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Why We Should Be Proactive in Our Conversations About Suicide

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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.

Suicide is so hard to write about. There are so many strong opinions and beliefs. We see it all over the media in news stories, movies, articles, social media and television. People of all ages have been exposed to it.

I hear of people who have died by suicide at least once a month.  Yes, I said “died by.” Suicide is the cause of death. Since my opinions are starting to leak out, here goes. It is time to just dive in, not be afraid, and tell you what I think.

Some of the often used, harmful ways to describe this cause of death are: “committed” suicide, took their own life, and killed or even “offed” themselves. Sometimes family members, friends and community members describe the act of suicide as selfish. Some even go as far as to say it was for attention. This hurts my heart so deeply. The reason I am intentional about calling it “died by suicide” is because I believe it is a mental illness or at least part of one. Many medical experts believe this as well. Suicidal ideation exists in the minds of many. People have reported having had at least a fleeting thought of it at one point in their life.

Sometimes we are not careful with our words and say things such as, “I just wanted to die!” when speaking about embarrassment, nervousness or being put in an uncomfortable situation. Our words are impactful and create meaning for those around us. This is not to say I have never said these things. Actually, I say all kinds of ridiculous, inappropriate things more than I would like to admit. So this is not a lecture about what to say; it is just an opportunity to stop and have a mindful moment to consider your own thoughts.

If I sat here and tried to provide links and resources and books and movie recommendations, this would go on forever. There is so much out there to explore. There is information about prevention, grief and awareness. The reason I am writing about this today is to simply provide a small part of my thoughts and beliefs around the issue. Why today? For some reason, the discussion has come up a few times in the last week.

This week, someone told me one of their daughter’s eighth-grade classmates died by suicide. They were upset and at a loss about what they could do to help their child get through this traumatic event. I know many families and schools approach this topic differently. In that moment, I had a big opinion and did not hesitate to tell them what I thought. I told them how important it is to have conversations about suicide. We should not wait until it happens to talk about it. I gave them an example of a conversation they might have with their teen.

Conversations families have about suicide are proactive. This means putting aside the fear that if you talk about it, it will plant the seed and suggest suicide is a possible solution. Talking about it does not make it happen. When approaching these conversations, it is extremely important to support and encourage family members without judgment. Let your kids know they will not be punished, shut down, criticized or dismissed when they are brave enough to talk about it. Make a plan personal to suit the needs of individuals. Maybe someone would feel more comfortable expressing themselves artistically by writing, painting, singing or composing music. Maybe they want to be held. Perhaps they want to cry or scream or yell. As long as communication is part of a plan with mutual understanding there will not be judgment and an understanding of what the potential outcomes may be.

Make an agreement that, if they are upfront and some way indicate they need to “activate” the plan, you will ask them three simple questions:

1. Are you considering suicide?

2. Do you have a plan?

3. Do you have the means to carry out this plan?

As weird as it is, maybe practice the conversation so you are able to ask when it matters most, and so they are familiar with what it is like hear the questions.

From an illness or disease perspective, people of all ages should never be shamed for wanting to have conversations about any disease. It is terrible for me to feel stigmatized when talking about mental health and then embraced when talking about cancer. It doesn’t make sense! It is so painful and confusing. My support system has always let me talk about my depression. They have learned to listen to me and know I will be honest as long as I don’t feel judged. They know if I tell them my thoughts feel dangerous, dark and ugly, they will do what I have told them to do. They will ask if I feel safe. They will ask it as much as is needed. They will not act like they are “put out,” even if they are busy.  They will come to me or make sure someone is with me. They will even set me straight and let me know we are in this together. It’s kind of a “no man left behind” thing.

Not everyone is me. Not everyone can be neck deep in darkness and tell someone to either start digging or pull as hard as they can to get me out. Not everyone has spent years having plan on top of plan for when the darkness sets in. This can happen in the blink of an eye. I am not stronger or more capable than others. I have just felt the intensity of this illness before and, up until this point, have been able to tell it to “shut the hell up before I go get my army.” This is the most important army you can join for your people. Get on board, go to the boot camp of communication and support, and promise that, when you are called, you will show up and fight.

When I thought about this topic and what it is like to experience the racing thoughts and scary feelings of when the voice comes, this video came to mind. Perhaps it will give a visual and audio idea of what it may feel like for some people.

Be well, or ask others to help you move in that direction.

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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Thinkstock photo via MachineHeadz

Originally published: October 5, 2017
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