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9 Ways to Support People With Mental Illness — That Aren't Just Reposting the Suicide Hotline

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In the wake of Chester Bennington’s suicide, the usual flurry of crisis number posts populated my Facebook and Instagram alike. They all conveyed a similar message:

“PLEASE will ONE person repost this number to show a friend you care?!?! SHOW them we’re listening! Let’s raise suicide awareness. Here are some numbers for you to call!”

The message followed with some appropriately sad emojis and absurdly long hashtags. Every time a celebrity takes their own life, social media collectively circulates mental health resources. These tragic deaths are often the only time I see my neurotypical friends discuss mental illness and suicide.

Sigh.

Look, I don’t want to discourage anyone from copying and pasting the suicide prevention hotline. Please keep posting it. I appreciate the intention, but to be honest, most of us with mental illness don’t benefit at all from these posts. As someone who struggles with daily suicidal ideation, I cannot say I ever felt supported because a Facebook friend reposted a prewritten status. I never checked my social media feeds before or during a mental breakdown.

The post is an important gesture, but I believe is obsolete. People struggling with mental illness need more than an occasional shout out on social media. We need action. We need participation. We need awareness, but also more prevention.

Here are a few direct ways you can truly help people with mental illness and contribute to suicide prevention:

1. Join the fight for affordable healthcare now.

If Trumpcare or a similar plan were to pass, mental illnesses would be considered unprotected pre-existing conditions and insurance premiums would skyrocket. This would make treatment, therapy, substance abuse programs, hospitalization and psychiatric medicine inaccessible to many people. Already marginalized communities such as the homeless population, people of color and abuse survivors will face the most severe consequences. Go to rallies, protest the GOP senate healthcare bill, call your representatives, vote in 2018 or do all of the above. Just do something.

2. Be mindful of your word choice.

If you do not live with mental illness, replace common ableist terms (“crazy,” “stupid,” etc.) and phrases (“I’m so depressed,” “I’m being so OCD” or “I was being bipolar yesterday”) with language that doesn’t further marginalize people with mental illness. There are over 171,000 words in the English language in current use, so just pick a different adjective!

3. Be aware of shows that do not responsibly depict mental illness.

Stop supporting and watching exploitative entertainment that does not responsibly depict mental illness. Both popular Netflix productions “To The Bone” and “13 Reasons Why” ignored safety guidelines suggested by mental health professionals. This is never excusable. People with mental illness are not props or “manic pixie dream girls” or any other trope. Living with mental illness is complex, diverse and definitely not glamorous. Art and media need to be held accountable if they reinforce negative stereotypes and stigmas.

4. Don’t perpetuate the idea mental illness “looks” or “acts” a certain way.

Every time someone takes their own life, I hear, “Oh, but their life was so good” or “Oh, they looked so happy.” There are more red flags than just poor hygiene, sadness and isolation. There may also be no red flags at all. You cannot determine the severity of a person’s disability by their outward appearance.

5. Donate to mental health causes.

If you have the funds, donate directly to  folks struggling with their mental health through their GoFundMe page, Paypal account, Venmo, etc. Mental illness can lead to gaps in work, and debilitating mental illness can sometimes lead to homelessness. Even those who receive disability must walk a fine line between making enough money to survive, while simultaneously ensuring they don’t make too much and lose their Social Security benefits.

6. Volunteer for a crisis hotline.

If you don’t have funds but have free time, consider actually volunteering for a crisis hotline. Shifts vary, but often you commit to a weekly or monthly shift. Training is typically free and it takes little time to satisfy the requirements.

7. Volunteer with organizations that directly provide support to people with mental illness.

Find organizations that offer free support groups, sliding scale therapy options, housing, discounted medication, etc. Both The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) and National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) provide a list of free support groups in each state.

8. Check in with your friends who are struggling.

Make an effort to have one-on-one, private conversations with your friends if they are struggling. This is always a much more productive and supportive route than public posts.

9. Listen.

Lastly, listen to your friends and family members who may be struggling with a mental illness. I can only speak for myself and my disabilities, but on occasion, I don’t have the damn spoons to do the work. That is when able-minded/bodied people need to be our accomplices. That is when we need you to educate other neurotypical folks on the topic of mental health and wellness.

