The Article I Wish I’d Found When I Googled 'Thinking About Suicide'

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Sometimes it’s just a thought that passes through. More of an annoyance than a statement filled with any intent. Like a bee sting. Or a flash of lighting.

Sometimes the trigger is obvious (stress, something I regret saying, more stress), and sometimes it seemingly arrives out of nowhere, disturbing a perfectly good drive or conversation I’m trying to hold with my roommate. At its most innocent, it’s distracting. At its worst, it gets stuck in my head. I sing it out loud to make it less scary. More than once, it’s involuntarily left my lips.

“I want to kill myself.”

But I don’t want to die.

And I didn’t want to die when the frequency of these thoughts was particularly bad my junior year of college. It was a broken record player that would start in class, follow me back to my apartment and swim in my head during work. It was glancing at my forearms, visualizing pain. I wouldn’t. But I could.

What was often worse than the actual thoughts were the those that followed: What’s wrong with me? Am I suicidal? What does this mean? What should I do? 

One day the sentence was swirling around in my head during a shift at my job. On my break I left for some air, and, sitting on the side of the street in the dark, I Googled, “Thinking frequently about suicide.” I found nothing concrete. A few forums and suicide prevention foundations. Unsatisfied and without any information, I buried the question away.

Now, I want to write the piece I wish I had found.

— — —

Dr. Ali Mattu, a clinical psychologist at Columbia University, told me he sometimes holds a tissue box in front of his patients to prove a point.

“Think about the box falling,” he says to them. “Imagine it falling to the ground.”

So they do. And after a few moments, with the tissue box still in his hand, Mattu looks up and asks, “Why didn’t it fall?”

At this point, the person usually gets the point he’s trying to make: thoughts are thoughts, and nothing more. Thinking about something doesn’t make it happen.

But what about when our brains get fixated on dark thoughts like suicide?

“Suicidal thoughts, at their heart, are a natural response to specific situation,” he told me, when I explained my situation and — as professionally as I could –asked, “Am I normal?”

Mattu compared it to when he sometimes imagines jumping in front of the subway during his morning commute. Or any other quick thought that might flash through someone’s mind: What if I turned my car off the road? What if I wasn’t alive? These thoughts, in and of themselves, are just that — thoughts. It’s normal to experience them to a certain extent. But even if they’re not filled with intent — and although most people who contemplate suicide never actually try to kill themselves — Mattu said frequent thoughts of suicide aren’t random.

They probably mean there’s more going on.

He told me about a time when he had similar thoughts. He was in graduate school, and his dissertation had fallen apart. Something he had spent a year of his life on was gone, unusable. His stress shot through the roof. He developed a sense of hopelessness, and on top of that, it manifested in self-hate.

“So many of my friends were able to do this. I’m already behind. What’s wrong with me? What can I can do this?” Mattu said, recounting his thoughts at the time. “It was the first time in my life I experienced a suicidal thought.”

He said perhaps junior-year me also had similar fears of the future or had gone through a painful event. He said sometimes when we perceive a situation as uncontrollable, our brain generates suicide as something we can control.

This resonated with me. Back then, I was dealing with a break-up and unaddressed anxiety, while stress at home and at school built up. Maybe my brain was trying to tell me something.

If you experience thoughts of suicide, Mattu said a great first step is stepping back and looking at your situation. Instead of getting upset over the thoughts themselves, think: Why might I be having these thoughts? Is there a situation that perhaps I need to change or an issue I need to address?

Then — talk to someone.

To a friend, to a family member, to a professional. There’s no data that suggests talking about suicidal thoughts makes them worse. Recognize it’s normal to have thoughts that were scary, and talk to someone about them. Hopefully it will help you understand why,” Mattu said. 

Of course, if thoughts of suicide become more than passing thoughts  — or you have a plan — talk to someone about it. Go to your local emergency room. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Know the factors that put someone at a high risk for attempting suicide so you can help yourself or a loved one before it’s too late.

As for me, I wish I could tell myself to seek counseling sooner. That it’s OK to tell your parents you’re not “great” when they call. That just because you’re thinking scary things doesn’t mean you’re “crazy” or that there’s something wrong with you. It doesn’t mean you’re ungrateful or just can’t handle stress. And just because you know you won’t doesn’t mean you’re unworthy of addressing thoughts of suicide, that when your brain is trying to tell you something you should listen: I need help, and that’s OK.

