Let’s (Really) Talk about Suicide

In a week when two celebrities, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, died by suicide within days of each other, so did hundreds of other people in the U.S. One of them was named Flinn, a classmate of mine in high school.

On Flinn’s public Facebook page, an outpouring of sympathetic posts, one after the other, creates a trail of digital tears. In a long stream of posts expressing their heartbreak, people lament the pain and suffering that Flinn endured.

Nobody uses the word “suicide” or “killed himself.” Nobody says he intentionally ended his life. But he did die by suicide.

Stigma and Suicide

It’s heartbreaking – not only Flinn’s death, but also the conversation around it. There is so much stigma, fear, and pain attached to suicide that many people dare not say its name.

I don’t fault those who avoid naming suicide. Instead I fault society and social conditioning for teaching us to treat suicide as unspeakable.

If we can’t acknowledge suicide when a person has died, then how can the living expect to talk openly with friends and family about their urges to end their life? It’s awfully hard to help suicidal people – and for them to ask for help – if we treat suicide as if it is a dirty word.

Avoiding the Question

Many people are too scared to talk directly about suicide – even some therapists. In my book Helping the Suicidal Person, I describe a co-worker at a counseling hotline who explained that she would never dare ask anybody if they were having suicidal thoughts. And she thought I was a freak for doing so.

I teach a class on suicide risk assessment and intervention to aspiring social workers at the University of Denver. On the first day of class, I ask them to write down one or two questions they would ask someone to determine if the person is thinking of suicide.

Some come right out with it and ask: “Are you thinking of suicide?” “Do you think of killing yourself?”

Others ask, “How has your sleep been lately?” “Are you depressed?” “Do you think of hurting yourself?” Those questions will help you learn if someone’s sleeping poorly, depressed, or thinking of hurting themselves – not if someone’s thinking of suicide. Perhaps the conversation will lead there. Perhaps not.

“Hurt yourself” is a euphemism that some people use for suicide. Instead of asking, “Do you want to kill yourself?” they might ask, “Do you want to hurt yourself?” Yet there are people who intentionally hurt themselves without wanting to die. There are also people who desperately want to die and view suicide not as a means to hurt oneself, but to stop hurting. So the person’s answer to “Do you want to hurt yourself?” might not mean what you think it does.

Fears of Asking about Suicidal Thoughts

Why don’t people ask directly about suicide? They may fear that talking directly about suicide gives others the idea (it doesn’t), as if everybody on earth who has finished elementary school doesn’t already know about suicide. Or they might consider it impolitic to name suicide, because of the stigma attached to it. Or they might be afraid of saying the wrong thing, or of angering the person, or of being unable to help.

These are all legitimate fears. It’s scary to ask someone about suicidal thoughts. But avoiding the topic does not make the problem go away. It drives it underground, where a suicidal person may feel even more alone in the darkness.

Ways to Help Suicidal People

© Skdesign | Dreamstime Stock Photos

To truly foster open, constructive conversations about suicide — to create an environment where people can ask for help from loved ones and professionals — we must actually name it. Only then can more suicidal people feel welcome to reveal their thoughts.

Only if we name suicide can we reach out to those we worry about and ask, “Are you thinking of suicide?” And then we can truly listen and join with the suicidal person.

There are specific techniques for asking a person about suicidal thoughts that can lessen the potential for stigma, shame, and discomfort. One way is to convey that the person is not weird or wrong to have suicidal thoughts: “Sometimes people who feel as crappy as you do have thoughts of killing themselves. Do you?”

Talking about Suicide

Once potential helpers can talk openly about suicide, it opens the door to conversations that can lead to help, hope, and healing. If you’re wondering how to respond to a suicidal person, check out my post “10 Things to Say to a Suicidal Person.” I also have a post, “10 Things Not to Say to a Suicidal Person.”

I have no idea if these conversations occurred with my old classmate Flinn, or if they would have helped him. I remember him as someone who loved to surf in the feeble waves of Galveston and play hacky sack in between classes, but it’s been 30 years since I last saw him.

What I do know is that Flinn died in a way that many people actively avoid naming. This silence about suicide can be deafening, making it exquisitely hard to hear those whose cries most need to be heard.

If you think of suicide, please consider calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800.273.8255 (TALK), texting the Crisis Text Line at 741-741, or getting help from other resources listed at www.SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources/#immediatehelp.

*

Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW, is the author of “Helping the Suicidal Person: Tips and Techniques for Professionals,” a psychotherapist and consultant, and an associate professor at the University of Denver Graduate School of Social Work.

Copyright 2018 by Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW. Written for SpeakingOfSuicide.com. All Rights Reserved. Except where noted, photos purchased from Fotolia.com.

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  1. John Doe says:

    Suicide well i contemplate it daily. Im a veteran whom the government has failed to help! Im still waiting for my benefits almost a decade later and im tired and dont want to go on. Im tired of excuses, and straight bull shit. I fought the war now fix ME or compensate me NOW as per our contract. I cant go another day living in this dark place.

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

      John Doe,

      How sad and painful! I’m so sorry you’ve been let down this way. I hope you’ll keep fighting. Have you tried talking with someone at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, at 800-273-8255 (TALK)? They have an option for veterans. The Crisis Text Line at 741741 also might be of help. I list other resources at http://www.speakingofsuicide.com/resources/#immediatehelp.

