Suicide isn’t black & white.
With the recent flood of news stories about celebrities who have committed suicide, there has also been a flood of strong opinions, misinformation and negative viewpoints shared on social media and other outlets. So what do you need to know about suicide and how can you help yourself, your friends or family if faced with suspicions of suicidality?
First, There are many views that hold that a person committing suicide is selfish and weak minded with a focus on the people they are leaving behind and how the person’s act’s affect the living. It’s important to learn to understand what is happening in the mind and life of a person who has suicidal thoughts and to not judge them based on their moments of weakness, just as I’m sure you would not like to be judged based on yours. This only creates an environment in our society that disallows for honest expression of negative thoughts and feelings which only perpetuates more suicide due to a lack of support and sense of belonging. So maybe you have thoughts of your own that you’re not sure how to manage or who to talk to, or maybe you’ve noticed something in a friend that has you concerned – in either case, I’ve compiled some important things to know about suicide as well as what you can do to help yourself or someone else.
Facts and Myths about Suicide
Fact: In the US, Suicide is the 11th leading cause of death with 1 person attempting suicide every 38 seconds.
Myth: Suicidal people want to die, and cannot be helped.
Fact: Suicidal ideations are transient and treatable.
Myth: Suicides happen without warning.
Fact: Most people have communicated their distress with at least 1 other person. These communications are not always obvious, so it’s important to know the warning signs.
Myth: Talking about suicide will make someone more likely to act on it.
Fact: Talking about suicide gives someone the opportunity to express difficult feelings and feel supported which makes them less likely to act on it. It also gives their support system the opportunity to help them access professional interventions.
The Mind of a Suicidal Person
People who think about suicide are experiencing a division within themselves that is hard to manage and control. While most people are able to observe their thoughts objectively, a person considering suicide has a much harder time knowing which ‘self’ to believe. One part of them wants to live, is goal oriented and life affirming while the other is self critical, self hating and self destructive. There is a constant battle between the critical self and the affirming self.
People who struggle with suicidal ideations, tend to have two voices in their head – one that is negative and critical and one that is the ‘real’ self and has goals, dreams and can see the positive in their life. The critical voice tends to overpower the ‘real’ self and the voice that wins is a predictor of how a person behaves, making them more likely to attempt or complete suicide if the negative voice takes over.
There are many reasons some people develop an overly critical and negative voice, which we won’t get into here. Just know that we are shaped both by our genetics AND our environment, including how we are raised, the people we meet and the experiences we have – and, more importantly, how we make sense of it all.
People with this inner struggle WANT to live, but sometimes don’t know how to overcome the critical inner voice in difficult moments.
Of all of the people who have lived after jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge (26), 100% said they immediately regretted jumping and wanted to live.
Factors That Increase Risk for Suicidality
- Genetic Influences (such as serotonin differences)
- Environmental Interactions (such as exposure to childhood trauma)
- Self Hatred
- Pushing Away Friends & Family
- Thoughts of Not Belonging
- Thoughts of Being a Burden to Others
- Past Attempts
- Disrupted Sleep
- Increased Anxiety & Agitation
- Outbursts of Rage or Low Tolerance for Frustration
- Risk Taking Behaviors
- Increased Alcohol or Drug Use
- Sudden Mood Change for the Better
- Any Talk or Indication of Suicidal Ideation, Intent, Planning or Actions Taken Towards Carrying Out a Plan
While CBT, DBT, Mentalizing, TFT and Voice Therapy with Licensed Professionals are research based and proven effective, there are some coping skills that are important to do both in and out of therapy.
- Learning Skills for Expressing & Regulating Emotions
- Just expressing difficult feelings can make someone less likely to act on them. It’s important that we encourage regular talk around feelings and thoughts we are having.
- Involve People Who Are Supportive
- The more we involve others in our lives who can be a good support during crisis, the more we are able to feel a sense of belonging and connection to others.
- Develop a Personal Set of Warning Signs
- Are there certain things that happen that make you more likely to think negatively? Trouble sleeping? Getting more agitated with the people around you? Know when to spot these red flags so you can put supports in place early in the cycle.
- Make Your Home a Safe Environment
- Remove any items that could be dangerous or lead to a downward spiral like weapons, certain prescription drugs or alcohol.
- Complete a Safety Plan
- Have a detailed plan with a therapist as well as a copy at home and refer to it regularly.
- In the safety plan outline:
- Behaviors That Help Calm
- Ways to be Active & Social (to avoid passivity & isolation)
- People in Your Social Circle You Can Call For Support
- A Commitment to Continued Treatment by a Professional (See them frequently when in crisis)
- A List of Reasons For Living
- Create a Hope Kit, Filled with momentos of personal reminders of your REAL self and Reasons to Live
- Create Coping Cards to remind yourself of goals, passions, beliefs that represent your REAL self and use them to challenge your critical inner voice.
Remember, Suicidal thoughts are treatable and temporary. They can be overcome and managed with treatment by a licensed professional and community support. If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please reach out by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
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Amanda Pratt, LCSW