Author: Cassandra Stout
Trigger warning: This post discusses suicide. If you or someone you know is at risk of suicide, please call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text TALK to 741741 or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.
Are you feeling suicidal? You’re not alone.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide was the 10th leading cause of death overall in the United States in 2018, claiming the lives of over 48,000.
Back when I was suffering postpartum depression after the birth of my son, I dealt with suicidal ideation that lasted over 2 1/2 years. After I realized I was composing goodbye letters in my head for weeks, I told my doctors, who put me on lithium.
The clouds opened up, and I recovered, thankfully.
The warning signs of suicide are various, but include:
- Mentioning suicide or wanting to die in conversation
- Making plans to die
- Acting on plans to die, like purchasing a gun
- Feeling like you’re hopeless or have no reason to live
- Feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
- Feeling like a burden to others
- Flying into rages or seeking revenge
- Anxiety or agitation
- Reckless behavior
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Isolating yourself
- Ramping up alcohol or drug usage
- Mood swings
But if you’re feeling suicidal, what can other people do to help you?
Here’s a brief list of what others can do to help me personally. Please feel free to print this post and present it to other people in your life.
Ask Me Directly
If I’m experiencing suicidal thoughts and exhibiting warning signs of suicide (listed above), then the best action a friend or loved one in my life can take is to ask me directly if I am suicidal.
Studies have shown that asking about suicide does not plant the idea, but reduces risk, presumably because the suicidal person has been heard and thoughtfully listened to.
So if you are a friend or loved one of mine, ask me privately whether I’ve had suicidal thoughts.
Tell me that you are open to talking and do not shame me for my negative feelings. Ask me direct questions that require a yes or no answer. Questions like:
- Do you have a plan?
- Do you have the means to carry out your plan?
- Do you have a time that you were planning to carry this out?
- Do you intend to take your own life?
Don’t act shocked or minimize my feelings. Also ask questions to explore them like, “What has prevented you from acting on your thoughts thus far?”
After you assess my risk of suicide, move on to the next step.
Keep Me Safe
If I have a Plan, the Means, the Time, and the Intention to die by suicide, I am at imminent risk of suicide.
Once you’ve found out my plan, please keep me safe. Do not leave me alone. Remove the lethal items I may try to use in a suicide attempt.
Remove things like:
- Plastic bags
- Pill bottles
- Yarn or string
Don’t try to handle the situation alone. Call in the big guns: encourage me to call the Suicide Lifeline (800-273-8255), and if necessary, call 911.
Help Me Find Support
Next, encourage me to talk to my doctors, be they my therapist, my psychiatrist, or my primary care physician.
My doctors need to know that I’m suffering these feelings so they can address my treatment plan. While you can’t call them directly unless I’ve given you permission, you can help me dial the numbers.
And if I’ve given you permission to call my doctors, then please call!
Encouraging me to join online support groups where I can get help is also very helpful.
If I’ve been suffering from suicidal feelings, I’ll probably continue to suffer them for a while.
During a time of social distancing, we can’t always check in personally with our loved ones. But do try to do so as much as possible. Give me a call, shoot me a text, or drop a meal off on my doorstep.
Letting me know you still support me even after I’ve scared you is critical to whether I’ll continue to have suicidal thoughts.
If you suspect I am facing suicidal thoughts, there are steps you can take to help me handle my own feelings. Ask me directly about them, keep me safe if I’m at imminent risk of suicide, help me find support, and follow up afterwards.
This is the way others can personally support me if I’m feeling suicidal. How can others support you?