Preventing Suicide: How to talk about it, extend help and seek help
I understand how tired your soul may feel from all the fighting to keep it together for yourself and your loved ones. It’s not easy trying to make sense of each day and look for meaning when you feel like there is none- or at least, there isn’t a reason for the amount of suffering you are feeling. The mean things you say to yourself may be getting louder and more consistent, the physical and/or mental pain may have gotten worse, and you feel like you’ve done everything you can, you have fought so hard, to come this far. I applaud your strength to fight for yourself in what looks like a never-ending struggle to keep your head above water. Thank you for your courage to choose one more day, one more hour, and one more minute.
I want to start by saying that: you are not a burden, a failure, and that this is not the end of the road for you. This chapter of your story may be the hardest one yet and you may feel all you have known for a while is defeat, struggle, and pain, but take a mental note that this part is just a chapter – not your whole story – things can and will get better for you. As we break down this chapter together, hold on to the hope that if the rain comes so will the sunshine and rainbows – and new things will grow. Just like seasons that come and come- the stark cold winter with bare trees brings the bloom of Spring. You, too, will emerge from your dark winter. You are made of nature- a living being- and like all living things, you have seasons. You can, and will, emerge from this tough chapter with new blooming flowers of strength.
Let’s discuss the warning signs of suicide, for you to know for yourself and your loved ones:
Warning signs of suicide
A warning sign is what you should look out for and it doesn’t automatically mean that you or someone else will attempt suicide. It means you should pay more attention, not dismiss it as a joke or cry for attention and respond thoughtfully and seriously. If you are feeling these feelings, or someone close to you expresses these feelings, please seek out a licensed counselor and/or call the National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-8255)
Feelings such as:
- A burden, failure, let down, and like nobody needs you.
- Trapped or like there are no solutions and ways out of your problem.
- Unbearable pain.
- You’ve lost everything and have nothing to live for or no point in living.
- Mentioning or constantly talking about suicide or death.
- Self-loathing; you feel worthless, ashamed, alone, guilty and you hate yourself.
- Dramatic mood changes: loss of interest, depression, anxiety, agitation, aggressiveness, irritability, rage, restlessness, fatigue, poor quality sleep and patterns, and overwhelming sadness.
Behaviors such as:
- Self-destructive actions such as taking illegal drugs, drinking too much alcohol, unsafe sex, cutting, driving too fast, going into fast traffic without caution, looking for ways to harm yourself
- Saying goodbye to loved ones as if you won’t see them again, writing goodbye letters/messages, writing a will, and giving away possessions.
- Withdrawing from socializing and isolating from friends, family, or colleagues. You desire to be left alone.
Preoccupation/unhealthy fascination with death means to die, or violence.
If you’ve had suicidal thoughts or attempted suicide, you can help yourself by:
- Immediately letting someone know how you feel; a friend, family member, or therapist. It all starts with asking for help and sharing your truth and level of suffering and distress
- Focus on getting through just this moment; this minute, hour, day. Don’t stress about or plan for the future. Think about the step you take now and the next one until you overcome.
- If you do plan for the future, focus on something you are looking forward to- whether that’s a phone call with a friend, picking up your favorite cup of coffee, decorating for the upcoming holiday season, gardening, baking, learning a new skill- something that is possible and planned for in the near future
- Distract yourself with something you love like watching your favorite shows, going to the gym, playing with your pet, hanging out with your friends, playing a game, knitting or crocheting, baking, gardening, cleaning and organizing, an at home beauty routine such as painting nails, a face mask, or taking a bath, or go out into nature and take a walk.
- Try to stay away from triggers for self-destructive behavior including not driving when you’re feeling suicidal and avoid websites and social media pages that may encourage suicidal thoughts or making you feel bad about yourself, your life, your body image, or your feelings. If you feel social media helps you, try to focus on comedic videos, uplifting stories, cute pets, or learning something new (such as baking) rather than social media that will trigger you to compare your life to others
- Affirm to yourself: “This is not how my story ends.” “I am not alone.” “Help is always available to me.” “I will get through this.” “These feelings are not attached to me and they are temporary.” “I am strong enough to overcome.” “I have been through hard things before and I made it through. I can do it again.” “I will not make permanent decisions based on temporary pain.”
- Avoid isolation. Be amongst people whom you enjoy, whether that be family, friends, coworkers, neighbors. You do not need to see them in person- but engaging via FaceTime or video chat can help you feel connected. Try to socialize even if it might be a little hard for you. You can set a time limit to encourage yourself to try- such as, “I will socialize for 30 minutes and then I will take a bath.” You might find you end up spending more time socializing, and if you don’t, be proud of yourself for trying and showing up for as long as you did. Surround yourself with people who have positive energy and who encourage you to keep going.
- Create a “to-live for” list with the reasons why you want to be alive, the relationships you cherish, the dreams and plans you want to accomplish, the things that bring you child-like joy, the things, people, and places you want to see, the feelings you want to experience again (joy, laughter, accomplishement, pride, etc). Make that list easily accessible on your phone or have it on paper. Look at it when you feel down or overwhelming feelings that are hard to cope with.
