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We Can't Ignore the Connection Between Chronic Illness and Suicide

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There are so many things to consider when dealing with the chronic illness of a loved
one.  Medications. Lifestyle changes. Alleviating the physical suffering. Balancing employment with doctor’s appointments. Home schooling vs. brick and mortar school. The decisions can seem endless, but has everything been considered?

How about: Is my loved one at risk for suicide?

Increased suicidal ideation has been found in chronic illness populations like chronic fatigue syndrome, myalgic encephalomyelitis, fibromyalgia, and postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS). Many people with these medical conditions also have chronic pain and sleep disturbances — also known risk factors for suicide. What’s scary is that in chronic illness, your loved one doesn’t have to be clinically depressed in order to contemplate suicide.

Special issues that increase suicidal thoughts in those with chronic illness: 

– Lack of quality medical care to treat complex, chronic illnesses.

– Physical illness that leads to decreased mobility, poor memory, confusion and overall poor quality of life.

– Claims that the illness is “all in your head” by friends, family and healthcare practitioners.

– Withdrawal of love and/or support due to the impact of chronic illness.

– Financial pressures from medical bills, medication costs and the inability to work.

– Feelings of isolation and loneliness.

– Perception that they are a burden to family and friends.

– Loss of hope for recovery or improvement in quality of life.

How can you decrease the likelihood of suicidal thoughts in your loved one with a chronic illness? 

Believe them. The best thing you can do is beleive them when they talk about their symptoms or the way they are feeling. Invisible illnesses — like POTS, fibromyalgia and myalgic encephalomyelitis — have the added difficulty that their pain can’t be easily measured. When most people get sick, they have a fever, swollen glands or runny nose that allows others to see that they are not feeling well. That is not the case for people living with invisible illnesses. What does it look like if a person is dizzy? Can you assess their level of fatigue without feeling it yourself? What does neuropathic pain look like to the outside observer? Believe your loved one!

Decrease loneliness. Many with chronic illness are largely housebound and isolated. This includes many adolescents with POTS who resort to home-schooling, partial days at school and withdrawal from activities due to symptom severity. Sending the occasional text message or email can do wonders. Pick up the phone once in a while to let them know you still care. Human contact is important for everyone, but particularly for the chronically ill.

Reassure them that they are not a burden. Many teens and adults with chronic illnesses want to go to school, work, grocery shopping and lead a “normal” life. If their illness makes this impossible, be understanding when you need to help with routine chores and errands. Willingly assist them with personal care, when necessary. Imagine how you would feel if the roles were switched, and reassure them that you love them.

Seek the best medical care. Finding the right doctor who listens and cares is important for both mental and physical health. If their doctor doesn’t understand their illness or isn’t actively helping, change doctors! Finding the right doctor can mean the difference between being homebound and resuming some semblance of a normal life.

Don’t be afraid to ask if they are contemplating suicide. The question won’t make them feel suicidal, but it opens a conversation about their wellbeing before they make an attempt. Many people who consider suicide don’t really want to die, but can’t fathom how to continue living like this. A good counselor who understands chronic illness can be invaluable in working with all of the feelings that accompany chronic illness.

Take talk of suicide seriously. People who talk about suicide are 30 times more likely than average to kill themselves, and 80 percent who die by suicide show some warning signs – saying goodbye, giving away prized possessions, etc. If they are talking about suicide, stay with them and call for help. Connect them with a professional who can help them re-frame their depression, anxiety or issues relating to their illness immediately.  Following up with a good counselor is imperative.

If you know someone who is contemplating suicide, it is imperative that you act now. Hoping that their thoughts will pass with time is risky. Please seek immediate professional help, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK, or text HOPELINE at 741741 with the word “start” to get the assistance that you need.

A version of this piece originally appeared on Standing Up to POTS.

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

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Image via Thinkstock

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To Those Who Feel Suicide Is the Only Way to Escape the Darkness

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My dear child,

I know you are hurting. I know you are tired. I know the weight of the world is on your shoulders and you don’t feel like you can take it anymore.

I know because I’ve been there, too.

I know the pain you feel is real. Others may not understand, no. They may be quick to jump to conclusions or disregard your suffering as “all in your head.” They may not be able to wrap their own minds around the magnitude of your struggle. They may not believe the disease you have is real.

But my darling, I understand you. I’ve been there, too.

