Updated: Mar 8
September is National Suicide Prevention Month and so, naturally, it inspired me to write this blog. We are hearing more and more about suicide, in large part, because more people are speaking up about it. So many people are affected by this, whether it is a family member, friend, or someone who has contemplated suicide and are living to share their story. In writing this, my hope is to educate people on certain facts about suicide, how to recognize the signs, and what to do if you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide.
Social media has been growing exponentially in the last decade and although it can benefit us in many ways, it can also be equally detrimental for us. Social media gives people access to communicate with others in a more convenient way, which unfortunately, can also make it easier to speak negatively to people. Online bullying continues to grow, and it is why it is more important now than ever to educate ourselves and one another about suicide and hopefully, in turn, we can save lives.
Common Questions and/or Misconceptions about Suicide:
-What does ‘suicidal ideation’ mean?
This phrase refers to someone who is considering or planning to commit suicide.
-Will I offer the idea to kill themselves if I ASK?
No, in fact, it is usually the complete opposite. Asking someone shows your awareness of their behavior and that you do care about them, their feelings, and safety.
-Can suicide run in my family?
Many people who have died by suicide, had depression, which can be hereditary. If you do have a history of suicide in your family, it is important to constantly check-in with yourself and practice self-awareness. “Am I displaying signs of depression?” “Did this major tragedy negatively affect my mental health?” “Has my behavior been odd or differently lately?” “When was the last time I talked to someone about my feelings, etc?”
-Aren’t they being “selfish” or taking the “easy way” out?
This can be a controversial question for some. However, this blog isn’t about asserting what I think is right or wrong. Regardless of what myself or anyone else believes, this question isn’t relevant when talking to someone who is having suicidal thoughts. It is our job to show that we care and that we are concerned, as well as being here to help them seek relief from these thoughts and feelings.
-If someone says they want to kill themselves, they won’t actually do it...
This is not true; people often tell others what they are thinking and still go through with their plan. One should assume that if they have told you they are having thoughts of wanting to die, it is serious. Professionals assess suicidal intent, not family members and/or friends. It is difficult to imagine that someone we love would go through with such an act and therefore, having professionals evaluate suicidal intent is essential.
Recognizing someone who is contemplating suicide:
Giving away important/prized belongings
Talking about wanting to die or kill themselves
Withdrawing or isolating from people
Increasing use of alcohol or drugs
Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
Visiting or calling people to say goodbye
Talking and feeling like they are a burden to others
Extreme changes in behavior (reckless/risky behavior)
What to do if you know someone who is having suicidal thoughts:
Don’t be afraid to ask this person if they are having thoughts of harming/killing themselves. Research shows that many of these people feel a sense of relief when someone asks them.
When we ask the person, it is extremely important to listen carefully to what they have to say and without judgment. The individual needs to feel like it is a safe environment to open up about this difficult, and sometimes embarrassing, topic.
When asking someone if they are suicidal, come from a loving, caring and genuine place, making sure to avoid attack mode. This can make the person feel wrong for feeling the way they are and as a result, they might not share in the future.
If someone tells you they are thinking of killing themselves, call a therapist or doctor to have them evaluated. If you are unable to reach one, go to the nearest emergency room for evaluation. (This can be scary for the person so try using a calming and caring tone and reiterate to them that their safety is the single most important thing at the moment and you want to do everything you can to keep them safe.) If you are unable to transport them, calling 911 is also an option to have them come to the location to evaluate the individual. In addition to seeking out professional help, remove things in their area that could be used to complete suicide. Remove lethal means like, guns, bullets/shells, rope, knives, etc.
-Remind & Reassure.
Share with that person that it is okay that they are feeling this way, that they are not a bad person, and that there is help available. It is vital for them to know that this is treatable and the feelings they are having are temporary.
Don’t let your concern stop there. Check up on them from time to time, especially after that conversation and/or attempt.
Don’t underestimate the power of listening to someone and showing them that they and their existence matters. We all have our moments of weakness, and for some, this can come more often than others. Let’s show how much we truly care for his/her life, even if they don’t in that moment. Life is already hard, let’s not add being alive to that list.
I care. YOU care. WE care.
“Because you matter….yes, YOU!”
Sarah Diesi, MSW, LCSW