- Create a safety plan using a notebook and pen, your notes app on your phone, a worksheet with your therapist, or using numerous apps such as the Beyond Now App , which you can download and use to make a step-by-step plan to help you stay safe in those times when you’re overwhelmed and are having thoughts of suicide.
- Create an emergency list of people you can call when you want to vent or talk. Remember that help is readily available to you – never stop asking for others to come through for you. You deserve to be listened to and heard. Include your therapist’s contact on the list for when it gets overwhelming, as well as the National Suicide Hotline and the Crisis Text Line (text HOME to 741741).
How can you help someone who is feeling suicidal?
If you’re afraid of upsetting someone or planting suicidal thoughts into their heads by talking about suicide with them, worry not – studies show that asking someone if they’re feeling suicidal does not plant more suicidal thoughts or increase their chances of dying by suicide. Talking about it can significantly reduce suicide ideation.
Conversation starters can be:
- “I’ve noticed you’ve been talking about death and I’m concerned. Can we talk about it?”
- “You don’t seem like yourself lately, is anything bothering you?”
- “I’m checking in to know how you’ve been doing. How are you really?”
- “I care about you and how you are feeling. I’ve noticed you seem more (depressed, anxious, isolated) lately. Are you thinking of hurting yourself?” – or – “Are you feeling an increase in depression lately, and are you having any thoughts about this? I am here to listen.”
Extend a safe and non-judgmental space to someone who’s contemplating or talking about suicide. Kindness in speech and action goes a long way in validating their experience and pain. Be mindful of how you say each word and the tone in which you say it. Using a caring, non-judgemental tone, while asking caring, curious questions can help someone know you care about their health and well-being. You can do the following:
- Seek to know the source of their feelings and thoughts. Why do they feel that way? Ask if they’ve felt suicidal before and how often these thoughts occur. “When did you begin feeling like this?” “Did something happen to you that made you feel this way?”
- Assure them that you’re there for them. Empathize with them, “I see the pain you’re in and I’m here for you.” “I can’t imagine how hard this must be for you but I’m here to listen.”
- Actively listen and be fully present. Repeat the information shared or ask for clarity – it shows that you’re listening. “I can see how sad this (their situation) is making you feel.” “I’m sorry you went through this (their experience).”
- Encourage them that their feelings won’t last forever and that there are solutions and ways out of it. “This period is difficult but it won’t always be like this.” “There’s hope for healing.” “Things will get better.”
- Let them come up with their reasons for living but don’t impose your own reasons why they should continue living. “Let’s say you keep going-, what are some of the things you’d love to continue doing?” “If you were to die today, what would you feel like you’ve missed out on the most?”
- Affirm them that you’re there for them: “I see you and hear you.” “You aren’t in this alone.” “I love you and I’m here for you.” “Your pain is valid.” “I’m here to listen.”
- Remind them that suicidal thoughts are common, and a lot of people will experience them in their lifetime. Let them know they are not alone in their feelings, and it’s okay to talk about these feelings. “Thank you for sharing how you feel.” “There are other people who feel the way you do.” “I know someone who’s been here before.”
- Find out what their plan is/was. “How were you planning to end your life?” “Have you thought about how and when you’d kill yourself?” “Is there anything you’ve done towards your plan to end your life?”
- Encourage them to seek professional help. This is very important. Connect them to a therapist or mental health professional who can help them through the process. It is crucial you call 911 or your local emergency line if your loved one speaks about a plan of hurting themselves, how they would do so, and when. If you feel something is “off” even if your loved one denies wanting to hurt themselves, follow your intuition and call emergency services for help. If you are afraid of your loved one being angry with you, remember- it is better for them to be angry and still alive.
- Make a safety plan with them. You can agree on actions they can take then follow up with them like ensuring they go to therapy, join a support group of survivors, and call you the suicidal hotline, crisis textline, or their therapist when they have suicidal thoughts.
- In case of emergencies or crises, call the 24/7 National Suicide Prevention Line, take them to the nearest local emergency room, or call 911 for immediate help. It is always best to be safe than sorry, and this next step often leads the person who is suffering to be able to engage in help, including talk therapy to find the reasons underneath these feelings and create a plan for safety and better days ahead.
Talking about feelings of suicide is not easy – whether it’s telling someone that we’ve thought about suicide or talking to someone who has contemplated suicide. But it’s the necessary start – one that should be filled with care, concern, love, openness, and void of shame and judgment. I hope that by the end of this article, you’ll feel encouraged and validated to ask for help or extend it. We all need each other in this journey of life. You, like every living being on this earth, have a purpose. The world would not be the same without you. Every day we cast a web of influence onto others- and it reaches farther than we can imagine- even on days we feel alone, even on days we barely talk to anyone. Our reach, our existence, plays a part in the everyday lives of others in ways we are not aware. The world would not be the same without you, and I hope you know you are worth of peace, healing, and joy.
“Let your hopes, not your hurts, shape your future.”
“When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you, till it seems as though you could not hang on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.” – Harriet Beecher Stow