The Darkness before Dawn: Understanding the Suicidal Urge
September 10th is World Suicide Prevention Day, so let’s look at some excellent resources for you or anyone you know who feels suicidal.
First, here in the US, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) Suicidal feelings can be very isolating, and this lifeline exists to give people the support they need to make it through the dark periods in their lives. If you or anyone you know is feeling suicidal, please let them know that help is available.
The TALK lifeline is available in the US; if you’re in another country, the International Association for Suicide Prevention has a list of crisis centers and suicide prevention centers throughout the world.
Looking at suicidal urges empathically
Suicidal feelings have a range from soft to intense, but if you are feeling any level of suicidal urges right now, don’t feel as if you have to wait until you’re in the throes of torment to reach out for help. If you can learn to catch your suicidal urges when they’re in the soft stage, you can often stop yourself from falling into the pit of desperation and torment. In the territory of the suicidal urge, your capacity for emotional awareness and articulation can literally save your life! Here is some vocabulary that may help you catch your suicidal urges before they become very intense. This list below is a part of the free Emotional Vocabulary List that you can download here.
Soft Suicidal Urges
Depressed ~ Dispirited ~ Constantly irritated, angry, or enraged ~ Helpless ~ Impulsive ~ Withdrawn ~ Apathetic ~ Lethargic ~ Disinterested ~ Pessimistic ~ Purposeless ~ Discouraged ~ Isolated ~ World-weary ~ Humorless ~ Listless ~ Melancholy ~ Flat ~ Indifferent ~ Feeling worthless
Mood State Suicidal Urges
Desperate ~ Hopeless ~ Despairing ~ Morbid ~ Sullen ~ Desolate ~ Miserable ~ Overwhelmed ~ Pleasureless ~ Joyless ~ Fatalistic ~ Empty ~ Passionless ~ Bereft ~ Crushed ~ Drained
Intense Suicidal Urges
Agonized ~ Tormented ~ Self-destructive ~ Tortured ~ Anguished ~ Bleak ~ Numbed ~ Doomed ~ Death-seeking ~ Reckless ~ Devastated ~ Nihilistic
Please remember: when people are feeling suicidal, they’re not having a simple happiness deficiency or exhibiting a character flaw. Something very serious is going on. If you don’t know what to do, you can call the Lifeline suicide hotline as a concerned friend (1-800-273-TALK (8255)), and they’ll help you understand what to do. Here are some ideas from the Lifeline website:
How To Be Helpful to Someone Who Is Threatening Suicide
Be direct. Talk openly and matter-of-factly about suicide.
Be willing to listen. Allow expressions of feelings. Accept the feelings.
Don’t debate whether suicide is right or wrong, or whether feelings are good or bad.
Don’t lecture on the value of life.
Get involved. Become available. Show interest and support.
Don’t dare him or her to do it.
Don’t act shocked. This will put distance between you.
Don’t be sworn to secrecy. Seek support.
Offer hope that alternatives are available but do not offer glib reassurance.
Take action. Remove means, such as guns or stockpiled pills.
Get help from persons or agencies specializing in crisis intervention and suicide prevention.
Thank you for helping when people are feeling suicidal. Thank you for your emotional fluency and your willingness to reach out when others are in need. You make a difference!
FAQs about Suicide from SAVE
(Learn more at SAVE: Suicide Awareness Voices of Education)
Why do people kill themselves?
Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to this question. People die by suicide for a number of reasons. However, the majority of the people who take their lives (estimated at 90%) were suffering with an underlying mental illness and substance abuse problem at the time of their death. They weren’t sick, but their brains were. Too often we think that a person is their brain, that’s where their personality or character resides. This is not true. The brain is an organ just like the liver, the kidneys, the gall bladder, etc. When it gets sick too often the appearance of the problem is in the form of a mental illness, as in the case of depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, or schizophrenia. If the brain is sick too long, it can lead a person to taking their lives. This isn’t always the case, as millions of people live with depression and never attempt or die by suicide, but with awareness, education, and treatment, people can be helped so that suicide does not become an option.
Do people attempt suicide to prove something or get sympathy?
No. A suicide attempt is a cry for help that should never be ignored. It is a warning that something is terribly wrong. Chronic depression can lead to feelings of despair and hopelessness, and a suicide attempt is one way some people choose to express these feelings. Most people who attempt or commit suicide don’t really want to die – they just want their pain and suffering to end. A suicide attempt is also not done to gain someone’s sympathy, as those that attempt to take their life do it for internal reasons-they simply can’t stand the pain they feel emotionally and/or physically. It isn’t to try and get someone to feel bad for them, that’s the last thing they would want. A suicide attempt must always be taken seriously. Without intervention and proper treatment, a person who has attempted suicide is at greater risk of another attempt and possible suicide.
Is a person at increased risk to attempt suicide if they’ve been exposed to it in their family or has had a close friend who died by suicide?
Yes. Suicide does tend to run in families, but this is generally attributed to the genetic component of depression and related depressive illnesses. A healthy person talking about a suicide or being aware of a suicide among family or friends does not put them at greater risk for attempting suicide. And mere exposure to suicide does not alone put someone at greater risk for suicide. However, when combined with a number of other risk factors, it could increase someone’s likelihood of an attempt. Failing to treat or mistreating depressive illness puts a person at increased risk of suicide. It is very important to remember that the vast majority of people living with depression do not have suicidal thoughts or die by suicide.
If a person’s mind is made up can they still be stopped?
Absolutely! Never give up on someone contemplating suicide. For a person determined to attempt suicide the desire to live is overshadowed by the seeming hopelessness of the disease. The decision to attempt suicide is really a desire to stop suffering. Never give up on someone just because they say they’ve made up their mind. Depression is a crisis and intervening to help the person regain perspective and aggressively fight the disease can help reverse the downward trend toward suicidal thoughts or attempts.
Why do people attempt suicide when they appear to feel better?
Sometimes a severely depressed person contemplating suicide doesn’t have enough energy to attempt it. As the disease lifts they may regain some energy but feelings of hopelessness remain, and the increased energy levels contribute to acting on suicidal feelings. Another theory proposes that a person may “give in” to the disease because they can’t fight it anymore. This relieves some anxiety, which makes them appear calmer in the period preceding a suicide attempt.
The World Health Organization also has information on suicide in countries throughout the world, and numerous links to help you learn more.
Talk about suicide and let people know you’ll listen
Suicidal feelings can affect anyone, from kids to elders. Let your friends and family know that you’re willing to talk about suicide; you may save someone’s life, certainly, but you’ll also make life easier and less awful for people who are suffering. Knowledge is power, but compassionate knowledge is awesome!