It's National Suicide Prevention Week – Here's What You Need to Know

Suicide is a tough topic to tackle: it’s big, scary and hard to understand if you haven’t struggled with suicidal ideation yourself. How could someone want to kill themselves? you might find yourself wondering. In fact, it’s such a bizarre concept that many of us assume that a person who is suicidal must be fundamentally different than ourselves, our friends and our family. When I originally pictured a depressed or suicidal person, I imagined someone wearing all black, looking gloomy and struggling to get out of bed. The person in my mind didn’t match my dad at all, a man who gladly accepted the dad joke stereotype, could talk for hours about the latest science fiction movie he’d watched and was told he would make a perfect department store Santa when his hair turned white. 

When my dad committed suicide, I realized how flawed my conception of depression and suicide had been. It was made clear to me by his passing that for my entire life, I’d held a simplistic conception of depression and suicide in my mind that I didn’t try to correct because I’d convinced myself that no one I knew fit the suicidal mold. With this week being National Suicide Prevention Week, it’s an important time for us all to give some thought to how we think about mental illness and suicide in particular and to familiarize ourselves with how we can help ourselves and others through these struggles.

What Does Suicidal Depression Look Like?

Oftentimes, not much different than you! When my dad died, I struggled to reconcile the image I had of a suicidal person with the jovial, goofy man I’d known my whole life. How could they be one and the same? Like anyone, people struggling with suicidal ideation have their good days as well as their bad days. It’s all about paying attention to those around you and trying to spot the red flags should they appear. I’ve listed a few below, but I recommend taking some time to read through the source articles for more information.

Check in on a friend, sibling, coworker, relative or parent if they are:

  • Talking or joking about wanting to die or kill themselves (look for keywords such as "burden", "hopeless", "useless", "trapped")
  • Isolating or withdrawing themselves in ways such as canceling plans, not answering calls or texts or skipping class or work
  • Drinking more often and in larger quantities than is normal or experimenting with or increasing drug usage
  • Engaging in reckless activity, such as excessive drug or alcohol use or taking part in uncharacteristically dangerous or unhealthy activities
  • Acting uncharacteristically agitated or angry, lashing out at loved ones or seeming impatient and on edge
  • Falling into a sudden calm after a period of depression
  • Changing their sleep patterns by either sleeping a lot more or less than usual
  • Saying or doing things that seem out of place, such as giving away possessions or saying things that have an air of finality about them

Why It’s Important To Think About Mental Illness

Looking back at my dad, I began to notice a number of red flags that none of us had paid attention to at the time. For example, there were days when he would call in sick for work to lay in bed all day and, towards the end of his life, he would call me uncharacteristically often to urgently dispense life lessons and practical knowledge. He’s just feeling under the weather, we would assume, or I’d wonder why he was in such a rush to give me all this advice. Because I had not adequately educated myself about mental illness or even considered that there was a possibility that someone I loved might be struggling, I did not notice the warning signs.

Not being able to picture your loved ones suffering from depression or suicidal ideation is a normal thing. It’s easy to let the possibility of suicide ever affecting you or anyone you know slip your mind completely. However, while we should by no means obsess over the possibility that we might be missing red flags our friends or family might be sending our way, it’s important to keep thinking about mental illness and how it could affect those we love.

Here are a few ways you can commit to thinking about mental illness:

  • Become educated on common mental illnesses past a superficial level, and if any of your loved ones has a mental illness, talk to them about their experience.
  • Check in on those around you and strive to go past “How are you?” and have a real conversation with them.
  • If you are worried that someone you know is exhibiting warning signs or engaging in behavior that worries you, have a conversation with them or talk to a trusted advisor (such as a parent, best friend, significant other or RA) about your concerns.
  • Take time on a regular basis to check in on yourself and your own mental health, making sure to be honest with yourself and seek help if you need it.

Resources For Those Struggling With Depression

Notre Dame is teeming with resources for those struggling with mental illness. Acquainting yourself with these resources can help you properly care for your own well-being and act as a guide to others who might be struggling.

Here are some resources Notre Dame offers to those struggling with mental illness:

  • St. Liam’s Counseling Services: I cannot recommend the counseling services at St. Liam’s enough. You can either call to make an intake appointment or (the easier option, in my opinion) you can come to walk-in hours, where you will complete an intake questionnaire and see a counselor to discuss your individual situation and formulate a therapy plan. 
  • St. Liam’s Crisis Services: You can walk into St. Liam’s Counseling Center at any time during their business hours and be seen by a counselor if you are in a crisis. If you are experiencing a crisis after business hours, you can call their crisis services hotline at any time.
  • Care and Wellness Consultants: Before I was referred to the care and wellness consultants, I had no idea that Notre Dame offered such a service. My care consultant was very personable and her office was designed to promote calm. Consultants work with those struggling with mental illness or a traumatic event to help them navigate Notre Dame’s mental health services, their classes and other commitments. My consultant helped me set up my intake appointment at St. Liam’s, communicate with my professors about my situation and get excused absences should I need to skip class to take care of my mental health. They are a wonderful first step if juggling school and mental illness is getting too overwhelming to handle on your own.

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