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What if it gets better?

September is National Suicide Prevention month. There are countless people whose lives have been ravaged by that negatively-connotated word--SUICIDE. Uttering it leads to moments of silence. People grapple with how to react, what to say, what to do...with their own internal struggle to understand and provide answers that none of us really have. Others wrestle with their own perspective of suicide as the only solution that makes sense, the only way they believe they can find peace, or perhaps relief. Some may feel suicide is an escape from their pain, while others believe by committing suicide they can end others' pain. In an effort to combat the prevailing belief that suicide is a "selfish" act, I want to explore some things I have learned in my time as a therapist. I have worked with more suicidal people than I can count--the vast majority of people I have worked with have at least entertained passive thoughts of suicide at times (i.e. "I wish I could just go to sleep and not wake up," "I just wish God would go ahead and take me home," etc). More than you would think have had such specific thoughts of suicide that they not only developed a detailed plan, but they also attempted to carry it out. Unsuccessfully, I am relieved to report. At least for now. Here are the kinds of things I hear them say:

"It's not like anyone would miss me."

"No one will even notice I'm gone."

"Nobody cares about me."

"It would be better for everyone if I wasn't here anymore. All I do is cause people problems."

"The pain is unbearable. I just can't do it anymore."

"I feel so alone. I don't have anyone. What's the point of even being here?"

Have you ever had thoughts like that? If not, what if you truly believed those things? Do you think you might look for an alternative? A way out? In my experience, those who truly contemplate suicide, and certainly those who actually make an attempt, are not acting carelessly without thought of others. They either believe that others will be GLAD they are gone, or they go to great lengths to minimize any grief, distress, or trauma they might cause those who they think might care about them. They carefully plan the method, the site, and the timing, for example. Or alternately, they are so consumed by their own inner torment that they act on impulse, desperate for relief, and do not plan much at all. I believe it is extremely rare for someone to actually commit suicide "selfishly," without thought of others.

A common theme we hear is disconnection. The more connections we can offer those who are suffering, the more support we can make available, the chances of suicide are reduced. Instead of shaming someone who is having thoughts of self-harm, let's try to find ways to give them hope. What if the unbearable situation they are in is about to change? What if things get better? What if, by ending things now, they are going to miss out on the greatest experiences of their lives? What if they miss the birth of a grandchild? What if they miss achieving a lifelong goal? What if they miss meeting the love of their life? WHAT IF???

I have a few thoughts to share about supporting someone who is struggling with thoughts of self-harm, or ending their life:

1. Validate their feelings. Never minimize, criticize, or judge them. Use active listening to allow them to share their feelings with you.

2. Remind them that suicide is a PERMANENT solution to a TEMPORARY struggle. Every difficult thing has the capacity to change, and even to cease. It does not have to be forever, and chances are very good that it will not be. There will be "life after" the struggle. Ask them the "What if it gets better?" question.

3. Do all you can to give them hope. Hope that they can build a new support system. Hope that they can meet people who genuinely care about them. Hope that they can have goals and reach those goals. Hope that their situation can drastically change. Point them in the direction of any resources you know of that are specific to their circumstances.

4. Make sure they know that there are counselors available around the clock to talk to them, refer them to resources, or get them help. Text or call 988 to connect.

5. Get them to an emergency facility (such as the local ER) or call 911 if they need stabilization. Do not leave them alone if they are at high risk of acting--make sure someone stays with them until they are in medical or psychiatric care.

Finally, never assume a suicidal comment or threat is benign or a "bluff." Always take it seriously and do what you can to get them the help they need. If you or someone you know has been affected by suicide, there is help for you! Getting support and having someone to talk to can help you begin to heal. If we all work together, I hope the number of people affected by the tragedy of suicide will become less and less over time. We can make a difference! :)

Suicide Resources:

24/7 Counselors are available by calling or texting 988, or chatting below:

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