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Related: What to Do When You’re Worried a Loved One Might Be Suicidal

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To My Little Sister Who Recently Attempted Suicide

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Dear Lil Bit,

First off, know you are loved. Secondly, know I’ve been where you are. I know what it’s like to feel hopeless — to think the world would be better off without me. I know what it’s like to want to numb all the hurt with alcohol and drugs. I know what it’s like to loathe getting out of bed in the morning. And I know what it’s like to feel like a burden. You and I both know how that feels.

Now, I’m going to tell you what you don’t yet know:

This too shall pass.

I know how cliché that sounds, but trust me when I say the rut you are in will not last forever. You are so young, and you have a lot of life left to live. I know you have hopes and dreams.

Nothing that happens is worth ending your life.

You are worth so much more than you realize. You are smart. You are beautiful. You have a caring, beautiful soul, and nothing or anybody is worth ending your life over. Don’t let them win. I remember watching you play soccer growing up, and you were great at it.  Making the All-Star team year after year. I remember watching you play your heart out on that soccer field, and not letting anyone or anything get in between you and that goal. Look deep in your soul and find the passion you once had for soccer, and apply that to your life now.

You have a supportive family, but you have to let us in.

More than anyone, I know what you’re going through. I’ve had my own share of mental health issues, like you, and I’m also chronically ill, like you. I get it. And when you don’t think anyone does, remember your older sister understands exactly what you’re going through. If you get to feeling down, call me. I don’t care what time it is, I don’t care what I’m doing. If you need me, you call me, and I promise we will talk through it and find a solution together.

Do not let other people have control over your life

When you get depressed, and when people seem to be beating you down, remember these three letters: P.E.W — prove ’em wrong. When someone tells you you’re not good enough, in whatever area in life, get mad, and then show them you’re even better than they thought you weren’t. You show them you’re stronger than whatever life throws at you, and that you will come out even stronger once you overcome the situation.

Lil Bit, believe me when I say I know what it’s like to feel hopeless. I have days where I can’t find the energy to get out of bed. When the pain is so bad, even my hair hurts. When I have those days, and I can’t find the energy to go on for myself, I look for that energy in other places. I look at you, and your sons, and mom, and my husband and somehow, I find the strength to go on just one more day. That’s all you have to do is make it one more day, then figure out the next day when it comes.

I love you, more than you will ever know, and it breaks my heart knowing that you are going through this. Always remember, I’ve been where you are, and I know exactly how you feel, so when you feel like you don’t have anyone, you have me. I get it, more than anyone. I love you, and we can’t wait to have you home. Stay strong. We come from a very long line of strong, badass women. Now let’s get you better and get you home.

Love,
Your big sissy

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What I'm Asking You as a Mother Who Lost Her Son to Suicide

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Our 17-year-old son Shayne lost all hope. He believed things were never going to get any better, and as a result took matters into his own hands. On March 3, 2014, he took his own life. We have now entered into a realm no parent or person should have to enter.

Suicide devastates those left behind and its wake is widespread, affecting all those who knew the person. It’s a permanent solution to an often temporary problem, either real or perceived, that once completed cannot be reversed. The impact of the death is felt by many, yet understood by few, if any.

For every person who dies by suicide, there are several lives that are deeply impacted, whose lives are forever changed. Mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, aunts, cousins, wives, husbands, children, friends, colleagues — the list is endless and the impact massive, if not catastrophic.

Debbie's husband, Debbie and their son.
Debbie’s husband, Debbie and their son.

Depression weighs down those who experience it. Our son often said he thought we would all be better off if he were dead. He seemed to feel he was causing us too much grief, sadness, heartache and trouble and that our lives would be better without him — all of which were not true. However, even after hearing him express his feelings and thoughts, we didn’t think he would take his own life. We thought we were still on the road to recovery.

Often people say that those who die by suicide or “committed suicide” are selfish. Those of us involved in the day to day struggles of living with this are concerned about the two words “committed” and “selfish.” The terms suggest that the person had a choice and I feel perpetuates the stigma of both suicide and mental health.

All too often, they are suffering in silence. Those individuals who die by suicide are doing so out of desperation to end an unbearable pain. It’s up to us and society to recognize those actions, warning signs, needs and assumptions and to dispel those negative beliefs.

As a society, we need to practice patience, understanding and compassion for those who live with mental illness.