And I know the only thing that matters to you is relief. You want to escape the anguish, the darkness, the sadness. You scream into the silence, pleading for help, but you fear no one can hear you. Your ears ache for a response, but they hear none. You feel more alone than ever. You don’t know what to do and only one option seems sufficient enough to bring you peace.

But my child, you are mistaken.

You are more than the pain you’ve endured and the fear you’ve felt. You are more than your depression. You are more than your anxiety. You are more than your bipolar disorder, or your substance abuse or whatever it might be that you feel is defining you. You are more than that. Your illness does not define you. Your illness is not who you are.

You are human, wonderfully made and beautifully flawed. You are a unique creation, distinct and gifted. You may not realize how important you are to this world, but you are. You are loved and cherished whether you think so or not. You are wanted here. We want you to stay here. We want to help you. We want to see you thrive. You may not understand your potential, but we do.

One day you will shine as bright as the constellations in the night sky. You will be a force to be reckoned with. You will change the world.

So I ask of you one thing. Just one simple thing.

Hold on, even if you have to do so one day at a time. Just keep breathing. Don’t let your pain be victorious over you. You are a fighter and you can beat this. You are stronger than this.

Reach out to others. Find help and cherish it. Victory is easier when you have an army on your side. You will be surprised how willing others are to fight for you. So let them and don’t be ashamed.

At the end of every tunnel, there is a light. There is calm after every storm. Even the darkest of nights give way to sunrise. Hope is real. It will get better. You will overcome. We will overcome.

This I promise you, because I’ve been where you’ve been and I am still here today.

And when I wake up tomorrow, I want to see you here, too.

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

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

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To My Husband, Who Died by Suicide

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I’m falling. Tumbling. Down into the past. I can feel everything I felt one year ago tomorrow. One year ago when you, my best friend, my loving husband, walked out the door of our home and took your own life. Your beautiful loving heart must have shattered in a million pieces. I wonder if you watched the demons leave your body and disappear. I wonder if you thought, “Oh why… why did I do this?”

My heart. My heart cracked in half when I learned you were dead. Before. And after. An earthquake inside my body just behind my ribs. Painful. So painful. Why am I toughing this all out? Why do I still reside here on this earth with a heart that is in pieces? Because of our children. Because I have to believe there is a greater reason to all of this. This is all I have to hang on to.

Family condemns and starts fights after a suicide. Truths are revealed. Friends start rumors. September 10, 2015. I was beaten to the ground. And after that? I have been beaten down farther by people’s words. But I have to believe some people are sent to be the light. And being the light can be painful. But it’s all I’ve got to go on. It’s what is pushing me forward.

This past week has been filled with emotions. I have found myself crying like a child on our bathroom floor. Screaming out to the God to just bring you back home. Yelling out to you… “Where is the note? The love note? The goodbye letter? Where is it?” I am just allowing all of these feelings to flow. I have learned so much in this past week. Emotions are teachers if you pay attention and listen.

I tumble down further. Down into a review of the final days of your life. I go back and I look at you over dinner longer. I smile at you more. I reach for your hand over and over. The past still exists because time does not. Time is man made. Past/future/present is all happening at the same time. I stand there in the kitchen with you on the final morning I will ever again have a best friend here on this earth. I sneak a note into your pocket when you aren’t paying attention. It reads:

“I love you. No matter what they tell you, those screaming inside your head. No matter their lies. I love you. What we have is real. You are my truest friend. You saved my life so many moons ago, and I only wish you would reach out for me to save yours. Or maybe I did. Maybe I did save your life and I just don’t see it that way yet. I gave you my love, my heart, your children, my everything. I can only hope you take my love with you. Don’t let it bleed out of your heart when you go. Wrap it up in golden paper and take it with you in your soul. Don’t go. Don’t go. Don’t go. Oh God, please don’t go. Don’t go, but if you must., take the love. Take the love and let the rest go. I love you infinity. Birdie.”

I’ve been down that rabbit hole for days now. Falling down levels and levels and making stops in time along the way. Checking in on you, my best friend. Replaying and reliving the moments and memories again. Just one last time. Smelling your clothes. Holding your hand. Snuggling into your chest. Listening to your beautiful heart beat. Going back in time to each year we were together. Sneaking into our house at night like a ghost and whispering in your ear as you sleep. Don’t go… don’t go… don’t go. The world needs you. I need you. I love you infinity. 

