TRIGGER WARNING: Suicidal ideation
Think about suicide prevention. What comes to mind? Maybe the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, or Suicide Prevention Month? Or it could be the phrases, “You’re not alone,” “Hang in there,” “Keep going.” It’s all necessary, of course, but what about the suicide prevention that starts… before suicide?
Let’s back it up a bit.
There’s not just a stigma around mental health in general. There’s an even more dangerous stigma around suicide, specifically. No one is comfortable talking about suicide, and it makes the silence that much worse for those of us battling this demon.
Suicide prevention goes further than reminding people they aren’t alone. It’s more than memorizing the suicide hotline numbers, or reaching out to loved ones who may be struggling.
It’s about creating an environment that allows us to normalize conversations about mental health, mental illnesses, and about suicide. Many people feel suicidal at some point in their life, whether a rare ideation or an actionable plan. In fact, for every suicide, there are 25 estimated attempts.
You’re uncomfortable, aren’t you?
That doesn’t mean that it’s something we shouldn’t talk about. It means we should absolutely talk about it.
You want to know what one of the worst parts of suicidal ideation? Feeling so alone that you tell someone, and when you do, they shut down. They avoid eye contact. They get really quiet. They don’t know if they should change the subject, but they damn sure aren’t going to ask any questions about suicide.
I remember once I was describing what my suicidal ideations felt like to a guy I was seeing. How unsafe I felt in my own body. How numb I felt. How detached I was.
He looked away from me. He got very quiet. I was so comfortable talking about my suicidal ideations that I did just that. It turned him away. When I confronted him about his immediate rejection, he said, “Sometimes you say things that I don’t know how to respond to.” And I didn’t know how to respond to that.
I mean, yeah, he was a total fuck boy, but I think a lot of people feel that way. Even some of my friends and family avoid the conversations. And I’m no saint, either. When my friends or interviewees talk about their time in mental hospitals, I tense a little. I support them fully, and I hear them, listen to them, and advocate for them, but I think I’ve been programmed to feel uncomfortable around mental health and especiallly suicide, too.
If we can create a safe space for people to talk openly about their suicidal thoughts and their struggle with mental health, they will feel less alone. Studies show that talking about suicide to at-risk individuals does not make them more likely to attempt suicide or have suicidla idetaions. But I can tell you one thing for sure: if you stifle the conversation when someone is struggling and reaching out, you are making it worse. Failure to help makes you part of the problem.
Be part of the solution. Talk about suicide. Talk about mental health. Break the stigma.
If you have someone you care about struggling with their mental health, here are some great resources to start the conversation.