Suicide prevention is possible, but only when we actively work together before another life is tragically ended.

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

If you need support right now, call the National 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.

Thinkstock photo via UfukSaracoglu.

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TV Shows About Suicide Start the Conversation – but We Have to Finish It

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Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

I am all of the mixed feelings about “13 Reasons Why.”

If you live under a rock, “13 Reasons Why” is a Netflix series that, in a nutshell, walks you through a high school girl’s suicide plan, ending in her actual suicide, which they show. It has made so many of you angry for so many reasons, and so many of you have also been motivated by it to treat people with more kindness — there are positive and negative things to sift through.

Suicide is something I take very seriously. My expertise in this is two-prong. Yes, I have my own experience with suicidal feelings. I am also a counselor who has worked with high school students in the trenches of stuff. My point is that I have lived this, and I have worked to resolve it (as much as is responsible to claim — you never know what will trigger you), and then I have walked people through it in therapy. I can, albeit with limitations, see both sides of this thing.

I love that “13 Reasons Why” has catapulted us into having such a dynamic conversation about suicide, but I hate that it has done it in a way that is so unsafe for so many people. And what’s more — I am seeing a lot of talking, and not a lot of doing. The people who are hurting, people who are experiencing suicidal feelings, they need us to be just as much talk, with even more action. Where is the action? Yes, it starts the conversation, but it really leaves you hanging if you are in a place where you are not ready for its contents.

Simply put, I, and experts who are a lot smarter than I am, think that the release was irresponsible, and the triggering nature of some of the scenes is reckless. It should have been more shepherded — a guided watch, not an uncontrolled substance.

Yes, this series is getting people talking about suicide, and every piece of my heart says hooray to that. But — and hang with me here — this show being released into the wild on Netflix feels similar to temping someone with an addiction. We have to realize that some people who are struggling with suicidal thoughts do not have the proper supports in place to keep them safe. This show is a catalyst in some good ways and some bad ways. We have started a conversation, but we have also put a lot of people at risk at the same time.

I have heard from well over 100 people with personal narratives on how this show is a trigger for them in some way. Here are some of the things that you brave people have shared with me:

“I have severe depression and anxiety and that show messed with me. I’ve never had suicidal thoughts but that show made it look like a pretty easy alternative.”

“I had a situation with my mom last year and the ending brought back a lot of feelings that I wasn’t prepared for.”

And if I may cut to the chase:

“If I had watched this show at that age (high school, college, freshly graduated), it would have [hurt me]. I was so angry, and so vengeful. If I had seen the beautiful Hannah Baker [kill herself] in gorgeous lighting, with sweet music in the background, and watched all her enemies suffer her revenge, [I would have been influenced.] I know that isn’t the point of the books, but the show executes it so melodramatically, and with such… style, that it would have been irresistible. I was sick.”

This is actual, valid, ethnographic research. These are reactions from real people with real feelings.

I will say that the producers did some CYA and made a follow-up documentary. It’s called “13 Reasons Why: Beyond the Reasons” and it actually pops up right beside the show when you search the title. But I don’t think anyone is watching it, especially the people/teenagers/whoever who are struggling with suicide.

I watched it… and I don’t know, I still think it doesn’t fix the whole shock factor they seemed to be going for. And I do think their intentions were so good here. Why? Because Selena Gomez was on the production team. I love her for being so open and honest with her own struggle with mental health… and for that reason, am very surprised that she signed off on such a triggering portrayal of a person’s story.

Yes, I think this show can accomplish good things and motivate people. But I also think it can hurt people.

So, let me say it again: I think the stir this show has caused will actually cause more suicides if we do not steward this conversation well on a national level, so I am going to focus my attention on that part. This is not just because the show is a trigger; it is because of some of the vocal reactions to the show. Some of you have suggested the things Hannah Baker experienced in the show are “not worth killing yourself over.” Hear me very clearly here: it is not your job to make that call. To someone in Hannah’s shoes, it felt like a real solution to real distress. That is so hard to wrap your mind around if you haven’t struggled there.

