“Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary.” — Fred Rogers
Every year September is set aside for National Suicide Prevention. Suicide impacts a significant percentage of the population. Many have either considered suicide or knows someone who died by suicide. There is a silent cry of despair throughout the United States often only recognized once someone dies by suicide. Those who lost friends and loved ones are left in a radically rocked world often wondering why or “what could I have done?” Within the United States suicide is one of the leading causes of death for adolescents and adults. Even more worrisome is the now increasing rates of deaths by suicide coinciding with social isolation during the Covid-19 pandemic.
A conversation about suicide
Unfortunately, suicide is also still very much treated as taboo within society. As we face an increasing mental health crisis in the United States, I want to offer a glimpse into what someone’s lived experience may look like when they think about suicide. We need to have a conversation about the experience of suicidal thoughts, and how building relationships can save a life. For those readers who have suicidal thoughts, please be kind to yourself while reading the rest of the article. Please recognize that while you may feel alone you are not alone.
Fear of suicide
Living with suicidal thoughts is deeper than a felt sense of sadness. Severe depression and contemplation of suicide are ultimately characterized by isolation and disconnect from relationships with self and others. There is an absence of physical feeling, desire, enjoyment, and hope. Numbness overcomes body and mind. The world feels several shades dimmer. In this manner one is dissociated from the self, moving day to day with an internal void. To make existence more challenging there is often an invisible chasm within interpersonal relationships. As suicide is taboo in society people are driven to avoid conversations with those suffering. Often even strongly attached family members and best friends are afraid to engage in serious discussions about their loved one’s internal suffering. It seems that many people are naturally fearful, word-less, or angry when suicide enters the picture. I also believe some people have a deeply ingrained fear that those experiencing suicidal thoughts can be harmful to society, especially when journalism tends to connect suicidal thoughts and severe depression to lone gunman mass shooting events. Unfortunately, these socially-collected unconscious beliefs and myths leave those surrounded by darkness further isolated. Sufferers of suicidal thoughts may even feel paranoid about being contemptuously judged and shunned. Yet, this is only a glimpse at the horrific cycle of isolation for people experiencing severe depression and suicidal thoughts.
As a community, we need to work toward becoming comfortable with having conversations about suicide. Social myths tell us that talking about someone’s suicidal thoughts will push them toward completing their death. However, often a person’s thoughts of suicide decrease when there is a safe and containing conversation; when a loved one actively listens and empathizes. Remember, severe depression and suicidal thoughts occur within the relational disconnect from others. One of the simplest things we can do to build up our community is to take a moment to authentically ask how someone is doing. Recognize that their thoughts of suicide are an indicator of their need for love, connection, and support. Openly talking about the topic of suicide will eventually reduce the stigmatization of a reality that so many of us humans experience daily.
Starting the conversation about suicidal thoughts
Due to the nature of suicide becoming a public mental health crisis we as a society need to begin shifting our perception about those who suffer from severe depression and suicidal thoughts. As a community, our discussions about suicide should no longer be limited to one week or one month, but rather we need to maintain a year-round conversation. If you are at a loss about how to engage in these conversations please look into The Columbia Lighthouse Project, which aims to train all people about starting basic conversations with people who are experiencing suicidal thoughts.
If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts please reach out to someone safe and trustworthy to truly listen to your feelings and your story; whether it be a licensed therapist, family member, friend, a mental health support group such as NAMI Seattle, or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. If you are undergoing an emergency please seek care at your local hospital. A conversation about the experience of suicidal thoughts, and how building relationships can save a life
Schedule an appointment with a trained mental health care professional at Pacific Mental Health for treatment coping with the the challenges that come with conversations around suicide or other mental health concerns . You can also read more articles about mental health topics written by Pacific Mental Health counselors and therapists on our blog.