Scary but Necessary: Why we MUST talk about suicide
In the wake of the most recent celebrity suicides (ie, Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain), I find I have the idea of suicide on my mind. As a psychologist, I talk about suicide all the time, nearly every day. After 15 years of asking The Question, it has become as normal to me as discussing someone's marriage, career goals, or fears.
But as I have previously discussed, this hasn't always been true. My comfort with discussing suicide took years of practice, but I am grateful. When I recall the faces and stories of the (hundreds!) of my clients that have had thoughts of suicide, I am both humbled and proud. Humbled that they would allow me to walk with them through their pain, and proud that they have all come out the other side, stronger and more resilient.
Suicide is not a character flaw any more than depression or any other mental health concern is. It's something that could happen to any of us at any time, which is why we ALL need to become comfortable talking about it.
I often teach lay people how to help others experiencing a mental health crisis through Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) or Question, Persuade, Refer (QPR) certification training. People courageously sign up for these courses, often in the wake of having a loved one go through a crisis or a feeling of helplessness when they've been faced with the reality of helping someone through without any prior experience.
Nearly all of them have the same fear:
I'm afraid to ask if someone is suicidal because then I will have to help. And I don't know what to do!
That's ok! You don't have to be a doctor to help. You just have to care. If you have read the Kevin Hines story, all it would've taken to prevent his attempt was just one person- ONE!- to reach out.
Any of us can do this. You can do this.
In 2015, Metanoia wrote one of my favorite resources for people thinking about suicide.
Not only does it provide some excellent resources, but the metaphor for discussing why suicide becomes an option has forever changed how I think about suicide. We have all heard the phrase "suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem." Although this is true, it isn't helpful. Instead, consider thinking about it as a natural consequence when the pain in someone's life exceeds their ability to cope. That's it. Nothing darker or more sinister than that. This person is in pain, and their ability to manage that pain isn't quite enough at that moment.
That's where we come in. Each of us can be a safety net for each other. By being courageous enough to ask another person if they are having thoughts of suicide, by stepping up and saying "I care enough about you that I'm willing to have a tough conversation," we can be the light in that person's dark world.
This is not to say that it is your responsibility to treat that person. Once you have asked The Question, simply listen without judgment, share that you care, and help them get connected to a mental health resource. It can be as easy as helping them call the National Suicide Lifeline (or any of the other applicable hotlines). Or you could help them find a therapist, connect with a family member, talk to someone that can provide religious support, etc.
Program these numbers in your phone now.
National Suicide Lifeline: 800-273-8255
Trevor Project (LGBTQ): 866-488-7386
Teen Line: 310-855-4673
Suicide is preventable, and anyone can save a life. But we have to talk about it. We have to be willing to step up and support each other.
If you or someone you know is experiencing thoughts of suicide, you are not alone. Call the National Suicide Lifeline or seek help today. You do not have to feel this way forever.