Another thing that’s going to make all of our hearts expand here is that we cannot ostracize people who haven’t dealt with this from the discussion, as if this is a secret society. We have got to explain our experiences to the “other side” It is one thing to yell instructions at someone who is in the bottom of a dark hole. It is another to jump down and teach them how to build a ladder because you’ve had to before, and you know how from experience. Both are extremely valuable. One is perhaps more helpful in times of acute distress. However, there are ladders you can build that I can’t. And vice versa. It’s why we all need to be in on the same conversation — it’s a huge team effort.

I, and others who have experienced suicidal thoughts, think the depiction of the protagonist’s journey is very accurate; I have heard some say it seems “overdramatic” — but lots of individual experiences are like this, if not worse. I never counted the number of stories like this I heard in my two years as a high school counselor, but I wish I had. In that way, it can be very helpful when trying to help those who do not have first-hand experience here garner understanding for those who struggle with suicide, but with a high cost in other ways. It’s a both/and. And we have to follow both of those trails.

Another comment I have heard in the wake of this show’s release is that “people need to figure this stuff out for themselves,” but guess what? “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps” was not a therapeutic model they taught me in either one of the nationally accredited Counseling Master’s degree programs I have been a member of. No, vulnerable populations, such as those who are suicidal, do not need baseline encouragement; they need real tools, and anchors. This show is not an anchor. This show does have the potential to tie an anchor to a suicidal person and drag them to the bottom of the ocean, where they will actually drown if they do not have the supports they need to resurface.

Here’s the thing: Netflix did not listen to the panel of psychologists who told them to not include certain things, so they are not going to listen to me. It’s out there. It’s been released into the wild. It just is.

But here’s the good news. This is one of my favorite side hustles because suicide is 100 percent preventable. This is a mountain I am willing to die on. Mine was prevented because a girl named Kaitlin sat on my bed during my sophomore year of college, and when I told her what was going on in my head, and why and how I wanted it to be over, she escorted me over to Health Services real quick and then my butt was on a medical leave of absence from Wofford — so I could recover. Hear me say this, loud and freaking clear: I am still alive today because someone gave me the permission, which was lacking from society-at-large, to go get help. This has everything to do with the presence of mental health stigma.

We have so much work to do here, but there is actually a way to do it. It is not just talking about it. It is talking about it a certain way.

You have to get all of these things in the discussion:

A) the rock bottom part of the story

B) a resilience-building story from rock bottom, even if it does not “end” in “recovery”

C) available resources, whether global or specific to a community

My problem with “13 Reasons Why” is that it literally only does Part A. It starts the conversation, gives you all of this dark – but real! – but still dark stuff, and then Season One is over. But here we are. It is on Netflix, and I can guarantee you that there is not a dang thing that we can do about that. So, because of this reality, we have to finish the rest of the arc I talked about.

And honestly, I am scared that this is just a fad.

This is a sexy Hollywood show with lots of pretty people in it. Is it still going to even be on our radar in six months? What are we going to tell all of the people whose struggles have been brought to the surface when this stuff is gone from our social media feeds, but they are still hurting? What are we going to do for those people? To protect and support them? Are we going to take their hands and find them supports, or are we going to get upset and make a statement, and then move on with our lives? We have a very huge opportunity right in front of us, y’all.

I’m gonna do the first one, and you should jump on that bandwagon with me real hard. You can suggest ideas, and take actions – both are important, and the second one is faster.

1. Find your local National Alliance on Mental Illness chapter. Find your chapter here.

2. Explore the idea of therapy. I now, as of a week ago, work for a counseling practice that specializes in trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder. Some of you have asked when I can take on clients. I talked to my mentor, and she says the answer is now. You have to physically be in South Carolina for me to be your therapist. If you are not, I will find you another one of me. Or the internet can. It could take some work to find one who is a good fit for what you need, but this is step one. Find one close to you here.

3. If this has you wanting to share your story, please make sure you are ready to do that, and take care of yourself when you do. I didn’t share mine until I’d been through therapy and was in a safe place to yield questions from people, and possible adverse reactions from people who didn’t quite understand my experience. I have lots more to say on that. There is so much power in sharing, but you have to make sure you are doing it in a way that is safe and healthy for you.

