“Are you thinking about suicide?” None of us want to say these words to a loved one. Yet, in the United States, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death across all age groups, and the 2nd leading cause of death among 10-34 year olds (www.nimh.nih.gov, 2019).
Oftentimes, we avoid asking such questions for fear that talking about suicide might increase the likelihood of it happening. In fact, in their guide on what to do when a loved one is suicidal, the Mayo Clinic suggests that offering someone in distress the opportunity to talk about their suicidal feelings may actually reduce the likelihood of them acting on these particular feelings (www.mayoclinic.org, 2018).
During times of the additional stress, many are experiencing with the Covid-19 pandemic, it is important to remember that feelings of worry, distress, hopelessness, and depression are normal. Even if we are not ‘at high risk’ of getting sick, many of us worry for the health of loved ones, our financial stability, our children’s education, and general uncertainty. Changes in our self-care routines such as getting less sleep and exercise, eating junk food, consuming drugs and alcohol, and having to engage in isolating behavior are likely to make us feel worse.
Occasionally, these feelings of distress can escalate, take hold, and become more pervasive, and prompt us to ask if those we care about are thinking about suicide. Warning signs of suicide may include (www.afsp.org):
Talk – talk of suicide or of feeling hopeless, feeling trapped or of being a burden to others;
Behavior – increased drug or alcohol use, withdrawing from activities, isolating from friends and family, under or over sleeping;
Moods – depression, anxiety, irritability, loss of interest.
If you or someone you love are in crisis, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Trained phone workers are available 24 hours a day, every day. They can help you talk through your feelings and provide a list of helpful resources.
Getting help is an important step in the journey to feeling better. Reaching out to a friend, family member, or trained therapist for support can help you feel more connected and ease feelings of loneliness. Counselors and therapists can help uncover the root causes of your feelings, so you can better address them. Through therapy, you can develop valuable coping skills to minimize triggers and learn what to do if suicidal feelings return. In addition, your doctor may also prescribe medication.
Some people find it helpful to have a safety plan in case feelings escalate to the point of acting on impulse (www.verywellmind.com, 2020). A counselor or therapist can help you create your own unique safety plan, which consists of making a list of warning signs, creating a list of close friends, relatives, and healthcare professionals you can contact in a time of crisis, as well as organizations and emotional support helplines, ideas of things you can do to feel better in the moment (playing music, taking a bath, going for a walk), and reminders about making sure your basic needs – sleeping, eating, exercising – are being met. Adding a list of things to live for can help you focus on the good things in life when you’re in crisis. You should keep your safety plan somewhere easily accessible, and consider giving a copy to a trusted friend, relative or therapist.
There is hope for those experiencing suicidal feelings. Getting help is the first step towards feeling better.
Suicide. (2019, April). Retrieved August 21, 2020, from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/suicide.shtml
Suicide: What to do when someone is suicidal. (2018, January 31). Retrieved August 21, 2020, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/suicide/in-depth/suicide/art-20044707
Risk factors and warning signs. (2020, January 24). Retrieved August 22, 2020, from https://afsp.org/risk-factors-and-warning-signs
Schimelpfening, N. (2020, March 26). How to Create a Suicide Safety Plan. Retrieved August 22, 2020, from https://www.verywellmind.com/suicide-safety-plan-1067524
Anne Armstrong-Heaton is an Intern Therapist at Pacific Mental Health. She is currently accepting new clients via tele-health. She offers $50 therapy sessions for patients without insurance.