Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, and suicidal ideation is at an all-time high amid the pandemic, yet it is still treated with shame and silence. In honor of National Suicide Prevention Awareness Week, we’re sharing stories about suicide in order to encourage awareness and combat stigma. For more information about suicide prevention, visit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. For more information about mental health resources in your area, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and if you or a loved one are experiencing suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
One unseasonably cool evening two years ago, I stood at my kitchen counter, weighing my options. I was intent on ending my life.
I wrote a goodbye letter full of explanations and apologies, sharing with my loved ones that I was hurting and sad. I sent a text to a dear friend, telling him I was sorry but I couldn’t hold it together anymore.
Immediately, he knew something was wrong. He wrote back, asking if I was okay. I was not okay, and while I admitted so much, I minimized the severity of my situation. Instead I texted back, “I’m tired.”
Having survived multiple suicide attempts himself, he must have intuited my headspace. He must have understood on some level that “I’m tired” wasn’t physical. I didn’t need a good night's sleep or a nap. I needed an escape. “I’m tired” meant I didn’t think I could keep going anymore.
I wanted to give up.
But his response of eight short words saved me from myself: "But you’re going. Going is better than not.” This reminded me I wasn’t bad or wrong for feeling this way, and that I wasn’t alone. I could get through this. I had before.
This instance wasn't my first of experiencing suicidal thoughts, and it might not be my last. I have bipolar disorder, a mental health condition that causes extreme shifts in mood and energy levels. In my case, suicidal ideation is a common trait of my condition. Living through chronic ideations, though, has taught me the power in being able to lean on my friends and support system. Humility is an amazing gift, one that keeps on giving.
I have a strong support network, inclusive of several doctors and friends who know me very well—sometimes, especially in the middle of crisis, better than I know myself. When I am experiencing suicidal ideation, for support I reach out to someone in my network to say, “I’m not okay.” For me, having a crisis strategy in place—and team of people I know are in my corner—is an imperative part of my life and recovery. It has saved my life.
For me, having a crisis strategy in place—and team of people I know are in my corner—is an imperative part of my life and recovery. It has saved my life.
If someone you love is expressing feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and/or they mention suicidal ideation, for support follow the Mental Health First Aid (MHFA)'s ALGEE action steps: assess, listen non-judgmentally, give reassurance and information, encourage seeking professional help, then encourage self-help and support strategies.
First, assess the situation by asking the person about their feelings and their thoughts. Use the word "suicide." Determine if they have a plan and, if so, if they have a timeline, and ask them if they have the tools to carry out said plan. If so, immediately call a mobile crisis mental health hotline if your city has one (New York City, for example, has the NYC Well hotline) or 911.
However, if the person does not appear to be in imminent danger, do your best to support them, to love them, and to listen without shame, judgment, or stigma. Mental Health First Aid suggests you encourage this person to talk about what they’re thinking and how they’re feeling. From there, you can provide reassurance and information and recommend they seek professional help: “Reassurance is crucial, as people having suicidal ideation may not have much hope. Clearly state to them that suicidal thoughts are often associated with a treatable mental illness, and if you feel comfortable, you can also offer to help them get the appropriate treatment,” MHFA's site reads.
It is also imperative to respond appropriately. Do not criticize someone for their thoughts or feelings. Avoid saying things that might unintentionally gaslight their experience, like “but you have so much to live for” or “it’s not that bad.” Instead, empathize and provide them with information to gain access to help.
That's what saved me: Immediately after texting with my friend on that cold night two years ago, I reached out to my psychiatrist via text. I told him I wasn't okay, and he set up an emergency appointment for me the following morning. He told me we would get through this. He reminded me I was okay. Both he and my friend were right, and I owe my friend for first opening my eyes to that. I ultimately did get through it—I was okay. Now, I am okay, and I am so grateful for the resources made available to for helping to realize that.
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