Basically, find out what the people around you need. There are ways you can do this pouring out of our ears, and people do not have to have a mental illness to be struggling — it is our job to actually change the thing about the world that makes us feel like we cannot talk about things openly. Life is not Instagram. You do not actually have to put a pretty bow on all of the things — we actually need each other to be real. After all, “We are all just walking each other home.” — Ram Das

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

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “HOME” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

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

Thinkstock photo via megamix

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Chester Bennington on Stage

Please Don't Share the 911 Audio From Chester Bennington's Suicide

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Sometimes the news isn’t as straightforward as it’s made to seem. Sarah Schuster, The Mighty’s Mental Health Editor, explains what to keep in mind if you see this topic or similar stories in your newsfeed. This is The Mighty Takeaway. 

Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts or have lost someone to suicide, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

Please, please, don’t share the audio from the 911 call that was made after Chester Bennington’s suicide.

I can’t believe we have to say this, but we do — after being obtained by TMZ, other news sites like InTouch Weekly and Fox News have been spreading around the audio, which features Bennington’s housekeeper and his driver calling 911 to report his suicide.

What is likely one of the most traumatic experiences these individuals have been though, and what occurred after a tragic moment that forever changed Bennington’s family, friends and fans’ lives, is now conveniently embeddable for anyone who wants to listen and repost.

It makes me feel sick.

I’m not going to link to any of the horrible coverage, and I suggest you refrain from giving these publishers your clicks. Sharing the audio of the 911 call does not add anything to Bennington’s story. Commenting on how his housekeeper “wailed in agony” doesn’t help anyone, and it certainly doesn’t respect those close to Bennington or in the suicide community.

It’s a punch to the gut for anyone who’s been affected by suicide, and a big middle finger at the suicide prevention community’s efforts to spread responsible reporting guidelines for suicide.

For many in our community, the reasons we shouldn’t share this audio are probably painfully obvious, but I’ll break it down:

1. Sharing unnecessary details can be re-traumatizing and triggering for both those who have lost someone to suicide and those who have attempted suicide. 

In a piece about how reporting on suicide methods can be harmful for those who’ve lost someone to suicide, Mighty contributor Deborah Greene said it best:

You see for people like me, survivors of suicide loss, the notion of how our loved ones died is hard enough to live with. We may struggle with flashbacks, nightmares and post-traumatic stress disorder. Some of us found our loved ones, some have recreated images in our own minds based upon the details we came to know. But for all of us, it is a pain that is indescribable and one we must live with for the rest of our days.

My father took his own life at the age of 72, just over two years ago. It has taken a great deal of work for me to navigate this path through the traumatic loss. And there is not a day that goes by that I am not haunted by an image of his final moments…

So, when you choose to ignore the recommendations for responsive reporting on suicide loss, and I am confronted with a barrage of headlines on the radio, social media, in the paper or on the television, you also do harm to me. Because those headlines serve as a trigger, one that rips open the very fragile scab that has formed over my loss and exposes every ounce of my pain. The images I’ve worked to place on the back burner of my days come roaring in with a vengeance, the tears begin to flow and I feel assaulted by your salacious details. And long after I turn you off your words linger.

2. It’s a distraction from talking about suicide in a productive way.

The only reason a news site would share this 911 audio is to feed its readers’ morbid curiously and get clicks. That’s it. Period. There’s nothing helpful, nothing redeemable and nothing newsworthy about 911 audio that takes us into the aftermath of a suicide. For publications with a wide audience, letting news like this make its way into the conversation shows valueless reporting, and takes away from all the good work media could be doing in the conversation around suicide and suicide prevention.

Alyse Ruriani, a suicide attempt survivor and advocate, told me:

This information is not necessary. Chester died by suicide. It happened. Why must we keep painting a picture of how it happened, bringing people into this traumatic event? What we need to know and remember from this event is that men of Chester’s age range are at high risk for suicide, that suicide loss survivors are at increased risk of suicide (especially on important dates related to the person they lost), and that help and hope are out there. We can learn from this, remembering Chester’s life legacy and working even harder to prevent suicide in his honor.