  2. Anon X says:

    No need to (really) talk about something if the listening parties have ALREADY concluded you’re wrong. At least that’s my take–and I gather it’s the perspective of many suicidal people. When I was in college, I spoke to a counselor about being gay. When I told him, he crossed his legs, cringing, and, despite trying not to, betrayed disgust on his face. Decades later, I remember this vividly because it’s played out over and over and over again throughout my life. For the next several sessions, my therapist tried to get me to distract myself from my natural developmental thoughts. No matter how much I, the patient, tried to reason with him that I wasn’t depressed BECAUSE my brain chemistry was abnormal, but instead because of the way others–from other students to faculty–were treating me, my therapist wanted only to talk about behavioral interventions I should be using. No mention of laws or university rules that were being broken. Not a peep about, what I would later learn about–that chronic prejudice and purposeful social exclusion can, all other things equal, cause depression and other cognitive issues.

    Today, my therapist’s approach to mental health would be largely condemned. But my point is, it can be futile to talk about an issue if enough people, especially the professionals in charge of assessing and treating issues, have already made up their mind that your perspective is wrong and, therefore, indicative of YOUR needing treatment. Often enough, that’s just not the case.

    Today, the big assumption is that all suicidal people are “ill.” That we haven’t reached our conclusions after a long time living with discrimination and abuse which spill over into survival–whether we’re deemed employable, despite our academic and professional qualifications; whether people want to rent to us, or how banks and mortgage managers treat us; how bosses and teammates at work interact with us; the probability we can build a protective, healthy community of support. These things, and many more, determine how much money we can make, and money is very, very important in our culture. Transexuals, for example have a hard statistical odds of lifetime chronic unemployment and poverty due, according to US government findings, to discrimination, NOT mental illness. It’s not shocking to people who actually LIVE with the lifetime pain of these kinds of discrimination that, using transexuals as an example again, this community suffers one of the highest rates of suicide.

    Thankfully, some people suffering terribly can be helped. But there’s no guarantee of this. For one thing, the people who have the power to help must WANT to help. Just because someone is a law enforcement officer or a court official or a social services administrator … or a therapist doesn’t mean they care about someone’s particular issue or even agree someone’s experience constitutes “an issue.” The potential of the advice to really talk about suicide depends at least on the attitudes and openness of the person you’re talking to. And their ability to stop abuse you may be experiencing.

  3. AJAY SHARMA says:

    LOGICALLY speaking suicide is a cowardly act ; But there are situations which make you feel suicide is the only answer; But no. One cannot end a life in minutes which you have lived till now and especially where you have parents and close relatives who value you a lot ;

    One such situation is non-logical issue which I encountered but I refused to give up and fought till now; I have the most non-logical, deranged brain and I could make up my logic in last 36 years that I had this brain drain . Hence, never give up life – learn to live for others

  4. Alan Jones says:

    Be careful of the questions you ask
    In your opening paragraph you write, ‘I describe a co-worker at a counseling hotline who explained that she would never dare ask anybody if they were having suicidal thoughts. And she thought I was a freak for doing so.’ I think your co-worker is right, though I would put it stronger, I think your question is dangerous and here’s why. Questions set frames and force people to think and check to answer. So, asking someone if they have had suicidal thoughts, forces them to do a mental search and revisit all thoughts of suicide they may have or have not had. If the client has not mentioned the word, why would you want introduce it? As a client, if you asked me that question, one thought that would now go through my mind is, ‘Wow, my psychotherapist thinks my problems are so bad that I should be thinking about committing suicide. Otherwise, why ask it.’ Nice priming of the idea of suicide!
    Where a client says, ‘I’m thinking about suicide or I’m having suicidal thoughts,’ then explore the issue. If they haven’t, by asking your question you are introducing the idea and contaminating their thinking with ‘Suicide.’

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

      Thanks for sharing your views, Alan. However, I respectfully — and strongly — disagree.

      Considerable evidence demonstrates that many people with suicidal thoughts are not prone to spontaneously disclose them. This includes people who died by suicide within 24 hours of seeing a mental health professional.

      Stigma, fear, and suicidal intent each can create silence. When someone with suicidal thoughts is asked directly if they are thinking of suicide, they might still hide, but in my experience as a therapist they do not. Some express relief at having been asked and being invited to unburden themselves of their secret.

      Nobody can be given the idea — or “primed” — to die by suicide. We are not “introducing” the idea. People learn of suicide at a very young age. They already know about it. And asking if they are thinking of suicide does not make someone suddenly want to kill themselves. I can assure you that of the hundreds of people I’ve asked about suicidal thoughts, not one developed them as a result of my question.

