Let's talk about suicide.
CW: Suicide, self-harm, violence, there's a lot of stuff going on here ngl
If you are thinking of attempting suicide, reach out to a close friend, a loved one, a professional, or use a suicide hotline. The number for the National Suicide Prevention Hotline in the USA is 800-273-8255. There are other options, such as a chat and options for those who are deaf or hard-of-hearing at their website. If you do not live in the USA, here is a collection of suicide hotlines in various countries. Whatever you choose to do, please know that it does get better.
Suicide is a hard thing to talk about. Some have lost friends and loved ones to suicide. Some struggle with suicidal urges. Others just find the idea itself so dark or hard to understand that they avoid thinking about it.
Unfortunately, it’s something we really gotta talk about.
In August, the CDC released a representative survey showing that 11% of the population, and nearly one out of four young adults, had seriously considered suicide in the last 30 days. That is not a typo. This is reality. We can either talk about it frankly, or we can irresponsibly stick our heads in the sands and act like if we don’t think about it then it won’t exist.
I’ll start. I’m Sophia Hottel, and I have suicidal thoughts.
That was probably uncomfortable to read, especially if you’re a friend or family of mine. It’s okay; I have no intention of hurting myself or others. I’m actually pretty intent on continuing to live.
It’s important to know that having suicidal thoughts doesn’t necessarily mean that someone wants to take their own life. It is a warning sign, though, a flashing red alert that something has gone wrong. In my case, these thoughts pop into my head throughout the day, and especially when I’m feeling down, like a little demon sitting on my shoulder trying to make my life that much harder. These thoughts feel like they come in from the outside. The healthy response is to rebuff the little demon, responding to these thoughts with a “no, I’m not going to do that, I don’t want to do that, and this is a very silly suggestion.”
I have no intention of hurting myself or others. The inverse situation can be true as well, though. Somebody can be self-harming but not be suicidal. Often self-harm is misunderstood as a sign of suicidality. While they overlap, they don’t always coincide.
Notice that I keep mentioning that I not only have no intention of harming myself, but also no intention of harming others. This is another thing that a lot of people don’t know about suicide. Somebody who has given up on living might want to take someone else down with them, or give up their life in some big, dramatic action. Think about murder-suicide crimes, or suicide by cop, or how the big mass shootings often end with the shooter dying (either by cop or by their own hand), or suicide bombers. While each of these cases are different, over the recent years upon years of tragedies, it’s become clear that someone who has no will to live combined with a deep resentment of someone else is a dangerous person.
The vast, vast majority people who attempt suicide aren’t like that. They feel hopeless, and their problems insurmountable. (That’s also why someone who attempts suicide isn’t a coward. When given the choice between unending, guaranteed suffering and death, many people would choose death.) Helping them feel like they have some chance, even a sliver of a chance, a real imaginable possibility that their life can be better, and many of them will hang on to it for dear life. People are very good at staying alive. It takes a lot for someone to attempt suicide.
The thing is, these problems are solvable. Depression doesn’t just make people sad, with low energy and problems eating and sleeping. It messes up their ability to think. Of course problems seem more unsolvable to someone who has a mental illness that makes it harder to solve problems.
That’s why it’s important to try to guide a person who’s seriously suicidal to a sense of hope. “It will hurt others” generally only works as a makeshift stopgap. Depression will often cause people to feel like they are a burden to others, even if the people in their lives really do love them and would be genuinely devastated by losing them. In a moment of crisis, a suicidal person needs to see a sliver of hope that things can get better. In their day-to-day life, things improve by learning to actively fight back against depressive thoughts and by developing problem-solving skills. At the end of the day, this is in their hands. Nobody can force someone to feel hopeful.
Indeed, force is often one of the worst things that can be used in these situations. Those who have been forcibly institutionalized often come away with trauma, worse than they came in. It’s my perspective that, given how much harm it seems to consistently do to those who undergo it, forcibly institutionalizing people could only possibly be justified if there is a threat to others.
Suicide is nearly always a spur-of-the-moment thing, an impulse decision. That’s why it’s so incredibly dangerous for someone who is suicidal to have access to guns. Suicidal crises are massive waves of everything going wrong at once, but like a wave, they eventually pass. Some think that this justifies forcible institution, but doing so increases the frequency of these waves.
If you are trying to help someone who has suicidal urges, be patient with them, and make sure they know you care. It can be very difficult, mentally; make sure you respect your own limits, and accept that, at the end of the day, their life is in their hands, not yours. If you are currently struggling with suicidal urges, know that there is someone who cares about you, and that it can get better if you want it to. It might not be easy, but it is possible.
You’re strong enough to make it.