3. It’s cruelly invasive and exploits a tragedy many are still processing.

If we are reminded of anything after a celebrity’s suicide, it’s that celebrities are human, just like us. To treat the intimate details of someone’s death as “up for grabs” as an outfit someone wore to an award show shows a complete disrespect for everyone involved — making suicide an “entertainment” issue instead of a public health one.

Dese’Rae L. Stage, founder of Live Through This, said:

There are thousands and thousands of people out there who have had to make that call, or who have received that call — thousands upon thousands of people who have lost someone to suicide — and the only purpose it serves to share this 911 audio is to re-traumatize those folks. This is a violation of privacy, and it’s exploitative. Hearing Bennington’s housekeeper howl in the background of that call doesn’t help fans who are grieving, and it doesn’t give us a better understanding of Chester’s mindset, or even of suicide on the whole. It’s exploitation, pure and simple.

You can be part of this discussion without exposing yourself to something that might trigger you. In fact, I didn’t listen to the 911 audio to write this article because I know it’s not what I can handle today — and that’s OK. Don’t let a headline trap you into listening to something you’re not ready for, and reach out to someone instead. Because what we need right now is not celebrity gossip, but community.

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

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “HOME” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

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Watching '13 Reasons Why' as a Suicidal Male in Africa

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It couldn’t have been more contrasting.

It’s 2017, but I am aware that most of those outside this continent think it’s a country. So, for the sake of telling this story, let me just call it Africa. For those of you who are more knowledgeable, as a result of traveling, reading or having some interest in starting the next Uber over here, I am specifically from Kenya.

That is as African as they come. Not South Africa, with its partial British leanings. Not the Arabian Maghreb with its Middle Eastern associations. Sub-Saharan Africa, smack in the middle! Equator Africa.

And yes, we do have access to Netflix.

Now, this is a country, just like any other in the world, that celebrates its strengths and frowns at the troubles that plague it. I would go so far as to say it ignores them. Among the things it ignores are the suicides. In my experience, mental illness is understood only as the state of going mad. This is in no way easier though; the alternatives are rumors about witchcraft, being tied up in chains for decades or discarded in a government hospital. It is the worst condemnation.

Which makes me, a clinically depressed 24-year-old male in Africa with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the most interesting source for a different perspective on the hit Netflix show.

I once came across the book some years back, but knew better than to read it, as I feared it might trigger the urge. But when the show came out, I thought, why not? If it gets bad, I can just turn it off! It turns out there was nothing to fear. While I can relate to the main character’s sadness and thought process, the society is very different from what my experience has taken me through. It looked a tad better. Parents were petitioning the school, and people were advocating for a change in their community. This was unbelievable.

 

For starters, depression is not understood over here like it was on that fictional show. People get depressed due to various causes and this, more often than not, leads to suicide. But what you get here is a scenario where society directly associates the source of the suicide as the cause. Not the trigger. What I mean is, no one ever talks about the mental effect that the trigger had. It is actually assumed that if the victim had used his head to think, then he wouldn’t have died by suicide. It is not a mental issue for them.

Two, it is a sign of weakness. We have been conditioned to think that dying by suicide means throwing in the towel. While on “13 Reasons Why,”people sympathized with the family, in Kenya it becomes a scar. People find alternative routes to the market to avoid passing by the house of the suicide victim. In my native culture, as in several others, a suicide victim is not accorded a proper funeral. Rather, they are buried at 12 a.m. without any funeral service and without a headstone or epitaph.

Third, how fast one loses friends! And this has been a personal experience. The second fastest way to lose friends apart from your HIV+ status going public is to “come out” as being depressed. No one wants to be associated with a dying person. Yes, you read that right. Mention your depression and your fate is sealed. Some hang around for some time to make sure that you don’t die while they are still associated with you, then once you feel a little better, they create distance.

Fourth, there are no support systems that offer any hope to suicidal people. Psychiatrists can only be found in top dollar hospitals. And of course they charge top dollar. I was on medication at some point and one capsule used to cost me $1. In a country where almost half the population lives on less than a dollar a day, I was required to take four pills a day.

Counselors advise you to smile more, the religiously inclined ones recommend prayer and exorcism.