      • Alan Jones says:

        I note that you respectfully and strongly disagree with me and an intellectual argument would be a waste of time for both of us. I would ask you to indulge me in a quick experiment around questions. Below are two, do no harm, questions. All you do is, as you answer the questions, notice what processing you have to do inside to answer them.
        Question 1 How do you learn?
        Question 2 How easily do you learn?
        To answer question one, you will have done a mental search of your learning techniques and processes that you use. For example, reading, lectures, mind-maps, flash cards, etc.
        Question two will send you on a search for times in the past when you learned something easily and may even take you back to childhood learning. For example, the words to a song you like and did not set out to learn, a nursery rhyme, the route to work, etc.
        Also notice that until asked those question, the chances that you were thinking about learning are millions to one.
        To answer the question, ‘Are you having suicidal thoughts?’ You have to do is go inside checking your thoughts for any that you could interpret as suicidal, because the scope or frame of the question is ‘Suicidal thoughts.’ Or if you have taken the verb ‘Having’ as being ‘Right this moment,’ unless in that instant they are having a suicidal thought, their answer must be no.
        By asking a specific question you are directing their thoughts and lighting up all the neuro networks in your client’s brain associated with the words in your question. The more the network lights up the strong the network grows.
        Why not ask something like, ‘To help me better understand and appreciate what is going on for you, tell what thoughts you have? After each thought, if they seem stuck, simply ask ‘And what else?’ This implies there are other thoughts and takes them deeper into their thought processing.
        I am not suggesting you avoid discussing suicide or suicidal thoughts. On the contrary, if the client brings them up, you have a duty to explore them with the client.

      • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

        Alan Jones,

        Thank you for your respectful reply and engagement. Respectfully, I believe there are two key flaws with your argument:

        1. Researchers have heavily studied the question of whether asking about suicidal ideation increases suicide risk. The answer is no.

        2. I hate coffee. Every time I eat at a restaurant, I am asked if I want coffee. I have been asked this thousands of times in my life. The question has never made me want coffee. That is only one, perhaps trivial, example, but it demonstrates that asking about something does not make the person want it. Everybody can draw from similar examples in their own life.

        You asked, “Why not ask something like, ‘To help me better understand and appreciate what is going on for you, tell what thoughts you have?” Here’s why: The topic of suicide is so laden with stigma that many people feel too ashamed or afraid of others’ judgment to volunteer that they are having suicidal thoughts. By not asking directly about these thoughts, not only do we risk never learning this very important information, but we also collude with the forces of stigma and shame around suicide. We treat suicide as unspeakable. We also risk conveying that we ourselves can’t handle talking about suicide, when we need to be able to do so.

        What’s most important is that someone with suicidal thoughts feel safe and welcome to talk about them. Avoiding the question, talking around it, and operating from the unfounded fear of causing someone to want to die by suicide — these actions (and inactions) do not help the suicidal person to overcome the forces of stigma and shame. As a result, the person may feel even more alone and hopeless than before.

    • Pattie says:

      As someone who has considered suicide many times, I totally disagree with you, Alan. And I dont like the way you state your opinions as claims, when in fact they ARE your opinions, and that’s fine. I just have a different view on asking someone about suicide.

  5. Tom H says:

    Nearly all the arguments I’ve ever read or heard against suicide make the same fundamental mistake: imposing moral perspectives on others’ life considerations and personal decisions. We did the same thing with racial minorities and non-heterosexuals and people of other religious faiths … for thousands of years. Everyone who wasn’t like us or didn’t agree with us was “wrong” even though we couldn’t produce hard evidence of their wrongness. And now we’re doing the same thing with people who have been consistently suicidal and are resolved to end their lives. These kinds of reasoning errors (assuming there are universal moral answers) sadly seem hard-baked into humanity. But we could at least refrain from insulting others by not encouraging respectful and honest conversation while we assume we already know the “right” answer (for others) to questions being discussed.

    I’m all for trying to help people. But not for controlling people (in their personal lives), other than to protect other living beings from immediate harm. If we can’t give people what they need to live safely and contentedly, and these people have through many trials failed to amass these things themselves, often with professionals’ help, we ought not to have the prerogative of telling them that their personal life evaluations and choices are “wrong.” Many people won’t discuss suicide because they intuit, rightly, that the person they could speak to about it already believes that suicide is universally wrong and that speaking about it could lead to civil commitment. Physical restraint and forced treatment are the elephants in any room where suicide is being discussed. Without the law addressing this, many will continue to make and carry out their plans in secret.

  6. Tonya Taylor says:

    The subject of Suicide should be bought back in school, educating staffs, and students, on the NEW, so that everyone can have a helping hand and help

  7. Ben Basile says:

    Thank you for this post and for the work you do. It’s very much needed, as you know. We must keep trying to end–or at least mitigate–that huge stigma associated with suicide and mental health issues in general. You’re so right when you say that avoiding talking candidly and directly about these issues doesn’t make them go away. That is so true.

    Thank you again for this posting. Saying a prayer for you, the whole staff and the friends and clients that come to you for help.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Suicide is honestly looking like a GREAT option. This world is so shit that a “God” that allows for all this shit to happen cant tell me how to live or die. 0 respect for that bastard (if it exists). Suicide is an actual answer. I’ve avoided it due to my christian upbringing that i’ll go to hell etc. But if you see everything plain and simple you can’t really believe that there is a being allowing all this shit to happen for no reason. You could give it a reason in short term reasoning but if we all came from nothing and to nothing we shall go then this game is the most retarded game that exists.

