Suicide has always been a very taboo topic. Are we getting better? Yes. But, like with all mental health we have a long way to go. Suicide in recent years has been more openly talked about. Rapper, Logic's song 1-800-273-8255 really opened the door for young people to be honest about what they are thinking and feeling. He has been a major advocate in the mental health world and has shared his personal story of battling mental illness in an effort to minimize the stigma. If you didn't know, those numbers are the title of the song and it is the suicide hotline number.
Over the years there have been several celebrity suicides, with the most recent being Kate Spade yesterday (6/5/18). Known for her cute accessories and girly phone cases a lot of people would assume that she was a happy person. Her accessories are EVERYWHERE!
Seeing the news about Kate Spade is what inspired this post to talk about some misconceptions, give some education on how people get to this point, and some do's and don'ts for responding.
13 Reasons Why, in case you haven't heard, is a popular series on Netflix that has also opened conversations. The series documents a teenage girl's suicide and the events that led to it. The second season is more about how things are different for each of the characters post-suicide. I have watched both seasons and I love the series but there were a few things in the series that were realistic but bothersome for me as a therapist that I had already planned to write about prior to hearing about Kate Spade's death. I will address those throughout the post.
So, why do people commit or attempt suicide?
Individuals who have been diagnosed with depression or really, any mental illness are already at high risk for suicide. You can read my Mental Health Matters series that talks more about mental illness and how those things impact a life. Mental Illness is a scary thing and often times is stressful in itself. I hear people way too often respond to suicide saying "everyone has things they are going through". This was also one of the things said by one of the characters in 13 Reasons Why 2. Everyone has a different amount of stress that they can take and a different way of dealing with that stress. I also want to point out here that children's brains are underdeveloped and what we may be able to cope with as adults it may seem like the end of the world to them.
2. The only way
Many times to someone contemplating suicide they do not see how things could possibly get better. They do not believe that things will change so they question if there is a reason to continue living. People on the outside want them to just get over it and "look at the positives" but it's not that easy. Being nervously transparent I can admit that I have contemplated suicide many times since a very young age. For people who know and love me that may be hard to read but I have to be honest because that is the point of this blog. When things get that bad all you see is black. It's like the issue you are facing is a huge infinite wall that blocks you from seeing anything else. You don't see anything positive. The suffering is so bad that you just want the pain to end and the only foreseeable way to end it completely is to end yourself.
Trauma takes on many forms. Trauma can be abuse, it can be bullying like in 13 Reasons Why, it can be a myriad of things. Even amongst all of the people who have experienced various types of trauma handle that in very different ways. Also, what may not be traumatic to you could be traumatic to someone else. For instance, you may not think that losing a pet is traumatic because it is not a human, however to someone else it could be very different and be extremely traumatic. As far as bullying you may have heard the saying, "sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me". That is just not true. You can't take words back and a lot of times for people already struggling with mental illness, and/or contemplating suicide, words may play over and over again in their minds. Many people who have suicidal ideations already feel like no one will care if they are gone and bullying often feeds into that idea. This is why when kids are being bullied at school or anywhere else it is important to pay attention to that and check in with them.
Do Not's...let's start here
1. Don't Blame the Victim
Yes, victim. Whether a suicide attempt was completed or not (never say successful or unsuccessful) it is never the victim's "fault". It is not fair to blame them for not being able to cope with the stressors they are experiencing. Never tell them to just get over it and move on or be derogatory towards them because of their struggles. If you are someone who was impacted by someone completing a suicide attempt do not blame yourself either.
2. Don't Shame Them
If someone shares with you that they are contemplating suicide that is a HUGE thing and takes a lot of courage. The last thing that they need is someone saying, "why would you even think of doing something like that" or "your problems aren't that bad" or telling them how other people have it worse than them. Never make a person feel bad that this even seems like an option to them, it only makes things worse. Suicide being a taboo topic adds to shame. If people in society weren't so afraid to talk about it people would be more open to getting help. So, don't try to keep them from talking about it, don't avoid it, deal with it head on.
3. Don't Make it About You
This is probably my biggest pet peeve when it comes to suicide: when the parents and friends or other loves ones talk about themselves. One of the characters said this in 13 Reasons Why and I was ready to throw something at the screen. "Why/How would/could you do this to me?" or "You would really leave me like that?" Someone else's suicide whether contemplation or completion is not about you. This person cannot even see the value in their own life but you think them thinking about you magically makes the problems go away? If anything they are probably thinking that their absence will make things better for you. This is not the time to be selfish or accuse them of being selfish.
1. Be Supportive
This does not mean encouraging or support their idea of suicide but be supportive in getting them the help they need. Listen! Try to listen without giving "help". Ask what they need from you, don't assume they need advice. Your attempts at persuading them to make a different choice will often fail.
2. Be Open
Like I said, do not make this about you. Be open to hearing why they are feeling this way even if the reason is you. Do not take offense to what they are saying. Even if you do not understand their reasons at least listen to them with open, non-judgmental ears.
3. Get Help
This goes for people contemplating suicide and the loved ones impacted by a completed/attempted suicide or impacted by someone telling you that they are contemplating. There are support groups for each of these categories. See a therapist, regardless of what side of this you are on. Being a therapist myself and specializing in crisis intervention I am available if you need to talk. Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org . If we need to set up a phone call we can do that. Please talk to someone!!!
Suicide Hotline: 1 (800)273-8255
Christian Suicide Hotline: 1(800)-NEW-LIFE
211: 211 is a 24 hour hotline available in all cities and states that provides resources in your community. They can direct you to a therapist or whatever else it is that you are needing.