Shayne holding a snake
Shayne

Our son cared for and loved both his family and his friends deeply. He was kind, caring, sensitive, shy, generous, compassionate and fun-loving. But it was like he didn’t know we loved him unconditionally. It seemed like it didn’t matter what we said.

So how is suicide different from all other losses or deaths? – guilt. Plain and simple, it is the barrage of “What if’s,” “If I had only done x,” “If I had not done y” or “Why didn’t I do x or say x?” These relentless questions overtake your whole thought process as you try to analyze the reasons why.

There is emptiness — a void we will never fill or ever get over. My husband has sat on the couch for 14 months in a catatonic depressed state, while my two daughters are extremely angry and bewildered. All three of them were extremely close. There is much torture, anguish and blame for our failure to not only protect, but to prevent the suicide.

Shayne and his sisters.

People often don’t know what to say or what to do, so they either avoid you or the topic altogether.

But something unique or beautiful occurs when you are not silent. When we’ve opened up about our son’s major depression and anxiety, others have opened up to us. When you share, it’s like you’re giving others permission to reveal a deep dark secret or break down a silent barrier. There is no shame in speaking about suicide, and the only way to stamp out stigma and perhaps prevent more suicides is to be more open, and more honest.

As we share our experience, our hope is that the stigma associated with suicide and mental health may one day be eradicated. All too often we suffer in silence — we try to cover up the act, don’t speak of the “unspeakable tragedy.” But it’s time to break that code of silence. It’s time to speak up!

What has our son Shayne taught us? His life was too short and his death too sudden, but he will not be forgotten. My mission now is for others to know that suicide is not the answer. One must never give up, keep hope alive and continue to fight the fight. Reach out to anyone you know is struggling — they might just need a shoulder to lean on.

A version of this piece originally appeared on Mind Vine.

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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To the Parent Who Wanted to Let Me Know My Son Had Been Rude

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Ten months after my son attempted suicide, I received a phone call from a friend who had something important to share with me. He wanted to tell me that my son had been rude to him. He called me because he felt I would “want to know.”

At first, I listened, and then I gave the polite, expected response. “I’m so glad you called. Thank you for letting me know. Please be assured that my husband and I will address this with our son.”

We did address the matter and we do try to ensure everyone in our family treats others with politeness and respect; but sometimes, just sometimes, I do not want to know. I don’t need to know, and as a fellow parent and friend, you are not doing me a favor by “letting me know.”

You see, I already “know” too much. I already know things I hope you will never experience as a parent. I know what it’s like to discover your child bleeding to death in anguish. I know what it’s like to pace the floors for eight hours while the surgeons fuse his broken spine. I know what it’s like to drive an hour three times a week to see a hand specialist for occupational therapy. I know what it’s like to wonder what will happen to his hand now that the nerve has been severed. I know what it’s like to sit for countless hours in the waiting rooms of the psychiatrists and psychologists. I know what it’s like to have to leave my job because there is no way I can work and manage all the appointments.

I know guilt, shame, fear, doubt, anger and frustration. I know sleepless nights and anxiety ridden days.

Fortunately, I also know hope, faith, love, gratitude and forgiveness.

You told me you were aware of our “situation.” Awareness is not the same as understanding. Here is what I want you to know so you can try to understand:

Know that my son’s mental illness will be a lifelong battle. Just because our life appears to be back to normal does not mean we don’t struggle every day. Know there are days when he is hopeful and days when he is hopeless. Know he is kind and smart and creative and thoughtful. Know that depression does not equal only sadness. Know he can also be angry, hostile, impulsive and yes, sometimes he can be rude.

And please know, I do not ​always​ need to know.

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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To a Friend With a Chronic Illness Who’s Feeling Hopeless

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Dear Friend,

I’ve thought about it. Years before I even had to struggle with an invisible illness, I thought about it. Depression was rampant and, at times, I didn’t even realize what it was. Hell, only recently I realized my method of thinking might not be “the norm.” However, none of that changes the facts: I’ve thought about it.

Having struggled with clinical depression though, I have to say that — in my experience — chronic illnesses seem to bring its own kind of depression. And, just like my clinical depression, it isn’t something that can be easily explained. But I will try, because I’m just that audacious:

It’s like you wake up one day and the life you knew is gone — except, you don’t know it’s gone just yet. At first you think you’re just tired or pushing yourself too hard or fighting a cold. But then, before you know it, everything is different. You dedicated your life to a sport you loved? Too bad. You want to pick up your niece and nephew for a hug? Ha. Try just getting out of bed to go to the bathroom. And wait! You want to go hang out with your friends but you have to tell them, again, that you can’t? That you spend most of your life sleeping? That even when you’re awake you aren’t really there?