  9. Kimi says:

    Why do we all live? Even if we have a happy life it doesn’t matter. We will die soon or late so why not just die now. Why everyone says that we shouldn’t commit suicide? C’mon, death is a very normal thing. Can’t we choose when to die???? I wanna die now don’t you know that living is the worst thing for us? If you save us we will be like zombies. So please leave us alone…

  10. Kimberly says:

    I don’t feel safe anymore I just want to end my life I’m not happy here anymore can I just die don’t nobody care for me I can here people call my name I don’t like my life anymore I hate my life don’t have friends I don’t have any body I just want to die

  11. Michael says:

    In 92 my step brother Ed took his life with a garden hose in the tailpipe 95 my Brother Jim hung himself. In 05 my nephew Matthew shot himself, 08 my girlfriend took pills, in 12 my high school sweetheart hung herself, 2015 my second daughter’s mother shot herself a few months later 2016 my brother took pills.

    Suicide is just as common as losing keys or going on a holiday to me. It’s just a normal occurrence, a part of life from my perspective.

    I’ve had a death wish for more than 35 years myself and it shows in the few photos people took of me over the years.

  12. Tara dawn eveland says:

    Why is no one TALKING about it though? If you google it for information you get 10 warning pop ups with the crisis # to call. Where can someone just read about it?

  13. Averon says:

    I just scrolled through every article to find answers for my question, but seems like no one knows exactly about everything..

  14. Amy says:

    Perhaps instead of pouring out grief all over the social media pages of those who have died people should tell them they care while they are still alive when it actually matters to them. Sometimes a bit of human contact, whether talking directly about thoughts of suicide or not, can make a huge difference to someone who has that on their mind. Pictures of pigs and fluffy socks just don’t cut it for most people who feel like they want to die-certainly not for me.

    • Death wish says:

      This is the best response here. Show people they matter when they are here.

      • TomH says:

        But this would mean people would actually have to be bothered. Much easier to post fake grief AFTER/IF others die–and gain social media brownie points at the same time.

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

      Amy,

      Excellent points. People need to show their loved ones that they care. But I also don’t think we should assume that a person who dies by suicide didn’t receive love, support, and connection. Sometimes, sadly, family and friends fight hard to help a person but the suicidal mind still wins.

  15. It seems we don’t have enough safe outlets to speak our mind. With mental institutions telling us to hide our real thoughts and feelings, so we can go home quickly, and a lack of information or kind caring help, I think many people just hide their problems and issues. Scared to tell the truth, because our modern day help judges the surface and limits our freedom, instead of healing or solving the problem. When loneliness is a root cause of many suicidal tendencies, we don’t know who we can talk to or we don’t feel comfortable with those available to help. I like to vent and scream. Where are those friends that will allow me a moment of release, even if it takes forever? Our world is quick to judge and we are lazy in our investigation thinking it is someone else’s job to help our friends in need. Just think if someone you love only needed an open ear, and not thousands of dollars of useless help, when you roll up to their suicide note gently placed nearby their lifeless body.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Society is a shithole. The stigma is horrible. The only ones that understand it are the ones with it. I could write the books for the drs. Maybe then they could understand it,but i guess you need a degree to help people. Funny thing is, why do people confide in me soo much. Maybe because i understand the disease. I have done almost everything, short of brain surgery, and would even consider that, but losing hope in myself and the medical field. Best to ALL MY DEPRESSED FRIENDS.

  17. Niema d says:

    Why is society so obsessed with forcing people to live who don’t want to? We didn’t ask to be born. We didn’t ask to exist. Why would you want to keep inflicting life on us when we don’t want it?

  18. AJAY SHARMA says:

    There is no reason to commit suicide ; Life is given by God to live and he only has the right to take it ; No one alive should ever commit suicide even in worst of circumstances and even if she feels sick or mentally deranged; Live life for others if not for yourselves; There are so many services to be given back to the world – you can look after orphans, work in orphanage or shelter for aged people and give services- why waste a life ? I am sure people who feel like committing, like I did once, are not cowards ; Suicide is not a brave thing to do – braveness is to overcome it and move on in life. YOU CAN GIVE LIFE TO OTHERS INSTEAD OF TAKING YOUR OWN LIFE

  19. JJ says:

    The odds I will kill myself soon are fairly high, but I won’t tell anyone about it. I won’t contact anyone. The last time I did that, the police came out and were abusive. I won’t make that mistake again. Why bother with life?

    • izzy says:

      Life is tough. Especially for people like us. But the truth is there are so many amazing things out there, make a short list. Cake, fuzzy socks and cute pictures of pigs all exist! And right now you may feel that the world has nothing for you, that you don’t matter, that you want to die. But the reality is is that you are loved, even if you don’t know it. Because that’s what it’s like when you’re suicidal. You only think of the negative, of every reason you shouldn’t be here. I don’t know you, but I can say I care. I can say that I would feel grief if you were to go, that I would be upset, and we have a whole community here to talk! So say what you need, say everything bottled up inside! Because we’re all in the same situation and we all care.

    • Jason says:

      I’m with you.

  20. Anon says:

    As a suicidal person, I’m pretty open about it. However, ironically it’s mental health professionals that have a tough time dealing with it. Their knee jerk response is to get you out of their hair as soon as possible so they’re not liable if something were to happen. My experience is they want nothing to do with you once you mention the ‘s’ word.

