By Dr. Danielle Keenan-Miller
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, an excellent time for each of us to commit to understanding and destigmatizing mental health problems. A surprising number of Americans struggle with mental health concerns— at least 1 in 5 in any given year— and most of those who are suffering do not receive the support and treatment that they need. One of the most devastating consequences of our lack of openness around discussing and treating mental health problems is the increased risk of suicide. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, with more than 44,000 people attempting suicide each year and approximately 25 times that many people making an attempt. All of us share the responsibility for making our society one that reaches out to people at risk for suicide and provides the kind of care and support that helps them survive.
Some important facts about suicide that everyone should know:
1. Suicidal thoughts are usually caused by an underlying mental health problem that can be treated. Suicidal thoughts are not a sign of personal weakness; they’re usually a sign of an underlying condition like depression, bipolar disorder, substance abuse, PTSD, or anxiety. All of these mental health concerns have effective treatments available (usually therapy, medication, or a combination of the two). Getting effective treatment can not only save lives, but help improve the happiness and well-being of people who have suicidal thoughts. If you need help figuring out how to find a therapist who can be helpful to you or someone you love, see our blog post on that topic.
2. Suicidal thoughts and feelings, although powerful and difficult to manage, do pass with time. If a person having suicidal thoughts can get through this period, it’s likely that he or she will notice a decrease in suicidal thinking. More than 90% of people who attempt suicide and survive do not go on to die by suicide— the crisis passes, and it’s possible to rekindle the sense of connection, purpose, and meaning that makes life worth living. LiveThroughThis.Org is an excellent place to read the stories of others who have survived a suicide attempt and recovered.
3. The problems that can trigger suicidal thinking can often be solved or will get less painful with time. Suicidal thinking can be set off by stressful life events, like the end of a relationship, loss of a job, or bullying. Although sometimes suicide can feel like the only solution to the immediate pain, there are often other ways to solve a problem or to hang on until the pain lessens. Talking to a friend, family member, or therapist can help someone with suicidal thoughts get the support they need to cope with the challenges they’re facing.
4. Talking about suicidal feelings can help. It’s a myth that asking someone whether they have been thinking of suicide can “plant the idea” or cause them to feel more suicidal. Sometimes talking through the suicidal thoughts with a nonjudgmental friend, therapist, or crisis support volunteer can be exactly what helps someone get through this moment and connect to long-term support.
If you are feeling suicidal, please know that you are not alone. There are people out there who care about you and what you’re going through. In fact, thousands of volunteers around the USA and Canada donate their time to staffing crisis lines like the ones below so that you’ll have someone to reach out to in a time of crisis.
In the US:
- Anyone in crisis can call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1(800) 273-TALK
- If you’re a Veteran in crisis, call the Veterans Crisis Line: 1(800) 273-8255
- Teenagers who need someone to talk to can call the Teen Line at 1(800)TLC-TEEN
- To chat with a support person online: CrisisChat.org or Imhurting.org
- An LGBT teen specific chat is also available: TheTrevorProject.org
- By text message: text Home to 741741 or teens can text TEEN to 839863
- Canada has 24-hour Phone Crisis Lines in each Province or Territory. Find yours.
- To message with a counselor use the Online Lifeline.
- For kids who need help, call the Kids Help Phone: 1800 668 6868
- Center For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Data & Statistics Fatal Injury Report for 2015.
- Kleiman, E.M., Turner, B.J., Beale, E.E., Huffman, J.C., & Nock, M. K. (2017). Examination of real-time fluctuations in suicidal ideation and its risk factors: Results from two ecological momentary assessment studies. Journal of Abnormal Psychology.
- Owens D, Horrocks J, and House A. Fatal and non-fatal repetition of self-harm: systematic review. British Journal of Psychiatry. 2002;181:193-199.