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How Do We Talk About Suicide?

(This blog is dedicated to Suicide Awareness Month. If you are having thoughts of suicide, please know that you are not alone. If you are in danger of acting on suicidal thoughts, call 911. For support and resources, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “ALOHA” to 741-741 for the Crisis Text Line. More resources at the end.)

September is Suicide Awareness Month. According to the Center for Disease Control, as of 2017, suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States. For youth between the ages of 10 and 24, suicide is the third leading cause of death. I don’t mention these statistics as some sort of scare tactic. I mention them because it’s obvious that suicide awareness and prevention are necessary topics to be discussed. Why then, even in the act of raising awareness, is it so difficult to start that conversation? Mental health and suicide are more destigmatized than ever before, and yet it feels like there is still an elephant in the room. In an effort to be empathetic human beings, we fear that when we talk about death, we will be too clumsy about it, or sometimes even callous. Even if we’re open to talking about mental health, do we really know how?

Many of us grew up conditioned to suppress our feelings and emotions. We were raised to fear open expressions of vulnerability, lest we come across as burdensome, as if sharing what we feel is overly dramatic or attention seeking. We carry this negative conditioning throughout the rest of our lives, making it increasingly challenging to admit when we’re struggling. If we won’t even admit to ourselves that we need help, how can we ask for it?

Suicide can be preventable, if only we recognize and adress the warning signs. The first challenge, in and of itself, is simply identifying that we are indeed struggling. Though these sign vary per individual, here are a few signs to consider:

  • Your emotions take up most of your energy, which causes you to lose a desire to get up in the morning or you struggle to complete, not only your work, what you consider simple tasks.

  • Responding to your emotions with extreme behaviors like not eating all day, over eating all day, not sleeping for a long period of time, or sleeping too long.

  • You question everything and anything in your life and struggle to understand your place in this world. You may also struggle to see any desirable future for yourself.

  • Suicidal ideation, which is having assing thoughts of suicide without a concrete plan of action. (There is no universally accepted definition for suicidal ideation, nor does it necessarily mean that one will commit suicide, but it is a red flag to seek immediate help by professional assessment.)

The answer to the question “when do we need to start asking for help?” is this: when you see these signs, in yourself or in others, seek help. But the answer is also: before it ever gets to these points, talk to someone. Trusting others to help us when we’re struggling, especially mentally, feels like going against everything we’ve been taught. But being able to talk about what’s ailing us, actually saying it out loud, can change a lot of things. Perhaps you’re feeling a sadness so strong that it doesn’t have a name. Share it. There is someone who can help you name it. If all of our struggles stay in our head, it’s easy to create a narrative that’s different from reality, oftentimes a self-sabotaging narrative. If we never release our struggles by verbalizing them, we may never receive constructive feedback or get the advice we need to deal with what we’re struggling with.

If these symptoms describe you, know that what you feel is valid. You’re not the only one to have ever felt this way and you are certainly not helpless. There are plenty of people and places that exist to give you the support you deserve. Your life is precious. There’s no need to be ashamed when talking about mental illness, no need to feel guilty when asking for help, and no need to be afraid when talking about suicide.

Please use these resources if you are ever in need of help:

Hawaii CARES: Call 1-800-753-6879

Trevor Lifeline for LGBTQ+: Call 1-866-488-7386

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