The government doesn’t make it any easier. A suicide attempt can cost you up to two years in prison or a fine, or both. You will make it to the evening news and your story will be featured in the next day’s national paper. In no way will it be a sympathetic story by the media. Your story will be linked on social media for the fun of it.

Sexual assaults are only prosecuted after there has been outcry from the community. Otherwise the perpetrators walk around free. And even these mostly favor preteen girls. So how can I even claim that I was sexually assaulted when I was younger and this resulted in my PTSD and anxiety? How? You are a guy, how could you have let that happen? You must be a sissy. No one should date you; actually, your status as a man has been violated.

And so I walk around with all this in my head. I’ve attempted suicide twice before. I stopped making friends due to the repetition. At some point someone finds out how messed up you really are and they start behaving strangely. So you let them go and start again. I stopped dating after my ex told me I am unlike other guys. I stopped a lot of things because they always stop themselves, eventually.

I report to work and I have a savings account. Sometimes I dream about saving enough to travel far enough to escape all this.

But I am alive today. I will tell this story today while I still can.

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

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “HOME” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

If you or a loved one is affected by sexual abuse or assault and need help, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.

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

Thinkstock photo via Getty Images

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The Reality of Living With Suicidal Thoughts

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Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts or have lost someone to suicide, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

I’ve never tried to kill myself.

I came close once. I was eighteen and going through a dark night. Pacing around the house in overwhelming emotional pain I decided to carry out a plan. But I didn’t have what I needed to do it. That is the only thing that prevented me from going through with it. Other than that, I have never attempted suicide.

I think about suicide, sometimes often. As I slide into an episode of depression, my thoughts gradually descend, dwelling on self- harm, violence and eventually suicide. The more depressed I get, the darker the thoughts are. I begin to center on thoughts like how it would be better for everyone else, how it would end my own pain, how it just doesn’t matter. Still, there is never any action, never developing a plan of how to carry out a suicide. As much as my mind may fixate on the thought of ending my own life, there has never been any attempt.

I could tell you I’ve never attempted suicide because there is always a ray of hope, some small spark in the darkness, some sort of frayed rope to grasp onto. I could say it’s because of my loved ones, because of my family and my friends, that I have never tried to end my life. I could tell you my faith has been some sort of shield from the very worst of the worst and that somehow God has always brought me back from the brink. I could tell you these things, but I would be a liar.

The truth is I have never attempted suicide because I am afraid.

I’m afraid of what might happen, of how I might survive. I’m afraid of dying and what that would do to my family, especially my kids. I’m afraid of death itself because there is so much unknown about the afterlife. I am fearful and that keeps me from attempting suicide.

These fears don’t stop the thoughts, though. I’m still haunted by images of how I could kill myself, what it would look like when people found me, what the deed itself would be like. I can’t always stop these thoughts. They come like flashes of lightning burning their images onto my mind’s eye. Then I begin to ruminate on the thoughts, to dwell with them. At times, they play in my head like an endless loop, repetitively banging their way into my conscience.

This is the reality for someone who lives with suicidal ideation.

Just because someone thinks about suicide doesn’t mean they are going to attempt it. This truth gets skewed by media and pop psychology. We are led to believe that only someone who is serious about killing themselves will think about suicide. We are told “normal” people don’t think about self-harm, morbid things or ending their life. Those kinds of things are reserved for people who are “disturbed.”

These kinds of thoughts are a reality for me. I can’t control them or stop them. They aren’t what I want to have rolling around in my brain, but there they are. On good days, they are fleeting thoughts, popping in and out, only lasting for a few moments. On rough days, the thoughts stick around. They stay and entrench themselves in my thinking, breaking into most every train of thought.

I’m not happy that my thoughts turn this way. I’d love a surefire way to keep it from happening. All I can do is manage the thoughts, try to treat them like clouds floating by, not taking hold of them so they can pass. I can do the work to make sure they remain just thoughts, never manifesting into action. I can keep them from taking control.