    • Tom H says:

      Funny how so many mental health practitioners won’t recognize this. I’ve overheard psychiatrists and clinical psychologists talking about when to “fire” a patient who isn’t responding to therapy and poses a serious threat of self-harm and, therefore, professional or legal risk for the therapist. And I’ve read several blogs by practicing clinical psychologists actively advising family members and friends to abandon persistently mentally ill community members to protect their own mental health.

      Yet still the common message is, “Get help!” But what’s often meant is, “Get better quickly. Or else.”

    • Anonymous says:

      Thinking about it right now. Too much pain.

  21. Pravin joshi says:

    The only way to help the suffering person is to talk openly about suicide, it opens door to conversations that can lead to help, hope, and healing

  22. Anonymous says:

    A well written, and insightful essay Stacey, or Dr. Freedenthal (I mean no disrespect, in fact quite the opposite.) For your consideration; if a person is truly considering suicide, and fully believes they are considering it rationally and intelligently (in spite of the cliches), they would have to be savvy enough to see that there is no “confidential”, or “anonymous” help available. Even if they wanted to explore that possibility (which could be considered rational thought?). There is just an illusion of anonymity, or security. The risk of exposure, and thereby potential interference, is too great for an individual such as this. Perhaps there is room for improvement or development in that regard?

  23. Amey says:

    Nice article. Keep posting.

  24. Sarah Cummings says:

    Great post! Asking about how another person’s doing lately will be a big help to let them speak about what’s on their mind. 🙂

  25. Cledwyn Baps says:

    I know things get better.

    Shame it’s only for about five minutes…..

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

      Cledwyn,

      Those five minutes tend to revisit. It reminds me of one of my favorite lines from a song: “The space between the tears we cry is the laughter that keeps us coming back for more.” (Dave Matthews)

      It’s true that life has much pain, much darkness, and much more we wish it didn’t have. But for many of us, and I am grateful to be among them, the space between the tears we cry keeps us coming back for more.

      Those minutes, when they come, are precious.

      • Tom H says:

        How blessed you are, Stacey, to be among those fortunate people. I’m sure you’ve read the research that shows we humans are fundamentally biased towards positive perspectives–remarkably even when the objective circumstances do not warrant it. And work among cognitive neuroscientists points to a nearly species-wide “survival instinct” which many prominent biologists credit as the evolutionary source of our prevalent anti-suicide sentiments. It’s not surprising, therefore, that many feel those precious minutes, when they come, are worth being around to experience life’s pains.

        Hope you keep enjoying your fortune.

  26. Barbara James says:

    Now I know why people take their own lives, they want to escape the brutal pain of life, and from where I stand, it looks like the only way out of my inescapable pain

  27. Brittany Odle says:

    Hey I am here for you. I dealt with suicide prayer helped me. Reading The Holy Bible helped me too. If you need to talk email jesuscaresforyou777@yahoo.com

  28. Iris says:

    I am just looking for someone to talk to about this.
    I won’t write too much in case comment not-approved.

    https://mardishakti.wordpress.com/2018/08/12/why-do-we-want-to-die/

  29. Ava H. says:

    I wish I could call a suicidal line, but I am 10 {yes, I am on a website for people who want to die} and under protection of adults. When I went to the doctor so they could see why I wanted a therapist, I had a bad case of depression. I took the doctor’s depression test. The doctor said the average score on the test was like, 14. I got like,
    in the 40’s. I am afraid to call a suicidal number because of my parents. They make me feel like this.

    • Mark says:

      Hey, just saw this. Want to talk? Life seems awful at times…but it gets better. I promise.

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

      Ava,

      Good for you for seeking out help and information online, on your own. It’s sad that your parents contribute to your depression. However, I wonder if they might want to do better if they know how bad you are feeling?

      Do you have a cell phone? If so, you could text the Crisis Text Line at 741-741.

      The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 800.273.8255.

      I don’t know what the hotline’s and text line’s policies are, though, on involving (or not involving) parents of someone as young as you.

      For complete confidentiality, you can email jo@samaritans.org. They have a policy of not involving others, not even the police when someone is actively suicidal.

      You also could talk with a teacher, a family friend, a friend’s parents, etc., but I understand that you don’t want your parents to know, and they would almost certainly communicate to your parents if you are thinking of suicide. But there are places you can turn to, so I hope you will try them out.

  30. mic says:

    The problem is that it’s not possible to have an honest discussion about suicide within the parameters that our culture is willing to allow. The entire ‘pro-choice’ side of the discussion is marginalised, if not silenced altogether (do a Google search for ‘suicide discussion forums’ and see how long it takes you to come across one that doesn’t have a rule against advocating for the right to suicide). Reddit closed down the ‘Sanctioned Suicide’ sub, because it outraged the sensibilities of the sanctity of life lobby. The subreddit didn’t even allow discussion of methods.

