The thing no one wants to talk about. The thing that feels hard and scary to talk about. For those who experience suicidal thoughts, it is hard and scary to talk about because we may be the only ones who feel that way. We may scare our family and friends. We may damage the facade that we are okay. We may seem weak or selfish.
For those who don't experience suicidal thoughts, it is scary to talk about because you don't want to trigger your loved ones. You don't want to validate those thoughts or make them seem real. Bringing the thoughts to the forefront may cause them to intensify and you don't want to be the one who intensified those thoughts.
This week, suicide is at the forefront of the news, with two major completed suicides. Let's start by talking about why we no longer use the phrase "committed suicide" and instead use "completed suicide," "suicided," or "died by suicide." Mental illness is an illness. It is treatable, but it can fester and grow. Our society still doesn't treat it as an illness. We believe thoughts should be fixable--they are--but it takes treatment to fix them. If we had a broken bone, we would not leave it to heal on its own. At the very least, we would wrap it in an ace bandage and put an ice pack on it to bring down the swelling. We would likely see a doctor to find out how to best treat it. She might have us come in every two weeks to get our cast changed out until the bone is back in its original place, helping our body to function as well as it once did. The pain may come back every once in a while but it is pain that is manageable and we might visit the doctor to have her check again that the bone is functioning as it should.
Suicidal thoughts are intrusive thoughts. They may be caused by lack of dopamine in the brain, they can be brought on by certain medications, they may be triggered by a major life change such as new parenthood, or intense grief. The thoughts are likely co-occurring with another mental illness such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, a perinatal mood disorder, or borderline personality disorder. The thoughts do not hear you when you tell them all they have going for them. They cannot simply put on rose colored glasses and disappear. The person who owns the thoughts truly believes no one can understand, that the world is better off without them, and that no one else in the history of the world, has ever felt or can understand how they feel.
If you are the owner of these thoughts, I am here to tell you someone else has felt the way you do. It couldn't possibly look exactly the same because you are unique and special. When you hear the questions asked this week, "how could she do this to her daughter?" and "Why would he do this when he had everything going for him?" and you hear your thoughts answer back--"I understand"-- know you are not the only one who holds this answer. Know that those asking the questions do not understand, but others do.
It is easy to tell others to seek help. What many fail to understand is those in the pits of despair do not believe in that help. Dialing a phone or sending a text means you have one foot on the shore though the rest of you may be swept away. What about those being swept away with no footing on the shore? What about those who have lost sight of the shore all together?
If you are the one asking the questions--stop asking. When we stop asking the questions, we are able to listen and really hear what we can't understand. We are able to be the shore for the person who can't see it. Just a hand to hold to let them know they are not fully swept away. You won't be able to change their thoughts today. You won't be able to make them believe there is more light than darkness in the world. You will be the hand that let's them know someone is holding on as they try to let go.
For those that don't understand--I urge you to listen. For those that do understand--I urge you to let them.
Cluster suicides can trigger those suffering with suicidal ideation to attempt suicide. Pay attention to your own thoughts and the thoughts of those around you. If someone is speaking about suicide, take it seriously, even if they are "joking." Suicidal ideation can present as hopelessness, loss of interest in things that used to make you happy, and close to the time of attempt may even present as uncharacteristic happiness and/or care free attitude. If you or someone you love is suffering, resources are available.
National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255 - they are also available for an online chat - suicide prevention lifeline.org.
Do not hesitate to reach out to a licensed therapist whether you have one already or are in search of someone. If the therapist can not immediately fit you in, they will assist you with resources to be seen as soon as you need.
If you or someone you know has a plan in place, seek help immediately and call 911.