And that’s when you think maybe the life you knew might not come back.

And you’re just stuck. And you feel alone alone. And you’re just there, in your body. A body that’s breaking down for a reason you don’t understand. A body that is suddenly an enemy. You spend months staring at the mahogany fan in your bedroom — the dust on the edges of it, the frosted bowl covering a single light bulb that has burned above you while thinking about all the walks you haven’t given your dog, all the birthday wishes that have been made without you, how you’re too exhausted to even read a book or watch a movie. You become certain there are more moments in your life that you’ve missed rather than been a part of.

And as you continue to watch your life move past you, seasons changing out the window from your bed, you feel bad for thinking like that. All you want is an answer to why who you once were, and how you once lived, is gone. But you can’t explain that to people. You can’t explain that loss and that hurt and that longing. Because you have two legs and two arms and a heart the pumps and lungs that breathe and there should be “no reason” why you are bed-bound.

And maybe that’s when you get lucky. After years of searching you are overjoyed (yes, overjoyed!) to find what ails you. It has a face, it has a name — dysautonomia, ehlers-danlos syndrome, Lyme disease, lupus — and, without knowing it, you become one of the strongest people ever to exist. Because true strength is gentle. True strength is quiet. True strength is in the little battles you make second after second after second of every single day.

But you don’t feel strong. Not in the slightest. All you feel is the fatigue. All you feel is the weight of the things you cannot do and the shadow of the life you once had. Of the family and friends and loved ones you are certain you’ve become a burden to and the choices you have to make day in and day out (“Do I wash my hair and feel like shit for the rest of the day or do I sit in filth and stay awake for more than 30 minutes?”) And through all of this that damn ceiling fan does absolutely nothing but stare down at you – the dust on it even thicker now – because you’ve been there for days. For months. For years.

Of course I’ve thought about it. And, of course, I wish I had something more than platitudes to tell the person I knew who died by suicide — to tell anyone. Because it is easy to feel a hopelessness in a chronic illness — especially an invisible one — that only those who have it can understand.

So what is there to say? I try to think about how I’m not alone, because that is true. I think of all the friends I have found because of my illness. I think about all the things I’ve discovered about myself that I, otherwise, wouldn’t have. How my body has forced me to listen to it after years of ignoring it. How I respect it now, how (when I’m not unfairly angry at it) I appreciate it — in all its strength and its weakness.

I think about how the little stuff became big stuff: microwaving a meal on my own, managing a shower, walking my dog to the mail box and back, staying awake through an entire movie. I measure my successes in the tiniest of these things — things most people don’t even think about. Until one day I stopped to see that years of these “little things” brought me to teaching autistic/children with Autism for eight hours a day. Sure, I was beyond exhausted and some days I hurt more than I could understand, but I was doing it.

Even then, though, I think one of the hardest parts is not knowing if we’ll feel OK tomorrow… shit, if we’ll feel OK in five minutes. If we’ll ever really feel “OK” again. “I might never get better” is a scary, scary thought, but a fair one, don’t you think? With all you have been through? Everything you have dealt with?

I think so.

So, I don’t know. I don’t know what to say. I know that in my darkest moments, I did everything I could to find something to hold on to. I took pictures from my bed and discovered a love for photography. And I told myself, over and over, that even though my body might be sick, my spirit was whole.

And while I don’t know exactly how you feel, my friend, I understand.

I understand.

So, please, do not let go.

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

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What to Do When You're Worried a Loved One Might Be Suicidal

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Maybe it’s only a small change. Your friend seems more distracted than usual, or maybe he’s been a bit withdrawn. Maybe she gets angered more easily by small things, or the passion he used to have seems to have disappeared.

Maybe she’s told you outright. He’s been feeling really down lately. She wonders if the world would be better off without her, and this seems like the only way to make the pain go away.

Every day in the United States, an average of 117 people die by suicide. Of those people, 90 percent had a mental disorder at the time of their death.

But statistics like these lead to more questions than answers — how many would have responded to treatment? Who had previously reached out for help? How many times does this need to happen?

What can we do to prevent this from happening again?