    The pro-life side can only offer the bland assurances that life will get better (and unless you’ve had a very sheltered life, you will have personal knowledge of cases wherein life never did get better), and that life is so intrinsically profitable that there are always large dividends to be paid by enduring any intensity of suffering. I say that life doesn’t do anything productive, and that by continuing to live, you can only ever hope to (partially) solve the problems that life itself creates. But this view is still fairly radical and too progressive, especially due to the fact that any support of the right to die outside of terminal illness is proscribed in all media. If you can’t admit that suicide can be a rational response to unproductive suffering, and maintain that it’s always the act of someone who isn’t competent to make decisions about their own wellbeing, then it makes little sense to wonder why the impenetrable miasma of stigma and taboo still shrouds the subject altogether.

    • Pattie says:

      Yup. Yup.

    • Janet says:

      Wow. Although I’ve had a pretty good life I’d have to agree. At the end of the day it is worthless. The problem started when we were born. Birth and life are overrated. Sometimes wish I hadn’t had children. My son died by suicide. The pain is not worth the joy.

      • mic says:

        Janet, sorry for your loss. But I respect the fact that you have been able to come to this realisation, especially considering how much you had invested in ‘the game’ by bringing a child into it. I think that most people can’t realise what you have until the truth hits them where they live.

    • Tom H says:

      There are MANY of us who agree with you–and, internationally, our numbers are growing. But it’s futile having this discussion so long as the law is behind one side. No matter how polite the anti-suicide pundits are, they always have the nuclear option of having you incarcerated. I mean, committed. And once that happens, it can be a quick downward spiral financially, legally, professionally, emotionally… So those of us who already agree with you largely remain silent while the professionals preach to the choir, abusing reporting and publication biases to make it seem as if their unsubstantiable position were universal and factual. Thankfully, in different countries around the world, this religion-like anti-suicide bias is slowly crumbling. And polls in the US show that a majority of citizens, especially younger adults, favor people being entitled to make this most private of decisions for themselves.

      Time and values change. So long as we can’t make like much fairer and gentler, more and more people will conclude it’s unjust to force the marginalized and suffering to continue suffering indefinitely.

  31. Anonymous says:

    I have had suicidal thoughts since childhood, I have been in therapy and on meds for decades. I am managed, barely. One thing/treatment/crutch I have not seen in the comments or the posts I’ve read are service dogs. My service dog is the reason I wake up each day and one of the main reasons I don’t actively seek to end it all. I need to be here to take care of her and her life revolves around caring for me. She is unconditional love, something very few if any humans can provide. The caveat – you need to truly love the dog in order for the partnership to work. I live for my dog. She is my world. The downside is that when her time on earth is over, I will lose my lifeline – probably be in hospital for a while, heavily sedated most likely. However, in the meantime, the need to care for her and protect her gives me a reason to exist. She makes me wake up each day even if I don’t feel like it. A hungry dog that needs to pee is more persistent and demanding than 6 alarm clocks and timed lights. Just a thought for those that might find a psych service dog a useful addition to their current treatment plan. It was a previous psych Dr. ( in a previous town) that recommended I get one. She has helped me through the past 10 years more than any pill, although I still take those too.

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

      Anonymous,

      Thank you for sharing. What a gift that your service dog helps you so much. What a gift, too, that you shared this hopeful advice with others here.

      I would add that much of what you said applies to any dog, whether or not a service animal. I highly recommend a pet of any kind for improving one’s mental health! That said, it sounds like a service dog can be even more special because of their devotion to their person’s well-being.

      Thanks again for letting folks know. I hope she’s with you for years more to come.

  32. Tore Nielsen says:

    I often decide against talking about suicide because I don’t have anything hopeful or productive to say. I couldn’t be one of those people who de-mystify suicide by giving talks.

  33. Milestiba says:

    Within the first couple of sessions (group and individual) with my new therapist, I learned that she had a client die by suicide a couple years ago. She felt like she had missed something and talked about how she had to deal with it. I deal with severe chronic suicidal ideation. Possibly a huge trigger for her. In the state where I currently reside, if a person has no insurance, they are only provided 12 individual sessions in a lifetime. So, I was not willing to really work with anyone. By the time I was able to have insurance, I had everything worked out… my suicide plan. I had done recon of the area, I have all the supplies I need, I have everything in place should this next (the sixth) attempt not work, and I have the compulsion to attempt this plan almost daily. Between a mental health wellness center I was directed to, and the tenacity of my new therapist, I have started to have much better days more often. And the bad moments seem even more severe than when it was all I ever had. So, it is terrifying even to me.

    My therapist, however, has avoided any direct conversation regarding my suicidal ideations. It has bothered me because it left me not really understanding her tactic. Was she of the impression that if we dealt with everything else, it would go away? Because after three months, that was not happening. Still, I had my crisis counselors who have worked with me and kept me alive over the last year to bounce ideas off of and keep encouraging me to go back to my therapist and talk. I sent her a post from this blog, I sent her posts from The Mighty, I sent her a screen shot of the book I had ordered (Helping the Suicidal Person by Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW) with the hope that if the advice came from another LCSW and didn’t seem to come from me, then maybe we could make headway.

