In honor of National Suicide Prevention Week, it is important to acknowledge an issue that silently affects so many individuals in our lives: suicide. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death, with recent data showing that an average of 13.42 out of 100,000 individuals are impacted by suicide every year.
Ideation is more common than you’d think. Many people refrain from discussing their struggles with others in fear of shame or stigma. Today’s constant push of information, “fake news,” and advertisements can further intensify struggles, instead of providing information and motivation to seek support and relief.
Here is what you need to know. How can suicide impact individuals? What resources are available to help those who are struggling? What can you do if someone you know is struggling?
Stay prepared. Save a life.
What is Suicide?
Suicide most often occurs when one’s life stressors exceed their ability to cope with the pain or distress, resulting in an experience of despair and hopelessness. It is frequently related to a mental health condition like depression, anxiety, or substance problems, with depression being the most common. This epidemic affects each of our communities, with statistics showing a significant impact among white males, members of the LGBTQ community who are at increased risk for each episode of mistreatment or victimization they receive, middle-aged individuals who account for the largest portion of suicides, and members of the American Indian/Alaska Native community where we see unique aspects of how suicide impacts them.
Sadly, we also see suicidal attempts increase after a celebrity or well-known figure dies by suicide. The media's discussion of suicide has an unfortunate influence, especially amongst our youth. A copycat effect takes place where an individual who relates to a person who commits suicide, then responds to his or her own struggles in the same way.
Warning Signs and Risk Factors
While we may never truly know if someone around us is struggling with thoughts of suicide, there are many warning signs that we can tune into to determine when to act on our concerns.
If a person talks about:
• Killing themselves;
• Feeling hopeless;
• Having no reason to live;
• Being a burden to others;
• Feeling trapped;
• Unbearable pain;
If a person begins to exhibit behaviors that may signal risk, especially if related to a painful event, loss or change:
• Increased use of alcohol or drugs;
• Looking for a way to end their lives, such as searching online for methods;
• Withdrawing from activities;
• Isolating from family and friends;
• Sleeping too much or too little;
• Visiting or calling people to say goodbye;
• Giving away prized possessions;
People who are considering suicide often display one or more of the following moods:
• Loss of interest;
• Relief/Sudden Improvement;
I am struggling with suicide… but I don’t know what to do or who to reach out to.
If you are personally struggling, thank you for your bravery in acknowledging the pain that you are struggling with. Know that you are not alone in this world and that there are people out there who can be there for you.
1. Depression and suicidal ideation can convince us that we are alone, that no one could possibly understand the pain that we are in, or even that we are somehow going to be judged for struggling. However, one of the most important things we can do during times of distress is to reach out to family members, friends, or trusted sources of support.
It is understandable that sometimes individuals do not feel comfortable reaching out to their family members or friends for a variety of reasons. If you feel as though you cannot reach out to someone you know, consider using one of these resources for those struggling with suicidal thoughts.
Text 741-741 to access the Crisis Text Line. The Crisis Text Line is a non-profit organization, providing free crisis intervention via SMS message. The organization's services are available 24 hours a day every day, throughout the US and Canada (686-868).
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. This is a free, 24-hour hotline available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. Your call will be routed to the nearest crisis center to you.
The Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255
The Trevor Project at 866 4-U-TREVOR. The Trevor Project is determined to end suicide among LGBTQ youth by providing life-saving and life-affirming resources including a nationwide, 24/7 crisis intervention lifeline, digital community and advocacy/educational programs that create a safe, supportive and positive environment for everyone.
A newer resource, the notOK app is currently gaining momentum and helps connect users to trusted supporters and contacts.
Consider developing a relationship with a therapist or other mental health provider. We at Wellman Psychology & Associates have a team of qualified providers that you could reach out to for care or support!
2. Give yourself permission to not feel despair or hopeless. While that pain can convince us that we deserve the unpleasant feelings, sometimes participating in forms of self-care or activities that help you feel connected to others can offer a drastically needed reprieve.
3. If you’re feeling unprepared to reach out to others, consider grounding yourself in an experience, like spending time outdoors or in nature. The simple act of taking in that full experience (i.e., the sights, the sounds, the scents, the sensations) rather than focusing upon the unpleasant feelings paired with suicidal ideation, can have an immense impact and bring with it a sense of relief.
How do I support someone that I know and love who may be struggling with suicidal ideation?
First off, you’re never really prepared to hear someone else say they’re suffering or struggling through such deep pain, especially someone that you’re close to. I sincerely commend you for trying to help them in whatever way you can! In my experience, your desire to help is what you have to focus on more than anything. Have confidence that you’re trying to be helpful and supportive. Even if you say something untoward, the relationship you have with them and the fact that you care will be received strongly.
Here are evidence-based guidelines to consider when someone you know may be struggling with suicidal ideation and you are unsure how best to support them.
1. Ask: Despite our beliefs, asking someone the question “Are you thinking about suicide?” does not increase their risk of acting on any suicidal thoughts! In fact, it actually communicates to that person that you are open to talking about suicide with them in a supportive and non-judgmental way.
2. Keep them safe: Once you’ve confirmed that suicide is being considered, it’s important to address a few things to establish immediate safety.
Take the person seriously
Find out if they have taken any action to harm yet?
Do they have any specific plans or thoughts about how they might kill themselves?
What’s the timing for their plan?
Do they have any means or access to their planned method? If so, help them remove lethal means from their vicinity.
3. Be there: This could mean being physically present for someone, speaking with them on the phone or texting when you can, or any other forms of showing that you are there to support them.
4. Help them connect: “Connectedness” has been found to be a beneficial factor for those who are struggling with suicidal ideation. So during times of duress, it’s helpful to connect someone with thoughts of suicide with ongoing supports, like other friends, family members, or event resources listed above. This can help them establish a safety net for those moments in crisis.
5. Follow up: It’s important to continue the conversation with someone who is struggling with thoughts of suicide, both to see how they’re doing and to show that your support is consistent. A simple follow-up can even potentially reduce the risk for suicide!
Here are additional things that I personally focus on when supporting people struggling:
Assume you are the only one who will reach out. The best part about your support is just you being available. While we may perceive others to be well connected, we can never truly know how isolated or alone someone may feel. Your friend is reaching out, your friend is asking for you. That means they want you to be there for them. And you absolutely know how to be there for them. Otherwise they wouldn’t have told you.
Highlight how much you care about them! While it may seem like common sense, it’s an important point to make!
Talk about it in the sense of “the pain you’re going through.”
Ask what they need from me/what can I do to be there for you? Sometimes we can fall into the trap of offering advice or telling them what we will do for them. It is much more powerful to have people tell us what they need from us.
Don’t say, “why don’t you just focus on the positive?” Could you imagine talking with a doctor and saying, “I have this pain in my arm,” to which they respond, “But your liver is working so well!” So why would we do that to someone talking about emotional pain?
Don’t make it about you. They’re not coming to you to ask how you feel about their pain, they’re coming to talk about what they’re going through and ask for support or to share their experience with you.
If you’re still struggling, here’s a resource that I really like to use for people who need guidance in supporting someone.
Remember, we at Wellman Psychology & Associates are here for you and have a wealth of experience that can benefit YOU! Consider reaching out to setup an appointment on your journey to health and healing, in whatever capacity that may take!
Special thanks to Ryan Coventry, LPC, for creating this blog post.