When suicide is in the news

The Darkness before Dawn: Understanding the Suicidal Urge

Photo of a sun dappled valleyWhen famous people commit suicide, and breathless news reports glorify or confuse the situation, there is the danger that others will follow his or her lead. Careful reporting can reduce this risk, and providing straightforward information about depression and suicide can help suffering people find help.

If you are feeling suicidal here in the U.S., 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 despairing periods in their lives. If you or anyone you know is feeling suicidal, please let them know that support and help are available immediately. You’re not alone.

The TALK lifeline is available in the U.S.; 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. Please reach out if you’re in pain.

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. 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 my Emotional Vocabulary List, which you can download for free 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Depressed ~ Dispirited ~ Constantly irritated, angry, or enraged ~ Helpless ~ Impulsive ~ Withdrawn ~ Apathetic ~ Lethargic ~ Disinterested ~ Pessimistic ~ Purposeless ~ Discouraged ~ Isolated ~ World-weary ~ Humorless ~ Listless ~ Melancholy ~ Flat ~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.

The 5 Biggest Myths About Suicide (or what you don’t know can hurt everyone)

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

1) 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.

2) 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.

3) 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.

4) 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.

5) 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.

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.

6 Responses

  1. S. Hinton
    | Reply

    Thanks for this helpful information. I think mental illness and depression need a lot more publicity. I heard just the other day that some people have to take medication to avoid depression. I didn’t know this and thought depression was entirely psychological.

  2. Diana Aldridge
    | Reply

    Wonderful information and help. Thank you!

  3. stevenjcallis
    | Reply

    Spot on…thank you for sharing your insights and knowledge.

  4. jo anne contreras
    | Reply

    I have lived most of my adult life with suicidal thoughts. This information is important for everyone to know. If you find yourself in this situation, or know someone who is, reach out, talk to someone, and remember you’re not crazy or alone.

  5. J. L. S.
    | Reply

    “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.”

    Then why does it happen so often? Why do people that have sought treatment continue on the path that leads to suicide?

    If seeking professional treatment doesn’t help, then what? This is why so many believe that the person who is determined to end their life will do so at some point.

    • Karla
      | Reply

      Hello and thanks to everyone for commenting.

      J.L.S., it could be that the medical help wasn’t focused well enough on the issues at hand, or that there wasn’t enough social support in the person’s life to help him or her transition through the depression.

      Severe depression is very tiring for a person’s body and brain, and it can create its own sort of spiraling thinking. Just visiting a medical provider may not be enough support. For people in the community, talking openly about suicide and checking in with people helps bring the situation out of the shadows, and helps people know that if the first thing didn’t work, there’s a reason to keep trying. It’s just hard to do when depression gets very intense — severe depression can sort of block out the sun.

      There are many, many people who have survived suicidal ideation. When people express the desire to end their lives, it’s not a certainty, and there are ways to help them come back from the brink. The suicide hotlines do this every day; the determination to end one’s life is not set in stone. People can and do survive suicidal ideation and suicide attempts, and they can get well again.

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