How to Talk About Suicide (My Story for Suicide Prevention Month 2021)
September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.
It's a month that has more meaning for me than I ever thought it would.
Because I once wanted to kill myself.
I can write these words now and be OK, but my heart hurts for the young man I was who felt the way he did.
This is what I've learned about suicide over the years.
I'm sharing it with you because we need to be having these kinds of conversations.
We must normalize this so we can stop people from suffering in silence.
How to Talk About Suicide
Right away, I need to tell you that suicidal thoughts are incredibly common.
They don't make you a bad person.
Asking someone if they want to hurt or kill themselves will not give them the idea.
Expert after expert will tell you that one of the best things you can do, whether you're worried about your son or daughter, your neighbor or coworker, is to ask them if they've ever thought about killing themselves.
It's important to be direct.
It's how I trained people when I was a trainer for Youth Mental Health First Aid, one of the top mental health / suicide prevention trainings in the world.
Because I didn't have the best experience getting help for my mental health.
When I was severely depressed, I marked off the typical two screening questions on a health center questionnaire indicating I was in a bad place.
The doctor never directly asked me about it.
He tried to convince me I was just tired, and he gave me sleeping pills and some other strange, unrelated drug.
It only made things worse.
This doctor was a good person, and I felt like I had a good relationship with him, but he made a mistake.
And we make a mistake when we don't openly talk about mental health and how bad it can get.
Especially now, as we still struggle to pull ourselves out of a global pandemic.
Talking About Suicide - Have the Conversation
When I was feeling suicidal, I thought I had to leave this world to escape unfathomable pain.
I know now that my brain was not working properly.
Today, I'm happy to be alive, and I'm grateful for every day I have.
But back in 2015, I didn't feel that way.
I felt disconnected from disconnections even.
I felt hopelessly lost.
People who are in pain don't wake up in the morning and say, "I'm going to ruin someone's day. I'm going to cancel all my plans and let everyone down."
If someone is in a state where they don't want to live anymore, their brain is focused on their survival. It truly is survival mode. Or so it seems to the person living through it.
In 2015, I felt like a burden. I couldn't remember conversations that happened five minutes prior. My brain felt like a slow burn that was engulfing me bit by bit.
I didn't see a way out, and I desperately wanted help.
I only ever got that help when I asked my girlfriend-now-wife to go with me to the emergency room.
That decision saved my life.
All other parts of the system--doctors, psychiatrists, therapists--had failed me.
I had to go to the extreme to beat back the extreme that my brain had put me in.
And I think it could have been staved off, or at least progress could have been made sooner, if someone talked to me honestly and openly about suicide.
Overcoming Fear of Mental Illness and Mental Health
When it comes to mental health, we are still largely driven by fear.
Fear of the other.
Fear of the unknown.
Fear of everything falling to pieces.
How do we dissolve the fear?
We do it through daily conversations.
That means asking questions.
I'm trying to do my part with the written word and with what I share every day on Twitter.
If this is your first time thinking about suicide in this way, thank you for reading.
If you've ever felt suicidal, you're not alone.
If you've supported others in the past, thank you.
It takes all of us.
Because mental health is not something you can shove in the corner and forget about.
It's a personal, social, and communal thing.
I'm so happy to be here connecting with you.
There is always light beyond the darkness.
And it's OK to ask for help or provide the help another person might need.
Please save the following mental health resources in case you ever need them:
Here's a link to the following list of mental health resources if that's easier.
If you are in a life-threatening emergency - Call 911
A federally-funded 24/7 line that will connect the caller with certified, local crisis centers.
Veterans Crisis Line
1-800-273-8255 ext. 1Veterans' Text LineText HELP to 838255
Red Nacional de Prevencion del Suicidio
Text HOME to 741741 from anywhere in the USA, anytime, about any type of crisis. A live, trained crisis counselor receives the text and responds quickly.
1-800-273-8255, press 1
Veteran’s Text line
Text HELP to 838-255