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Let’s talk about suicide

September 10, 2010

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Depressed ~ Dispirited ~ Constantly irritated, angry, or enraged ~ Helpless ~ Impulsive ~ Withdrawn ~ Apathetic ~ Lethargic ~ Disinterested ~ Pessimistic ~ Purposeless ~ Discouraged ~ Isolated ~ World-weary ~ Humorless ~ Listless ~ Melancholy ~ Flat ~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.
Be non-judgmental.
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!

Myths About Suicide (or, what you don’t know can hurt everyone)

(From SAVE. Learn more at SAVE: Suicide Awareness Voices of Education)

People who talk about suicide won’t really do it.

Not True. Almost everyone who commits or attempts suicide has given some clue or warning. Do not ignore suicide threats. Statements like “you’ll be sorry when I’m dead,” “I can’t see any way out,” — no matter how casually or jokingly said, may indicate serious suicidal feelings.

Anyone who tries to kill him/herself must be crazy.

Not True. Most suicidal people are not psychotic or insane. They may be upset, grief-stricken, depressed or despairing, but extreme distress and emotional pain are often signs of mental illness and are not signs of psychosis.

If a person is determined to kill him/herself, nothing is going to stop him/her.

Not True. Even the most severely depressed person has mixed feelings about death, and most waver until the very last moment between wanting to live and wanting to die. Most suicidal people do not want to die; they want the pain to stop. The impulse to end it all, however overpowering, does not last forever.

People who commit suicide are people who were unwilling to seek help.

Not True. Studies of suicide victims have shown that more than half had sought medical help within six months before their death and a majority had seen a medical professional within 1 month of death.

Talking about suicide may give someone the idea.

Not True. You don’t give a suicidal person morbid ideas by talking about suicide. The opposite is true — bringing up the subject of suicide and discussing it openly is one of the most helpful things you can do.

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!

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10 Comments

Michael September 11, 2010 at 12:45 am

This is so very needed. I just in the last few weeks worked with a friend that was in this dark space/place, you’re 100% right on Karla, speaking from someone who in 1986 made an attempt & woke-up alive to go on to watch my children become awesome human beings; the passing of my mother last week has shown me how far I have come with relating to the pain Life sometimes hands us. Peace Be Upon You, Mike

Matthew September 11, 2010 at 2:12 am

Men commit suicide at a higher rate than women in most of the world except China, which is kind of a big “except”. In the U.S., women try to commit suicide more often than men do, but when men try, they are more likely to use a firearm, so they are more likely to die in the attempt. Having a gun in the house makes the situation many times worse if someone is having suicidal thoughts, especially males.

Karla September 11, 2010 at 5:27 am

Michael, I’m glad you made it, and glad you could help your friend. Sometimes, it seems that the people who have been in the darkest places and survived can be the most help to others.

Matthew, I’ve been looking through the statistic today, and the China exception has me wondering: What are the factors that make such a difference there?

Karla September 11, 2010 at 5:46 am

And hellyeah, get guns away from at-risk people — especially teens.

I’m on the CDC site looking at suicide rates from 1981 to 2007; there was a sudden drop in both numbers in 1998, but in each year, the suicide death rate is higher than — sometimes nearly double — the homicide rate. Wow, that’s not something you’d pick up from the news at all.

Jessika September 11, 2010 at 6:07 am

Psychiatrists also talk about steps within the suicidal thought process. You go from thoughts of suicide to explicitly making suicidal plans. Going through your business, sorting stuff through, etc. Even though thoughts of suicide is bad enough and to be taken seriously, the more into the process you are the more dangerous it is. If you fear that someone is in the midst of hurting themselves, by hinting or prior self-inflicted injury to finding a collection of pills, call 911.
The less a person talks about suicide, the more decisive the decision is becoming. It is unfortunate that mental illness or anything resembling depression and being in dark places, is just not something we talk about. An aching soul is as bad as physical pain, so strong that you don’t know how to make it through. As many as one in ten people diagnosed with schizophrenia will commit suicide or attempt the same.

Karla September 11, 2010 at 7:09 am

Thanks Jessika.

I’ve been studying schizophrenia and I have an update on the suicide statistics for schizophrenics. This study calculated the incidence at 4.9% (nearly 5 people out of 100), and this study updated the figure to 5.6% (more like 6 people out of 100) to account for lifetime risk. It’s still an unacceptable number, but it’s better than the 10% figure we once supposed.

The suicide risk for schizophrenics seems most prevalent at the onset of symptoms.

We might need to have a World Schizophrenia Awareness Day so that people won’t feel so alone and hopeless when the symptoms strike.

Jessika September 11, 2010 at 5:57 pm

The earlier the onset of mental illness, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, the higher the suicide risk. With some variants of bipolar disorder, like ultra rapic cycling disorder, the risk is skyhigh. With ultra-rapid cycling you go from manic to depressive in a day.

Unfortunately we need so much more awareness. Some illnesses gets a months worth of awareness whereas other conditions get a day, world aids-day being one. Popular culture unfortunately perpetuates and permanents mis-conceptions of mental illness. The movie Me, myself and Irene which was supposedly about schizophrenia gave such a cruddy picture that it was outrageous.

In my family, on both sides, madness is more common than is cancer, heart disease and other lifestyle diseases or other diseases that are inheritable. I’m not using madness in a demeaning way here, I’ve suffered many depressions myself and one of my parents have bipolar disorder. Madness is the best word to use in describing how destructive it can be in every avenue of life.

Janelle September 21, 2010 at 5:28 am

Hello Karla and fans!
I just joined your email list and this is my first email from you! The subject of Suicide always strikes me in a very personal way. I am a survivor of suicide as I have lost 3 brothers to this form of death. Because of their choice, I have suffered tremendously over many years with grieving and depression. I have learned a great deal about my life and how everyone of us contributes to the lives of others. We are all responsible for making a better life for each other and Karla in my opinion, it begins with dealing with “emotions”!!! Yes, emotions!! You nailed it!! Of course, if one’s emotions are not welcome where you are, then by all means, get out of there and seek a safe, and loving environment for which you can express your emotions. There is a lot to share and explore about suicide in the right environment and with empathic people. I am glad to see this is one of those welcoming places!

Jackie March 26, 2012 at 11:55 pm

Hi Karla,
This might sound far out, but can suicidal energy linger in a room/place where someone seriously thought about and struggled with it? I say that because whenever I visit my parents, my old room is now furnished with my brother’s old bed. At the time when it was his bed he was quite suicidal, after his best friend had taken his own life. I realized that only ever when I sleep in that room on his old bed, do I start having very helpless, tormented, suicidal thoughts/feelings. At no other time or place do I feel this way, so I am wondering, could it be lingering as some sort of residual energy on the bed or something? It’s really weird, but I only ever experience it while sleeping there.

Karla March 27, 2012 at 3:50 pm

Hi Jackie,

If you know that the bed is his, it is more likely a kind of empathy, because at some level you associate the bed with him, and move into his mindset in order to honor him, or experience what he did in an attempt to understand him. There is no reputable research that has ever found energetic or emotional traces left behind, but our bodies, brains, memories, and imaginal skills don’t need for traces to be there in order to have fully real-feeling experiences.

I realize that I’m not towing the line with new age ideologies here, but I’m striking out on my own path and working with a new way to think about these things. Maybe I’ve got something; maybe I don’t. Ideas are fun!

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