It is Okay to Say "Suicide": Joining the Conversation to End Mental Health Stigmas

My hometown, several years in row, has been turned upside down by the tragic suicides of far too many teenagers. Unfortunately too many people know (and love) someone who has willingly chosen to end their lives, after the pain and anguish of mental illness eventually became too much to bear. Too many people are contemplating and planning their own suicides. And far too many people either romanticize suicide or steer so far away from the thought of it that it has become a cycle in our society today.

 According to The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (ASFSP), suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. On average, there are 129 suicides per day. In 2017 47,173 Americans died by suicide and over 1,400,000 people attempted to commit suicide. Males accounted for 77.97% of the successful suicides in 2017 and firearms accounted for 50.57% of all 2017 suicides. ASFSP takes great care to compile this data because they believe the data collection is crucial for suicide prevention. Unfortunately, these statistics are incomplete and estimated to grossly underestimate the actual numbers due to the stigma surrounding suicide.

A simple way to fight the stigma is to start talking about it. I cannot stress enough how important it is to talk about depression, anxiety, other mood disorders, and suicide ideation. It can be scary to experience a suicidal thought. It is scary to admit to yourself that you think about suicide, and it can be paralyzing to think about telling another person. It can be scary to have a friend tell you they are thinking about suicide. It can be scary not knowing what to do with that information whether you are the person experiencing suicidal thoughts or the supporting friend. It is worse to lose someone due to those suicidal thoughts and tendencies. Starting that conversation, and working towards suicide prevention begins with being able to s

ay he word “suicide.” It is a scary word, but when you begin using it, it loses its power. It becomes normal. It defeats the stigma and people suffering from suicidal thoughts and tendencies are able to open up.

If you suspect someone you love is experiencing suicidal ideation and contemplating attempting, then ask. Scary, I know. Scary for them too, but when you ask the most important question, “Are you thinking about suicide?” then it creates a dialogue of vulnerability, trust, and it diminishes any misunderstanding you may have or conclusions you could jump to. It is important that if you are the one asking the question, to be open and willing to listen. This person is opening up to you. Feel the weight of that and listen and respond respectfully. If they say yes, ask them more questions (but do not pry) about what is going on and remember their feelings are not only valid, but they are important. And if they are not yet ready to open up, respect that too.

 

When you have heard them out, seek out help. Ask if you can escort them to a counselor or a mental health professional. Talk to them about going to the doctor and maybe seeking medicinal help. Encourage them to open up to more people because they are important and you do not want to lose them. If they are not comfortable seeking professional help yet, make sure you stay in touch. It is easy to be swept up in the “permanent solution for a temporary problem” mindset but remind yourself that their pain is very real to them and can be all-consuming. They may not be capable of finding another solution at this time, so be patient and support them in the ways that they need. That looks like checking in on them, maybe bringing them a gift, letting them know they matter, a simple touch or smile could be the difference that day.

The next thing to remember is that if that friend or person succeeds in taking their life, it is not your fault. I assure you, you did not put the thought of suicide in their head. You are not responsible. Remember it is a choice to commit suicide. Suicide is not a good or bad choice. It is not a choice you have any right to judge, and you do not deserve to judge yourself either. Especially if you did all you could or if you did not know they were in that situation. Suicide is never easy. It is never clean. It is never the only solution. And their suicide is not about you. But that is why it is so important to open this dialogue about suicide. It is far too common to be as taboo as it is, and yet mental health is mentioned in hushed tones and judgment sprouts before love and support.

It is up to you and me to do our part to change that. If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, you have a plan, you have attempted, or anything in between, please seek help. I have been there. It is a scary place, and it is worse alone.

To those suffering: it is okay to hurt.

You are stronger than you think.

You are loved more than you know.

You have touched more lives than you can imagine.

You are important.

YOU matter.

Your feelings are valid.

I am sorry for your pain and the difficult situation you are in.

You can get through it.

I hope you find the strength to ask for help, and even more strength to accept it.

You deserve unconditional light and love. 

 

Ways to get help:

  • Talk to someone
  • See a physician, psychiatrist, therapist, or mental health expert
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
  • Text TALK to 741741 to text with a trained crisis counselor from the Crisis Text Line for free, 24/7
  • Safe UT Mobile App

See my last article for more statistics about suicide, anxiety and depression, and more hotlines and resources: “Anxiety and Depression Across the Lifespan.”

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