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the 
Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo by lolostock

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#SeeSomethingSaySomething Is a Suicide Prevention Campaign for Teens by Teens

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We are. Teens. Friends and family. Mothers and fathers. Brothers and sisters. We are… a community of the friends, families and loved ones of teens lost to suicide. In the summer of 2016 our small town of Taos, New Mexico, experienced a cluster of teen suicides that rocked our way of life. Shocked and grieving, we’ve scrambled to find answers that eventually came from the girl who sits beside me in Language Arts. “If you see something, say something.” A simple action to combat a serious issue. We are… teens working to save the lives of teens.

#SeeSomethingSaySomething is a suicide prevention social campaign created for teens by teens. We believe a 140-character text can save a life. What’s your 140?

While few high school students considering suicide use telephone hotlines, we know teens in crisis are seeking help. Since August 1, 2013, Crisis Text Line has exchanged 25+ million messages with texters in need by providing a private and confidential method to connect – via text.

Teens. We use text to communicate everything — all the time. And that’s why Crisis Text Line is our service partner of choice. Crisis Text Line has a human-first policy and believes every texter deserves a human response. Teens seeking confidential crisis support via our #SEEsomethingSAYsomething app will always connect to a trained Crisis Counselor. 24/7. Free of service.

Crisis Text Line is on the frontline engaging texters in crisis. On average Crisis Text Line supports 50,000 texters per month, with an average eight active rescues per day.

Real-time crisis intervention + positive peer support is key to teen suicide disappearing from our reality. #SeeSomethingSaySomething

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What No One Told Me About Leaving the Hospital After a Suicide Attempt

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I didn’t expect it to be difficult. I told my husband I wanted to get back to work the day after getting out. Luckily, he convinced me not to.

My doctor told me, “You have to remember – you just attempted suicide.”

After my husband found me on our bedroom floor, having overdosed on my medication, he took me to the ER, where I signed myself into a behavioral facility.

“I’m terrified by how calm I am,” I wrote in a journal my first day there. After the trauma of doing it, talking about it, talking about it some more, being examined and being alive when I didn’t want to be, I was calm. I didn’t know if I wanted to be there, but something in me knew it was good I was.

Realizing I’d always had the tools to accept and manage my depression and anxiety and that I needed the time and space to practice them was the most freeing part of my attempt.

While in the hospital, I had the time to not only list the coping exercises I’d learned over the years but was given opportunities to practice them. I felt myself transform into this mindful, pleasant and healing being.

But no one tells you about the healing you have to do once you get out.

I’d spent so much time planning my return – getting my hair and nails done, celebrating my return to life with a new look – that I didn’t consider how it’d affect my day-to-day. It wasn’t like I could say to the hairdresser, “Sorry my hair is so gross. I’ve been washing it with hand soap in a mental hospital for the past week.” Or bring up in passing conversation, “That reminds me of this funny thing that happened while I was recovering from a suicide attempt.”

I was a mess. While I didn’t cry once in my eight-day stay at the behavioral facility, it was only a matter of hours before I was overwhelmed and fighting hyperventilation. I wanted everything to return to the way it was, but a chunk of time was missing from my life, and I needed to cope with that.

Returning to work was tough. My co-workers didn’t know why I’d been gone for two weeks. They just knew they’d had to take on my workload. I didn’t tell them why I’d disappeared but thanked them for picking up the slack and that I appreciated them. My paycheck suffered and sent me into a near-episode. I had to forbear my loans to get gas in my car to go to work.

The one thing that’s kept me grounded and positive is my husband – the life I was willing to leave behind. I grieved I ever thought to abandon such an amazing partner, who’d been supportive, selfless and reassuring while I was away and is my cheerleader in everything else. He understands that, sometimes, you just need a hug and a good cry.

It’s taken a couple weeks, but I’ve been learning to implement the practices I adopted in the hospital. It’s about making time, practicing self-care, being self-aware and being honest with yourself and others.

You can’t get help until you ask for it. So, please, ask for it. You’re important. You matter. You deserve it.

