What to do when you’re Feeling Suicidal (or a loved one is)

Suicide seems to be everywhere. We see it in the news, we are asked about it in routine medical check ups, and hear about it in many conversations. Celebrities are doing it. Church leaders are doing it. Friends and family members are doing it. No one seems to be exempt from the darkness and confusion that occur when someone takes his or her own life. Why do people commit or attempt suicide, and why does it seem to be more common now than ever?

I first encountered suicide was when I was six or seven years old. A close family friend had been shot by her husband, who then shot himself in front of their children. My mother would not let me attend the funeral because she was afraid of what I may see or hear. She did not know how to explain what had happened, but she was honest with me and did not shy away from my questions and confusion. When I was 15, a friend jumped out of her boyfriend’s moving car while he was driving and she died from multiple injuries. By the time I reached my mid-twenties, I knew at least a dozen people who had died from, or attempted, suicide. How could this be? I grew up in a safe, middle-class neighborhood and attended a private, Christian school for girls. Everyone around me seemed to be fine.

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States and rates are highest among middle-age, white males however twice as many women attempt suicide. There are currently an estimated 25 attempts for every suicide committed, and the leading method is by firearm. A reported 44,965 people in the United States die from suicide every year, which means that, according to this research, more than 1.1 million people attempt to end their own lives every twelve months. Maybe more people are committing suicide than ever in history, or maybe people are just talking about it more than they ever have before.

These numbers are staggering and tragic, but they are not just numbers. They are people – mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, daughters, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, husbands, wives, colleagues, pastors, teachers, students – who saw no other future than one where they ceased to exist. Every time I hear that someone I know has killed his or her self, the first question that comes to mind is, “Why?”

One of the hardest things to accept when a loved one commits suicide is that we will never know the answer to that question, at least not on this side of heaven. Even if that person leaves a note, it is impossible to know exactly when, where, why, and how our loved one decided that they needed to die. I have spent many hours with the families, spouses, and friends of people who have died from suicide. It never gets easier, and the tears never grow less painful. There a million questions and no answers. There is so much pain and no quick balm or remedy. Grief becomes a raging river of emotions, and it cannot be contained by any combination of words or platitudes.

The second question that usually follows “Why?” is “Could this have been prevented?” Sometimes the answer is yes, and sometimes the answer is no. Topics like addiction, depression, anxiety, self-harm, and mental health seem to be popular in current culture. I am glad that these are no longer taboo things to address in public forums, but when a topic becomes popular it can also become easy to overlook. If seemingly everyone battles depression, addiction, and anxiety, is it still a big deal? The answer is Yes. All health issues reside on a spectrum, so it is important to have empathy for where your loved ones exist on the continuum of health. If someone close to you repeatedly references self harm or a desire to die, do not take it lightly. Tell them that you hear them, and that you want to help them. Encourage them to seek medical or mental health attention. Do not joke about suicide or self harm, even if your loved one tries to make it a joke.

It is important to know that if someone you love commits or attempts suicide, it is not your fault. Your last words may have been argumentative, or you may have ignored that last text message and you may be living with regret, guilt, or shame. It is important that you, too, seek help for the difficult thoughts and emotions that accompany tragedy. You do not want your loved one to struggle alone, and you do not have to battle it alone either. Find a trusted counselor or community where you can say all of the things that you are thinking and feeling, regardless of how they sound.

More about Charis’ Crisis Counseling

If you are reading this and have contemplated ending your own life, please tell someone. Even if it feels like you are navigating difficult waters alone, it is not too late to reach out for a lifeline. Counseling is confidential so that you do not have to worry about someone leaking your secrets or fears to your family, coworkers, colleagues, or friends. Neurobiology research shows that having an empathetic, vulnerable connection to at least one other human can change the structure and functioning of the brain for the better. You do not have to fight alone, and you do not have to die to feel better.

Whether you have been impacted by suicide or have contemplated it yourself, it is important to remember that there is no shame in asking for help. In fact, seeking out help is the bravest thing you can do at this point. Shame is that sneaky but powerful voice that says,

“You are too messed up and no one cares about you.”

Please don’t listen to that voice. Please do not suffer or struggle alone. I have cried too many tears with and for people who have left this earth far too soon. At least let someone cry with you. The road to healing will be messy, but I promise that it is worth the risk.

If you or someone you know is at risk of self harm or suicide, have the following number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on hand: 1-800-273-8255.

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