If you or someone you love is struggling with suicidal thoughts, please call 1-800-273-8255 to receive some help and support from a caring individual.
Did you know that September is National Suicide Prevention Month? September 10th is World Suicide Prevention Day, and all through the month of September, mental health advocates, survivors, and allies work together to raise awareness about suicide prevention. All month, I’ve seen and heard newspaper articles and news reports about the ways individuals and communities are banding together to try and end suicide. As I listen to the chatter around suicide, I often think of what I wish I could tell people about what it’s really like to struggle with suicidal thoughts. I am not a medical professional and all of my thoughts are my own (or the thoughts of smarter doctors and therapists who taught them to me). If you are struggling with mental health issues, please seek medical attention and not just my blog post. But today, I want to share some of my thoughts about what it’s like to consider suicide with you, in the hope that in the end we’ll all have a little more compassion and understanding.
Most of us don’t really want to die, we just want to wake up to something different
Many people think that suicide is about wanting to die, and sometimes it is. But most of the time, suicide is simply about wanting the pain to end. People struggling with suicidal thoughts believe that death would be less painful than a lifetime of what they are feeling. My therapist puts it best: you don’t really want to die, you just want to wake up to something different. The danger comes when we believe the lie that nothing will ever be different. However, the hope in this is that if you or someone you love is struggling with suicidal thoughts, helping them find that “something different” and actively work towards it can be the first step towards recovery.
The thoughts don’t go away
I was 19 years old before I realized that not everyone thought about suicide. I realized that many people have never even considered harming themselves, much less thought about it every day for as long as they could remember, like I had. For those of us with mental health problems, or even just those going through a tough time, suicide is constantly on your brain during a depressive episode. Sometimes the thoughts are passing, sometimes they lie heavy on your brain. You can quiet them for a while, but it is difficult to make them go away completely. I feel like this is a good place to mention that I am not feeling suicidal right now, but as someone with bipolar disorder, I know the thoughts will return again. What helps me is to remember that my depressive episodes and suicidal thoughts are like the tide: they may come in, but they will always go back out. If you or a loved one is suffering from suicidal thoughts, learning to “ride the tide” is a great step towards recovery.
Suicidal thoughts and actions are not just “a cry for attention”
I have heard many people refer to a friend or family member’s threats to harm themselves as simply “a cry for attention.” Threats of self harm are a cry for help, not attention. When asking for help, we are not threatening self harm to create drama or cause chaos. We are asking because we are in pain, and we know that if left to our own devices we will fail. If a loved one threatens to harm themselves, please take them seriously. Reaching out in love and compassion instead of rolling your eyes and writing them off as attention-seeking can save their life.
Suicide is not selfish
This is perhaps the phrase I hear used most often in conjunction with suicide. People don’t understand how someone could leave behind their families, their friends, their lives. The problem is, when you are feeling suicidal, you believe that your friends and family would be better off without you. Depression lies, “you are a burden.” It lies, “no one loves you.” One of the best ways to help your suicidal loved one is to show them just how loved they are. Send them a card, bring them fresh flowers, spend time with them. Let them know how very needed they are. Show them that they are not a burden, but a blessing in your life. One of the biggest precursors to suicidal thoughts is feeling like a burden. Relieve that burden from them.
Suicide is preventable- and you can be a part of the solution
All through this post I have suggested ways to help a suicidal loved one- and I have an entire other post about it here. I am passionate about this subject because I believe that suicide is preventable- and I believe all of us can be a part of the solution. It takes more than sharing the number for the suicide hotline on your Facebook page. It means actively engaging the broken and inviting them into your life. It means advocating for better funding for mental health programs. It means volunteering in your community. But most of all, it involves paying attention and living with love. Ask your friend who seems down if they need to talk about anything. Listen without interrupting or judging. Don’t be too caught up in your own troubles to stop and help someone else with theirs. All of our burdens are lighter when we carry them together.