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Why We Need to Talk About ‘Quiet’ Suicide Attempts

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, but even though suicide awareness has spread rapidly in recent years, some types of suicides receive far more attention than others. While many might associate suicide attempts with a highly visible “cry for help” mentality, many suicide attempts remain unnoticed and untreated, and those who survive them often have to help themselves reorient to life after their “quiet” attempts.

Although there may be signs that someone is planning on attempting a “quiet” suicide, they’re subtle — which makes these attempts dangerous. People who plan on discreetly attempting suicide might not cry in front of others or vent about their problems. Instead, they might slowly change their appearance, tell family and friends how much they love them and plan out a suicide location that ensures that they won’t be found during their attempt. Unfortunately, to those who love quietly suicidal individuals, this behavior may come across more as signs of experimentation or love than as a precursor to a potentially fatal suicide attempt.

Quiet suicides are further complicated by the fact that they often don’t make sense to people who’ve never been suicidal.  The media often depicts suicidality as loud and showy, so people who don’t have the opportunity to take unsafe items from their suicidal loved ones or console their friends when they want to die might assume that the people who are possibly suicidal are actually just fine.

On the contrary, those people who choose secret locations to attempt suicide, who often do not to write suicide notes or share that they’re suicidal often, don’t struggle any less than those who do. They may feel ashamed of the fact that they don’t want to live, fear that no one would understand their suicidal thoughts or believe their family members will hurt less if they don’t know that their loved one attempted suicide. However, their silence can’t mitigate the severity of their attempts — especially because the aftermath of surviving a suicide attempt can be more challenging to navigate when no one knows it happened in the first place.

Oftentimes, people who drop significant warning signs in front of others, or make suicidal gestures in front of friends or family, are recognized as actively suicidal and are therefore stopped in the middle of an attempt, rushed to the hospital or placed into mental health treatment. But people who attempt suicide without any obvious hints often lack access to the same resources because no one is present to encourage them to live and seek help. Although they may choose to disclose their attempts to professionals after the fact, “quiet” suicide survivors often miss out on more immediate suicide prevention interventions, which can put them at risk of attempting suicide again. They may also struggle with the ramifications of surviving their suicide attempts and feel pressure to resolve the underlying causes of their attempts all on their own. Many people who quietly attempt suicide could benefit from more intensive interventions, but when no one notices anything is amiss, they’re forced to piece their lives back together and continue to stay safe all on their own, even though they may be in a vulnerable headspace.

This month, we need to recognize that suicide isn’t always as clear-cut as it seems and take note of the warning signs that someone may be planning a “quiet” suicide attempt. If a family member, friend or loved one suddenly seems happy after a long period of sadness, changes their appearance, shows significantly more affection than usual or seems secretive, gently check in with them. Have reputable resources on hand to provide those who may be struggling, and remind your loved ones that you’re willing and able to hold space for them to share how they feel. Quiet suicide attempts are subtle and dangerous, but they are preventable, and when you know which warning signs to look for, you just might save a life.

Photo by Tomasz Suliga on Unsplash