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

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

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo by jim doberman

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The Project That's Helping Us Move Forward After Our Friend's Suicide

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December 13, 2014. I was on my way to a friend’s house for a night of pre-Christmas drinks/games, etc. I had a phone call come through as I was 30 seconds from the front door from my best friend’s brother’s phone. I answered and was met by their mum’s shaking voice. “We’ve had some bad news…” she managed to say. I prompted her to continue, as I had no idea how severe it was. At first I thought David (my friend’s brother) had been in an accident or something because she was using his phone to call. Then she said the three words that changed everything. “…Chris is dead.”

I had no response. I was on a busy street. I hadn’t even stopped walking. I was just being carried along by the foot traffic current. She then managed to tell me his flatmates had found him after a suicide in his room earlier that day. She wanted me to tell as many of our close friends as possible before it went on Facebook. I didn’t know what to say, and if I went back now, I don’t think I’d have any better ideas.

I got to my friend’s house and broke down on the front step. I got in and sat down and rang around. I managed to get through two calls before I had to stop. I felt numb. I didn’t know what was going on. I still wanted to carry on with the games and drinks plan, but everyone else looked at me as though I’d suggested some wild thing. To me it was just not real, and so it was just a case of “right, well, time for games…” After an hour or two of sitting on thoughts, I found out a few people were meeting up somewhere near our houses for a drink. Word had reached different circles by now, and the Facebook posts were starting to come in. We met up for a drink and a toast. It still didn’t feel real. The next day we went to visit his family. It didn’t feel real. A few days later I went to see his body. It didn’t feel real. The week after, we had his funeral. It didn’t feel real. Then Christmas. Then New Year. All of it, just completely numb.

Moving forward, there were times that it got difficult to accept. I’d go to ring him or walk to his house expecting him to be there. Whenever bands toured I’d send him a message only to later realize it wouldn’t get read.

There was no note, no noticeable change. He was always the one to make you laugh the most, always the one to make you do stuff you wouldn’t otherwise. Never has the phrase “life and soul of the party” been more appropriate. Nineteen years old is no age for someone to die, let alone by suicide, and with no answers to the questions I was left with, it became too easy to lose my own battles. Feelings of guilt started to creep in. What if I’d have gone to see him that night? What if I’d have sent him a message? What if I had picked up on things or just asked him if he was OK more often? The answer to all of these things have been told to me by people over and over again: It’s not your fault. But it’s difficult to lose sight of that when you have so many things to think about in your own head.

Chris and I were in a few bands over the years. I was on drums, and he played bass. He taught himself from scratch when we joined the first one, and three years later he was writing his own stuff, suggesting musical directions and influences for the band. We held a tribute night in a local venue we had a long history with. Our singer took up the bass for the show, and we had support from bands we had becomes friends with over the years. We sold out the show and raised over £1,200 to donate to different causes: two mental health charities and Chris’ Scout group. We had a recording done of the night and now have the CD and poster available to sell to raise more money.

But as I tried to move forward, it occurred to me that the only time I felt better about everything was organizing that event. It brought people together, family and friends and members of the Scout group, and we did something in Chris’ name for a good cause. An idea started to form about how I could help people in similar situations — not just to the ones Chris may have been in, but to those people left behind after someone leaves. The pain never goes, it just gets spread around, and sometimes grief gets sidelined and seen as a time-coded sadness. Grief opens the doors for all sorts of other problems: addiction, depression, anxiety, insomnia, etc.

The idea then started to form into a center where people could go and deal with mental health issues in a healthy environment. If you go to a doctor, sometimes symptoms may be misread, sometimes medication or therapy doesn’t work for people. Sometimes all people need is somewhere to go, a safe space away from home and work where they can maybe read a book, watch a film, learn a skill, and should they want to, talk to someone. Safe Space became the name of the project.

We are only just getting started. Our Facebook page only went live this week, and we have around 100 likes, but we have started Safe Space as an online community until we can raise the funds to open a physical center. The long term goal is to have a Safe Space in every city. It won’t be easy, and it won’t be quick, but if we get there then it will be so worth the effort. We encourage people to share their stories, find help and provide help to people if they can, as nobody is an expert in all areas of mental health. Different things work for different people, and we hope to help people find those things that help them and work with them to deal with their issues in a safe way.

If anybody is interested in any more information, or for details on how to donate, please visit us on Facebook.

We will soon have an email account and phone number for more direct enquiries, but for now please like us, share us, come talk to us, and help us help as many people as we can. We do it in Chris’ name, knowing that opening up is far greater than the alternative.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo by digital skillet

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