By Michelle Garrett, MS, LMFT
Suicide is something that happens far too often. We need to talk openly about it and do what we can to prevent it. Suicide crosses all demographics, but since 2007, suicide rates have doubled in youth populations. It’s the 10th leading cause of death overall in the United States. We need to take this seriously—seriously enough to get anyone help even for just briefly entertaining suicidal thoughts.
Strangely, there are websites, movements, and TV shows that appear to encourage self-harm and even glorify it. Sadly, the people in these movements are positioned as the only ones who “understand” or “care.” This is a lie. These, too, are hurting people in need of help, but unable to help others.
Recognize Suicidal Thoughts
We are called, as followers of Christ, to help bring Jesus’ light into the world. And that doesn’t mean hiding from the darkness. Depression and suicidal thoughts can make people feel alone. Meeting people where they are, in the midst of their pain, may be the only way to help people know they’re not alone.
How will you know if someone’s entertaining suicidal thoughts? The following are symptoms of depression and suicidal risk. Those starred with an asterisk are more serious and may indicate higher suicidal risk.
Sad or depressed mood
Changes in normal behavior, like difficulty sleeping or eating
Losing interest in things one used to care about
Chronic pain or illness
Isolating oneself, withdrawing from others
*Statements about being hopeless, worthless, or a burden
*Statements like “I wish I weren’t here” or “I wish I were dead”
*Talking about killing oneself, self-harm, or suicide in general; preoccupation with death
*Having firearms in the home
*History of suicide attempts (personally); family history of suicide
Note: No one symptom in and of itself indicates suicidality, with the exception of direct threats, but more symptoms present indicates a higher risk.
If you or someone you know is demonstrating any of the symptoms above, it’s time to talk about it. Remember how we’re supposed to meet people where they are? That’s exactly what we’ll do. Turns out, a simple, non-threatening, yet direct approach is probably best. Read on for five ways the National Institute of Mental Health suggests helping someone find their way out of the risk of suicidal thoughts and actions.
Five Action Steps for Helping Someone in Emotional Pain from the National Institute of Mental Health
- Ask. “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” Studies show that asking at-risk individuals if they’re suicidal doesn’t increase suicidal thoughts. It simply assesses the risk.
- Keep them safe. Reducing a suicidal person’s access to highly lethal items or places that put them at risk is an important part of suicide prevention. Ask the at-risk person if they have a plan, and remove or disable the lethal means.
- Be there. Listen carefully and learn what the individual is thinking and feeling. Findings suggest acknowledging and talking about suicide may, in fact, reduce suicidal thoughts.
- Help them connect. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s number is 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). Help them expand their support system by connecting them to a trusted family member, pastor, friend, medical doctor, counselor, etc.
- Stay connected. Studies show that suicide deaths go down when someone follows up with the at-risk person.
Recognize There Is a Way Out
Many, if not most, people have experienced times in life that have led them down a dark path. With depression, everything is experienced through a lens of darkness and hopelessness. Our relationships, our outlook on life, and our future can all seem bleak and hopeless. Our relationship with God can feel distant. The ability to feel joy, hope, purpose, and worth are all compromised by this dark filter. If this is you or someone you know, it is time to ask for help. Depression and suicidal thoughts can be treated with great success through counseling, increasing support, and sometimes medications. Ask for help. You can overcome suicidal thoughts!
A Final Word to the Broken-Hearted
You are not alone. Jesus cares. He says you are worthy. He says you have a purpose. He created you like no other! The lens of depression and hopelessness try to cover your view of the light, but it doesn’t mean there’s no hope. You just might not be seeing it accurately. Your life matters. God created you and He loves you. Even when you “feel” separated from His love, you aren’t. Nothing can separate you from Him. Suicide is never the answer. If you’re having suicidal thoughts, it’s time to reach out. If you’re in a suicidal crisis right now, go to your nearest Emergency Room or call 911. Try calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) if you’re not sure what to do.
Give hope a chance. Find life. Tell someone about it. You would be surprised to know how many have walked this journey successfully and have found God’s healing. You really can overcome suicidal thoughts!