    I am struggling with 5 “perfect” kill dates in the next three weeks and I just fight the urge to shut down and go ahead and try to kill myself in order to protect people from the monster I have believed myself to become. On Thursday, my therapist told me that she has realized that she has been taking the “punk” way out. Her word, not mine. She also believes that she needs to deal with this better because it has left us in idle instead of possibly moving us forward more effectively. I don’t have any idea what that means. But, how often do providers tell their consumers that they were wrong? Everyone has consistently told me that they hear what I am saying and my therapist is working really hard to help me when she could easily tell me to go find someone else instead of trying to learn how to adapt and work with me. About two months in, my therapist point blank told me I am one of the most difficult consumers she had ever worked with. I know it can get worse. I know what we have to work through. I know what has happened in the past. I have had severe troubles with past therapists (including reporting to the Board of Psychology and having the therapist and her family retaliate with exaggerated claims in order to file criminal charges against me) and that makes for a lot of problems in my current therapeutic relationship. I don’t know what all this will lead to, but I struggle with wondering how much better it really would be just to try and kill myself. If she hasn’t worked with me too long, it can’t be that devastating, can it? That is what my mind tells me. It’ll be easier for her the second time around. She has to know by now it is not her fault.

    But then, I know how crappy that is… not because I know this person all that well, but because I have spent several hours reading accounts of mental health professionals and first responders that were in the midst of dealing with suicide… whether crisis counselors, therapists, police officers, etc… and they all had trouble even with people they never met before… even though I adamantly do not believe anyone will care when I am gone… I can still read those pages and think that maybe my mind is wrong.

    I guess it shows something that I have no longer remained at one with my depression. It is definitely something that I am actively fighting… even though I do not always feel so successful doing it.

    Thanks for your blog, your book, and your work on such an important issue. It was a huge turning point for me when I came across your work. You have continued to speak to me in a manner that reaches me and makes sense and helps me fight to stay alive. Perhaps one day… all my work will be able to help others. Who knows?

  34. Janet says:

    Culture is most certainly a sublimation of death anxiety. Suicide is a taboo subject because the strength to face another day often comes from a group-think… “everyone else is doing it.”

    There is inertia to living, and it’s put in check when someone kills themselves. The unspeakable option reveals itself as “there”, as always being “there”. Death is always a tragedy, but a suicide’s death is marred with controversy.

    There are few things I staunchly believe in; one of these things is the unalienable right of any person to end their life when they see fit. The subjective, personal life of an individual is magnitudes greater in depth and complexity than anything else and it deserves absolute respect.

    • Pattie says:

      Agree.
      Who, among us, has the moral superiority to claim the right to define the act of suicide-for someone other than themselves- as wrong or bad?
      Even further, No laws should give authority to that false notion of moral superiority!
      To justify encapsulating the act of suicide into laws that criminalize it, or more commonly now to “allow for a person’s rights to be denied” if someone is believed to be planning to kill themselves, is wrong on so many levels that I don’t even know where to begin…

  35. DF says:

    “On a scale of zero to ten, how much do you want to be alive these days?”

    • Df, Not sure who you are asking, but I’m in a chatty mood today I guess. On a scale of one to ten, i guess I am a 10 simply because i’m … well… alive. I guess if I stop to consider how much it would take to shift that to wanting to kill myself…questioning how solid or fragile my resolve to live is at the moment. Probably a 2 or a 3. It would not take much to tip me over and pour me out. It is a very frightening feeling, to be afraid of yourself.

    • Pattie says:

      I think you’re suggesting thats what you think the question should be, rather than “do you want to kill yourself?”, right?
      I like it!

  36. Thank you so much for this Stacy! I was nodding my head all along! I even texted my counselor and told him my thoughts on asking “Do you want to hurt yourself?” vs “Do you want to kill yourself?” I would add to that, “Do you want to die?” because there is rarely a day that goes by that I don’t want to die… but I do not want to kill myself. Even so, that is a choice I make daily. I know when people ask me “How are you?” or “How ya doin?” they are really asking if I want to kill myself. I’m not sure that I could ever make them understand that to me there is a difference in wanting to die and wanting to kill myself. Even seeing it in print makes me question the validity of the thought. Anyway, I appreciate this article so much. You just have no idea.

  37. Pattie says:

    Yes. Thanks Stacey. This is a safe place for those of us who live with these issues, and are not allowed to talk about them.
    And yes, I hate the phrase “hurt yourself” because of the reasons you stated. It’s a misused phrase that doesn’t really fit suicide, and it has caused many of us to suffer because of offbase assumptions that only confirm our fears that “no one understands”.
    The only thing I would add for people who dont know how to approach the topic of suicide- in addition to listening- is that you actually have to CARE. Many people DONT, and personally speaking, i would prefer that if you are just trying to show that you care, and just want me to feel like you care by listening, please, dont bother. Dont pretend to try. Because if I open up to you, i might tell you how difficult it is, how much pain I’m in, and then i would notice how quickly you back off.. because you are afraid I might ask something more of you, and then i have to find out that you’re really not sincere at all– in fact, you’re quite selfish. And thats something i really dont need to see again and again.

  38. Penny says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing this. As someone who lives with CPTSD, this piece is a breath of fresh air. Suicidal thoughts are a symptom of my condition, results of my right frontal lobe being damaged by years of an amygdala at defcon 5. Yes, it’s sinister. Yes, there are moments when hanging on seems impossible. Yes, I’d like my condition to be reacted to like I just said I had cancer, instead of having to hide in a tower Quasimodo style for fear of judgement. I’m not contagious, so if someone expressed empathy for me, they won’t catch the suicidal thoughts, the dissociating, or the muscle armoring by doing so. Don’t be fearful of having tough conversation with your family, friends, or co-workers. Ask directly, “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” Then be compassionate, don’t advise, and just hold space for what comes next. It’s a decompression to be spoken to so genuinely, to be cared for in that horror of wanting to die. Your empathy might just save a life.