Still, the thoughts do come. It’s tiring having to fight the thoughts and lies all the time. See, I don’t just get a thought of, “I should kill myself” out of the blue too often. Usually, it is crouched in a cluster of lies. I’m not good enough. No one really cares. My family would be better off without me. I’m nothing more than a screw up and can’t do anything right. These are the thoughts that batter at the doors of my heart. If I begin to believe them for a moment, they lead me to the inevitable conclusion that I should kill myself. So, I have to battle the lies to keep the suicidal thoughts at bay.

This is the reality of living with my broken brain. I wish I could call a time out, take a break from the battering of lies and suicidal thoughts. But I don’t get that luxury. Yes, there are times when it is better, times when it’s not a constant barrage. There are times when the thoughts are fleeting and easily pass by. Still, they are there. Still, I have to remain on guard against them so I don’t spiral into hopelessness.

As much work as it is to be vigilant against suicidal ideation, it’s better than the alternative of obsessing over these kinds of thoughts. They can quickly eat away at me, taking a deep hold and urging me towards action more and more. Don’t mishear what I’m saying: I may not have attempted suicide yet, but I have been very tempted by it. When the voices get bad, when the thoughts won’t leave my heart alone, when I am crushed by the lies and demons, it is tempting to just end it all. I become convinced no one needs me or the people I love would be better without me. Getting to that place is scary. Getting to that place is what I want to avoid. Getting to that place is defeat.

So, I fight on against the lies and the thoughts of suicide. I fight to keep the healthy thoughts more numerous than the dangerous ones. I fight to prevent my children from losing their father. I fight to live. It’s hard, but it’s getting easier. I’m learning mindfulness and some other tricks to add to my arsenal against suicidal ideation. This isn’t a battle I can do alone, so I talk to my therapist about it. I try to lean on friends in the dark, hard times.

Overall, this is something I am learning to constantly live with, sitting side by side with these dangerous thoughts but not letting them control me. This is in part what it means for me to live with mental illness. I live in a battle, a struggle, an internal war. But it’s a fight I don’t have to lose.

Just because I have suicidal thoughts doesn’t mean I’m going to die by suicide. Remember this as you maybe wrestle with your own thoughts. You are not on a path of destruction just because you can’t get the thought of suicide out of your head. You may need some help, maybe some medication to help you fight back the demons, maybe some therapy to help you understand it all. Suicidal thoughts don’t have to control us. Suicide isn’t our inevitable demise. We may never rid ourselves of the thoughts and ideations, but we can still live healthy, long lives. And living is the point after all.

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

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

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Thinkstock photo via Victor_Tongdee.

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To Brian Welch: Show Compassion, Not Criticism, for Suicide

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Having lost my dad to suicide when I was 9, I can understand why Brian “Head” Welch, Korn guitarist, is angry at his friend, Linkin Park singer Chester Bennington — calling his suicide cowardly.

For decades, I was angry at my father for leaving my mother, a stay-at-home mom, to raise the five of us alone. I vowed at an early age that no matter how bad things got or how hopeless I felt, I would not do to anyone what my dad did to us.

But when I lost my beautiful son five years ago at the age of 25, I could not be angry for very long at the person I’d loved since the moment he was born. I felt so much pain from losing him, that death seemed preferable, so at last I could understand some of what he, and my father before him, must have felt.  When someone is in that much pain, they need help. They need to feel our compassion for them, not our judgement of them.

I believe that society’s lack of understanding of those in mental health crises causes suicidal individuals to scorn themselves. They would rather act on their pain than face any more anguish, confusion and criticism. It has to be seen as respectable, even laudable, for a man to admit “weakness” and seek help.  Life is too hard to soldier through alone.

Suicide is such a heartbreaking thing. First, because of the loss to the world of the talent, intelligence and beauty of the person who dies, and then because it sends out a wave of pain and despair that threatens to pull others under. Chester Bennington followed Chris Cornell.

I’ve learned to withhold criticism of others as someone who hasn’t been in the other person’s shoes. You never know what someone else has been through or what loads they may be carrying. We need to send messages of compassion so those who are struggling and feel the trials of this world so intensely will reach out for help and stay with us. We have to join hands as a community to reach those caught in a riptide.

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

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “HOME” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

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

Photo via Korn Facebook page and Linkin Park Facebook page.

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