the help of the ladies in the SoulSisterhood and my own experiences. These suggestions are not for crisis situations. If you or someone you know is in danger, please call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or call 911 immediately. For less severe situations, here are the best ways you can help and support.
Don’t minimize their feelings.
Whatever reason they have for feeling suicidal might not make sense to you but don’t write it off. Depression and mental illness cause the brain to snowball problems. Little situations can turn into a crisis and it feels real, it feels like the end of the world. The minute you tell them to get over it or they’re making too big a deal over something is the minute they decide to stop talking to you about it. Do your best to talk them through their feelings, help lead them to logical thoughts, instead of telling them they’re being stupid or dramatic.
There might not even be anything wrong. Let that be okay. It’s okay if they’re depressed with a wonderful spouse and kids. It’s okay if they are depressed but successful. One has nothing to do with the other. Their brain is misfiring right now – just let them get those feelings out. Remind them of the good things, that’s okay, but don’t do it in a way that involves guilt or shame or minimizing.
Sometimes all someone needs is a good vent session. Listen to how they’re feeling. Just sit there and let them get it all out. Talking about it is like letting that poison out. If they try to backtrack “I’m just being stupid. I’m just being dramatic. It’s not a big deal. I’m sorry I bothered you.” Don’t let them. Show that you’re taking it seriously. Be an active listener. Ask them why they feel the way they’re feeling and how long they’ve felt that way. Help them suss out and investigate every aspect of their feelings. Put on your Empathy Shoes and put yourself in their place and show your compassion.
If you don’t know what to say, that’s okay. Try to keep the conversation going by asking things like “What made you feel that way? What do you think you need to feel better? How can I help? What can I do for you right now? Have you felt this way before? What helped you feel better?”
What this means is creating a container for complex emotions like fear, trauma, and sadness. Imagine yourself as a soft room with blankets and pillows where a person can go and be safe. This means turning yourself into a safe place for someone. Be comforting and accepting of the things they say without your ego being involved, without judging, and without shaming. Hold their confidence and their trust. Don’t try to fix them, don’t overwhelm them, don’t make them feel like you know better. Just be a warm, soft, lovely container for what they feel.
Be their advocate.
When that spiral of depression is taking over it can be really really hard to function in the day-to-day. Offer to make a doctor or therapy appointment for them, drive them to the hospital, call a family member, or get in touch with a mental health center. They might feel overwhelmed, they might feel physically incapable of doing those things for themselves. If they want to do those things themselves – circle back to it the next day and the next to make sure they’re doing what they need to do to feel better. Check up on them. Make house calls and let them know that you are there and willing to be there.
Depression can be paralyzing.
You can do smaller things like bring them food or offer to help them with their grocery shopping. Help with house cleaning that’s piled up or offer to run simple errands or do laundry.
Ask them what they need.
And listen to that answer. Honor that. Let them trust their intuition. If they need help, get them help, if they just want to talk, then be there to listen. Keep asking them what they need, keep checking in on how they’re feeling, keep showing that you are there and that you are listening.
It’s so easy to tell them what they should do, and maybe you really do know best, but make sure you are listening to what they need too.
Encourage them to take care of themselves.
Remind them to eat, shower, do the things that make them feel human again. Ask them if they’re on top of their medication and practicing self-care. Offer to take them out somewhere. Ask them if getting out of the house and having a change of scenery will help them feel better. Take them out for coffee or go have a talk in a sunny park.
Have a movie marathon with popcorn and chocolate. Make them laugh. Make them remember what it feels like to not be empty inside. Your laugh can pull a person back from those dark feelings.
Share your story.
People need to know they aren’t alone. Share your story out in the open so that other people can see it, know it, hear it, and know that it can get better. It’s hard to explain the color blue to someone who has never seen it. When we say, out in the open, that we know what blue looks like, we show others that we can understand. We show them that someone can be where they are now and still make it out the other side.
Let them know they aren’t a burden.
One of the hardest things that come with feeling suicidal is feeling that if you talk to someone you are being a burden to them. They are going to have to take time out of their day to deal with your crazy self, they are going to feel obligated, they are going to resent you, they’re going to think you’re so dramatic, they’re probably so tired of hearing it… the thoughts keep coming.
Reassure them that you want to listen and be there for them.
Point them in the direction of helpful resources.
If they are dealing with a specific issue that is causing their feelings and you aren’t quite sure how to help, or if you can help enough – find resources for them. Find out(or in)patient services for them or support groups online or in real life. It’s really hard to be someone’s only support system and if you’re feeling overwhelmed, it’s absolutely okay to call in the cavalry.
We, of course, don’t want to break a confidence but encourage them to reach out to other people. Hype up their friends and family, remind them why and how those other people are awesome and comforting and they should talk to them too. Help them build themselves a village.
Help them create a Stay Safe Plan.
At times, all that is needed is a conversation to get someone out of their head, but other times a lot more is needed. Help them come up with safety measures for when your conversation is over or for when you can no longer be there. Help involve their support system and make sure that they have support and resources going forward.
Watch the It Gets Better music video by Todrick Hall