Because suicide is preventable, and we can take action when we’re worried about a loved one’s safety, we talked to Shari Sinwelski, associate project director at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, to get some insight into what we need to know to prevent suicide. 

If you’re worried about a friend or family member, hopefully these tips help. If you want to know more information, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has a great resource here.

1. Know the signs.

One of the most obvious ways to know if someone’s considering suicide is if they’re talking about it. But the word “suicide” won’t always leave his or her lips. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, it’s important to look out for phrases that include themes like being a burden, feeling trapped, having no reason to live or experiencing unbearable pain.

Sinwelski said some signs are less obvious to the untrained eye, like a sudden shift in a person’s demeanor. Other examples include suddenly not taking care of themselves, change in sleeping patterns or eating patterns (which can go both ways: eating/sleeping too much or too little) or expressing disinterest in things they used to love.

In teenagers, Sinwelski added, it sometime takes the form of anger or loss of concentration. In most cases, a common thread seems to be something changes or seems off. There’s been a shift in mood or character. Also, if your loved one has a history of depression, other mental illness or a previous suicide attempt, he or she may be more at risk.

2. Don’t be afraid to ask direct questions. 

When you’re ready to approach a friend or loved one — or if they approach you — don’t be afraid to ask direct questions. There’s no evidence that talking to someone about suicide can “make them” suicidal — so don’t hesitate to use the word itself. On the contrary, research does indicate that talking openly about suicide lets a potentially suicidal person know he or she is not alone. If you’re worried about a friend’s behavior, there’s nothing wrong with asking upfront, “Are you thinking about killing yourself?”

3. Stay as calm as possible.

If the person starts to open up to you, although it may be hard, it’s important to stay calm.

“When people hear that a person might be thinking about suicide, your gut reaction might be to tense up,” Sinwelski said. “But that can sometimes make the person who’s having thoughts of suicide think you’re scared — and they might become more withdrawn.”

Instead of acting shocked or reacting in a strong way, Sinwelski said the best thing to do is create a safe space for the person, and listen. Thank them for opening up to you, and then ask what you can do.

4. Assess how serious the situation is.

According to Sinwelski, many people who have thoughts of suicide don’t end up taking their own life. But, we should still take their thoughts seriously. Some questions you can ask the person to evaluate their risk are, “How does the thought of taking your life make you feel?” “Have you thought about when or how?” The more information you have, the more you can evaluate the seriousness of the situation.

Sinwelski said the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline uses four factors to access a person’s risk, based on research done at Columbia University.

The first is desire — if the psychological pain they’re feeling is really enough to drive them to act upon their thoughts.

The second is capability — this could mean access to means such as firearms, but also includes their mental capability. When a a person uses drugs or alcohol, they may be more capable because their inhibitions are down. A previous suicide attempt is also a serious indicator someone is capable of attempting again. A family history of suicide or having a mental illness that makes them feel “unsafe in their own skin,” as Sinwelski put it, are also indicators that someone would be capable of following through on suicidal thoughts.

Intent is also an important factor — with the biggest indicator being a plan. A person who can give specific answers to “when” or “how” is more at risk.

The final factor is lack of connectedness — do they feel like they have no connections to our world? This includes friends, family, plans for the future, faith, pets or kids — anything to make someone feel they have something to hold on to.

5. Stay connected.

That last risk factor, Sinwelski said, is the easier way for friends and family to intervene. According to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, when you’re available to a friend in crisis, it can reduce the risk of suicide. Make sure your loved one knows you’re there to listen. Check in on them every day or two to see how they’re doing. Make yourself someone they can reach out to when they’re in distress.

6. Get help as soon as possible.

Of course, there are professionals you can reach out to when you’re worried about a friend or loved one. A little known fact is that the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is actually for people who are worried about loved ones too — not just for people who feel suicidal themselves. So call the lifeline, or reach out to a local counselor, therapist or someone you trust. Encourage your friend to seek help for themselves if they haven’t already. Let them know there is hope — that suicide is not their only option, but that reaching out and getting help is choice that can keep them here.

I would like to emphasize that suicide prevention is everyone’s responsibility,” Sinwelski said. “It’s not just for clinician or doctors. People are less likely to go to a counselor or a doctor than they are to show warning signs to their friends or family members. It’s really important  for people to not ignore that when they notice it — and feel empowered to help.”

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

Related: 23 Messages for Anyone Considering Suicide, From People Who’ve Been There

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