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    Responding to thoughts of suicide

    Thoughts from a crisis responder

    When I worked on the National Veterans Crisis Hotline, I spoke with people thinking about suicide every day. Let’s look at some important takeaways…

    Mental illness and suicidality

    If you (or someone that you love) struggles with a mental illness like depression, anxiety, or PTSD it’s possible that you’ve had thoughts of suicide. In fact, research tells us that most people will think of suicide in the course of their life. To be clear, this does not mean the person is prepared to take their life- rather that the idea has crossed their mind. The very best thing we can do is to have an open conversation around these thoughts.  

    Myth

    It’s a myth that asking someone about suicide will “Put the idea in their head.” In fact, the opposite is true. Having conversations about any suicidal thoughts is crucial to working through a crisis.

    Most of the time suicidal thinking is communicated in some form before the attempt. Asking directly about suicidal thinking clarifies our meaning. So we don’t ask “are you thinking of hurting yourself, ending things, or going away. No. These things all can have different meanings. Ask directly “Are you thinking about suicide or ending your life?”

    Safety

    If so, do you, or this person, have a plan for suicide? Do they intend to act on it? If the answer to either of those things is yes, it’s time for a little more action. Would you be willing to limit your access to your suicide plan? This might mean giving your gun, pills, rope, car keys, etc… to someone else? If you intend to take your life or feel like you can’t stay safe on your own, would you reach out for help? A first step might be someone you care about. It might be the National Crisis Hotline (800) 273-8255. In a crisis, the emergency department is a safe choice as well.

    I want you to be here. I want to help you work through your concerns.

    The very first step in doing that is asking for help so we can stabilize the immediate crisis. I promise you, there are some very clear steps we can take to help you work through our depression, anxiety, and trauma. Ways that are backed by mountains of research and which can help.

    Once the immediate crisis is stabilized, we can focus on building in some skills. Often times we call this a safety plan. Let’s break down safety plans to get a better understanding.

    Internal coping skills:

    These are things you can do before ever reaching out for help. Selfcare is a critical part of our mental health. Just as good mental health is more than responding to things when they go wrong, selfcare is a way to help reduce and prevent stress on a daily basis. Think about what sorts of things nourish you. When do you feel just a little bit less stressed? Examples might be: listening to your favorite music, reading a book, watching a comedy special on Netflix, going for a walk in nature, listening to a favorite podcast, take a bath with a bath bomb, exercise, or playing a game on your cell phone.

    External supports:

    Who in your life is a support to you? Maybe it’s a family member, a friend, a mentor, or a member of your clergy. Don’t forget that pets can also be an incredible emotional support. Research show that spending time with a pet lowers our cortisol (stress hormone). Use this to your advantage!

    Many people link with the incredible National Alliance on Mental Illness. They offer a hotline, support groups, and education. Check them out here: https://www.namichicago.org/

    Professional help for suicidal thoughts:

    If you’re struggling with thoughts of suicide, it’s best to reach out to professional support. Consider contacting a therapist to help you work through this crisis.

    It’s hard to see the path ahead when you’re in the depths of a mental illness, but you do NOT have to do this alone. There are a wealth of resources available to you. You don’t have to know the whole path…just look for the next step. Reach out. You’re not alone.