  39. Suzanne Lenz says:

    I go out on a limb here because I feel these things need to be said. I refuse to be embarrassed. Someone needs to hear these words. I speak from personal experience and from the unspeakable pain of trying to prevent my own suicide after my husband’s sudden & horrible death. I have thus far succeeded but not because of anything I was lead to believe would help me. I ended up relying on my own tenacity and loving my family & friends so much that I could not bring this upon them. That has made the pain even worse. There are times when the mental anguish becomes more powerful than love and that is something only a person who has been there can understand – a person who can relate to what a struggle it is to hold on, to try to keep your grip onto something you cannot even imagine let alone see and to do this during a raging, lashing, stinging, unrelenting typhoon of mental pain. Minutes become hours; hours become days. Here is the problem – if you are suicidal, don’t want anyone else to know you are losing your grip on life, and you go onto any of the websites to “help” you, all you find are pictures of teenagers & cheer leading garbage – nothing for the ages most at risk (middle age, elderly, men). And I ask WHY do YOU personally want to stop a person from taking their own life? What is it that makes it so awful to you? Is it so awful that you would be there at all hours of the morning & night? Would you change your work schedule? Would you fly across the country? And I ask, would you try to prevent the death of someone from other fatal diseases or do you just accept their death as a foregone conclusion? If you were to save the life of a suicidal person, what would you do it for? Are you willing to do what it would take to help create a life for them that is worth living? Can you eliminate the disease that haunts them and is so unbearable that all they want to do is end the excruciating pain? Do you care so much that you’d give of yourself, your time, your money at any hour of any day or night to prevent the suicide? Or are you content to throw pills, 800 numbers and websites at the suicidal person and then feel at peace with yourself – you’ve “done all you could.” And I ask this also – have you yourself ever called one of these 800 numbers only to hear a teenage sounding kid who says, “Hello. What would you like to talk about?” And when you say, “Never mind – this was a mistake” not long after, the state police are knocking on your door – just what you need your neighbors to see. This 800 call – made on a lovely summer afternoon
    – after you dialed family member after family member & friend after friend trying to find a life raft & all you get are answering machines & comments like, “that’s between you & your maker” or “that’s up to you.” Now, you will never risk calling this number again and you will surely not talk to anyone else about your suicidal thoughts for fear of being “turned in” or watched like a hawk instead of receiving the care and compassion you so much need. So when pills, therapy, family, friends, doctors, prayers, psychiatrists, websites & 800 numbers let someone down one after the other, why on earth do you become so upset when the poor soul finally resorts to the only option they feel they have left – ending their pain in the only way now possible to them? The same useless editorials & nonsense that passes for “insight” proliferate all forms of media after a celebrity suicide and then it will all die down; and once again, the walls of suicide will welcome so many more new members. Family & friends that DID try to help or had no clue will be left in writhing pain and subjected to the pathetic babbling that people who profess to care spit out. And again I have to ask, 1. why is death by suicide so much more awful to you than any other manner of death?; 2. why do you feel you need to stop it? and 3. if you can give a sincere answer to 1. & 2., what are you willing to do that has any affect or meaning? How will you truly help those who continue to try to find a reason to live?

    • Pattie says:

      Suzanne Lenz,
      Wow, could not have said it better. I sooo agree! Thank you.

    • Joe says:

      Hear, hear! It’s all well and good to talk the talk about encouraging open, constructive dialogue, but in a society that stigmatizes the suicidal and dismisses them as not thinking correctly, a reality check is in order.

      Your experiences serve to highlight the other side of the conversation that gets left out: the judgments, the platitudes, the “get help”s, the police dispatched by the hotline operator, the incarceration followed by the huge medical bill for their “services”. All too often the situation is framed as the suicidal being too embarrassed or too afraid to reach out when the reality is they reach out all the time and are insulted, dismissed, and punished in response. The goal isn’t to help but to stop the offending behavior.

      It’s no coincidence that you see mostly pictures of teenagers on these anti-suicide sites. The example always trotted out in support of anti-suicide policy is the teenager who wants to die because her boyfriend broke up with her. It’s easier to dismiss problems when you can attribute them entirely to irrationality. Disease, chronic pain, chronic loneliness, etc. are not so easily invalidated.

      Like most of what you read in a heavily pro-life society, the conversation is very one-sided; it’s all about how “potential helpers” can breach the guard of the suicidal so they may be made properly receptive to the helpers’ truths. So long as this arrogant posture is maintained there will be no dialogue, just the happy and healthy talking down to the unhappy and unhealthy.

      • David Crichton says:

        quite right.I agree. We chronic suicidal peope have been coping with these bad thoughts for ages without any recognition or acknoweledgement while our lives fall to pieces??

        At least mine has and I do not want to die, but life is becoming really unbearable and shameful

    • Tom H says:

      Brava!

    • Anonymous says:

      Yes!

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