Let’s talk about suicide

The Darkness before Dawn: Understanding the Suicidal Urge

Suicidal feelings are painful but normal responses to deep pain and deep trouble — and people survive their suicidal urges every day, and go on to live and thrive.

If you or anyone you know feels suicidal, there are some excellent free resources that can help.

First, here in the US, you can contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 to chat or 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 despairing periods in their lives. If you or anyone you know is feeling suicidal, please let them know that help is available.

The 988 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’re 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. This post on working with depression may be helpful.

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 for free on my site.

Soft Depression and Suicidal Urges
Apathetic ~ Discouraged ~ Disinterested ~ Dispirited ~ Downtrodden ~ Fed Up ~ Feeling Worthless ~ Flat ~ Helpless ~ Humorless ~ Impulsive ~ Indifferent ~ Isolated ~ Lethargic ~ Listless ~ Pessimistic ~ Practical ~ Purposeless ~ Realistic ~ Resolute ~ Tired ~ Withdrawn ~ World-Weary

Medium Depression and Suicidal Urges
Bereft ~ Certain ~ Constantly Irritated, Angry, or Enraged (see the Anger list above) ~ Crushed ~ Depressed ~ Desolate ~ Desperate ~ Drained ~ Emancipated ~ Empty ~ Fatalistic ~ Gloomy ~ Hibernating ~ Hopeless ~ Immobile ~ Inactive ~ Inward-Focused ~ Joyless ~ Miserable ~ Morbid ~ Overwhelmed ~ Passionless ~ Pleasureless ~ Sullen

Intense Depression and Suicidal Urges
Agonized ~ Anguished ~ Bleak ~ Death-Seeking ~ Devastated ~ Doomed ~ Freed ~ Frozen ~ Gutted Liberated ~ Nihilistic ~ Numbed ~ Reborn ~ Reckless ~ Self-Destructive ~ Suicidal ~ Tormented ~ Tortured ~ Transformed

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.

In this video, I talk about the important messages inside the suicidal urge.


If you don’t know what to do when someone you care about is feeling suicidal, you can text or call the 988 Lifeline as a concerned friend (text 988 or call 1-800-273-TALK (8255)), and they’ll help you understand what to do.

Here are some ideas from the 988 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, like weapons or pills.
  • Get help from people 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.

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.

Thank you for making the world more empathic and compassionate.

May we all find peace and healing; may we all find ways to reduce suffering in the world.


18 Responses

  1. Michael
    | Reply

    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

  2. Matthew
    | Reply

    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
      | Reply

      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
      | Reply

      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.

  3. Jessika
    | Reply

    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
      | Reply

      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.

  4. Jessika
    | Reply

    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.

  5. Janelle
    | Reply

    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!

  6. Jackie
    | Reply

    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
      | Reply

      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!

  7. Harmony
    | Reply

    Hello there.
    I wanted to thank you Karla, for The Language of Emotions. I’ve combed through it before and after my attempted suicide. My on-going recovery requires every tool available! Everything has become a matter of life or death for me. Death being the ingrained beliefs and patterns that led me to the rapids of suicide. Life being the child-like learning of self-care. And oh how powerful the role of language! Seemingly simple words contributed unfailingly to my self-loathing; happiness being one of them. I’m learning now, slow and steady, how to view my dark depths as beautiful in their own way and how to recognize that they come bearing gifts! Thank you for sharing your understanding of them. Thank you for giving readers self-empowering ways to honor all of their emotions, and therefore, to honor their whole selves.

  8. Happyplants
    | Reply

    Does the suicide emotion bear gifts? Or is this emotion considered negative?
    I am finding these articles mind-blowing, thank you for your work!

    • Karla McLaren
      | Reply

      Hello and thanks for your question.

      Yes, when you know how to work with it, the suicidal urge does have a vital message that can save your life and change your life for the better. However, working with it empathically is a skill that requires the practices in the book (or something like them), such as grounding, focusing, self-care, emotional channeling practices, Burning Contracts, and so forth.

      It’s a very necessary emotion for specific situations, though it is of course a difficult and scary one. Whenever I write or talk about it, I suggest that people reach out for suicide intervention or crisis counseling, because it’s not an emotion to fool around with. It’s very powerful, and it requires support and skills!

  9. Jeff
    | Reply

    I enjoyed reading this as one who has previously attempted suicide and also struggles daily with depression, hopelessness, lack of purpose, and suicide thoughts. The problem is the mental health system in this country is significantly lacking. I have been through several medications including ketamine therapy and ECT treatments, along with a short mental health inpatient incident which was more traumatic than my state of mind itself. I keep thinking there’s no answer for me, which only surmounts the shame that I feel. I’ve also engaged with various therapists to address my trauma and other difficult life issues. I’m not giving up and hope that the answers inside of me will come before I take action. Being in such a dark place is simply overwhelming. Holding onto any thread of hope as what I try to do each day.

    • Karla McLaren
      | Reply

      Hello Jeff, and welcome. Thank you for staying with us even though it’s so grueling.

      I have a person close to me who is also dealing with this kind of depression and suicidality, and who has also tried everything. I had the chance to talk to a neuroscientist about the brain implant (a sort of pacemaker for the brain) that was being talked about a few years ago for this type of nonresponsive depression, and thankfully, he knew about both of the trials that were going on at that time. Apparently, it’s not a promising treatment, BUT, I asked him what he had seen that did work.

      He asked about how many kinds of therapy my friend had tried, and basically, it was just talk therapy and some DBT (which was too exhausting). This neuroscientist had found that the most effective therapy for this kind of depression that doesn’t respond to therapy or medication is somatic therapy.

      I’ve experienced somatic therapy, and it’s really quite amazing. There are many versions, but the most loving and powerful one I found is called Somatic Experiencing. If you haven’t tried it yet, and if you have the energy to consider something new, there are practitioners all over the world and the practitioner directory is here: https://directory.traumahealing.org/

      The founder of SE, Peter Levine, also has many books and audio learning sets that can help you get a sense for whether it would be helpful for you: https://www.soundstrue.com/blogs/authors/peter-a-levine

      There’s also an online course: https://www.soundstrue.com/products/the-healing-trauma-online-course

      I hope these are helpful suggestions.

      Take good care,

  10. Brigid
    | Reply


    Have you given any thoughts to suicide being part of fear and panic? The trigger is anger or sadness but that anger and sadness cannot be recognized so then the person panics and the panic is too much so then suicide becomes an option.

    • Karla McLaren
      | Reply

      Hello Brigid,

      I don’t think so, because the purpose of panic is to save your life at any cost. Panic and suicide could arise together because a person might panic at the thought of causing their own death, but the suicidal urge belongs in the sadness family.

      And the triggering event isn’t another emotion, but the situational, relational, financial, health, and life situations that are unlivable. The suicidal urge steps forward for very important reasons; it’s a response to severe trouble throughout the life and the psyche.


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