It is National Suicide Prevention Week, and here's how you can help the people you love
At the tail end of 2006, after giving birth to my first child, I wanted to die. It’s not easy to write those words, just as it wasn’t easy to recognize the dark hole I’d fallen into that I, alone, couldn’t pull myself out of. While I should have been a joyous, doting new mother, I spent much of my time clinging to the cold bathroom floor; door locked, lights out, wishing away the minutes because getting out of bed became too much — living became too much. Sometimes I’d cry and curse myself for not being a better parent; other times, I’d recite the reasons my daughter, and everyone else, would be better off without me — and I had many.
September kicks off National Suicide Prevention Week (September 5th-11th), and like many others, I had no idea how to heal myself.
When a concerned doctor diagnosed me with severe postpartum depression (PPD) and handed me a Suicide Hotline card, I knew it was time to seek immediate and drastic help before I became another statistic. If he could see this vastness in me, could everyone else? My daughter? My husband? At the time, I didn’t know how to navigate the void in me but I didn’t want to die — it just seemed like the only way to rid myself of all that pain. I know now, it’s not.
Back then, I hadn’t quite figured out how to fix my depression. Just as a cool breeze floats in and out of an open window, ebbs and flows interrupted my life with varying levels of calm and despair. I had no control over my thoughts and chose not to speak of the darkness to anyone, ever.
No one knew the depth of my misery or how far I’d fallen — and if they did, no one reached out.
I thought no one would understand me, and mostly, that I was a bad mother, daughter, and partner for feeling the things I did. Through two miscarriages and the birth of my youngest, I held onto all this pain. Years and years of torment settled into my underbelly; a place it would fester and swell until one day propelling out of me like an angry cannon.
That was when I knew the danger of the waters I’d been lurking. Because there’s no pretending or hiding or faking when your children’s eyes balloon up at you for all the things you’ve not been capable of providing — most of all, hope.
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S at 110 deaths per day.
It is a staggering rate, and for every single suicide, 25 others will attempt. The problem with statistics is that most cases of attempted suicide go unreported or untreated, due to unwanted stigmas and judgment. If all cases were reported, the numbers would increase dramatically — a sobering thought I’ve wrestled with for some time now, as I’ve been one of those folks too afraid to bare my soul for all those years. Sylvia Plath described her depression as “owl’s talons clenching” her heart, and many others — myself included — feel we are weak or unstable if we reach out.
Now that I’ve made it to the other side, I see all that was once a fog, clearly. My hope is that others who’ve been in this place, will, too. Suicide is 100 percent preventable and treatable.
If you know someone suffering but you aren’t sure what to look for, here are a few warning signs that your friend or loved one may be suicidal:
— Their vernacular includes talk of hopelessness, wanting to die, or feeling unbearable pain. They list reasons for why life would be better without them (ex. they are a “burden”) and/or speak in ways that indicate a future without them.
— Actions include being unusually isolated, restless, agitated, withdrawn, and sleeping too much/too little. They may also make plans to do away with possessions or seem resolute about life and death — perhaps even searching for/talking about suicide methods online.
— Behavior modification may include increased use of drugs and/or alcohol, as well as reckless and unusually careless choices.
— Mood indicators may fluctuate dramatically and/or increase with the addition of mental illness, any environmental stressors such as a major life event or loss, and a genetic or family history of suicide and/or attempts.
I nearly succeeded in taking my own life. Thankfully, once I admitted that I needed real help and couldn’t do it on my own, a community of people came forth to support and encourage me to continue on this path of healing.
It only takes one person to hold out a hand. I am proof of this — there is hope. If any of the above resemble characteristics in someone you know, here are all the ways you can help:
Start a conversation
If someone you love might be thinking of suicide, the best, most direct way to help is to ask. It may seem naïve and simple — but chances are that if you’ve noticed enough warning signs to prompt you to ask, then the person on the receiving end may have been waiting for someone –anyone –to notice and take the time to care.
However, if you do ask, be willing to hear their response with love and acceptance, without judgment. Now is not the time to assert your opinion on suicide or to lessen the receiver’s valid feelings. It may not be an easy conversation — especially if it comes as a shock — but let patience reign. Be there, be open, and be compassionate.
Make a plan for prevention
A comprehensive plan can include a number of things — the first being your support. Check in regularly so that the person knows they are not alone. Assure them you aren’t going anywhere — and mean it. This might include scheduling times to sit and chat, grabbing a coffee, or encouraging them to send daily emails in which they can vent.
But remember — “being there” doesn’t discount the importance of taking action. That means helping to secure proper treatment, removing any weapons within their reach, and providing an encouraging, safe place where they can open up.
Find the right program for success
It took many attempts for me to find the right combination of tools to feel better — but I might have never found them if it weren’t for loved ones who cared about my well-being. There is a plan for everyone — it just takes a little research and patience. Help your loved one narrow down which agencies specialize in crisis and suicide intervention. Offer to take them to their visits.
Learn more about mental health and suicide prevention
Suicide is scary for all involved. If you want to better understand what your loved one is going through (everything from mental health first aid to early suicide detection) here is a list of comprehensive training from local chapters of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
If you’re not sure how to find or assist in recovery, below are a list of resources — though, there are far more than I’ve listed. No one should suffer in silence. Join the conversation on social media using the hashtags #stopsuicide, #ikeptliving, and #suicidepreventionweek. Let your voice be heard. If you’re reading this and you have been in that dark place — or maybe you’re in it now — you are not alone, you are loved, and there is hope. I promise.
National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-8255