Warning: If you struggle with suicidal thoughts, this may be triggering. If you are suicidal, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255.
It’s World Suicide Prevention Day today (September 10). In honor of this, I want to be really vulnerable with you and share why this is so important to me—and why I hope it's important to you, too.
I first encountered suicidal thoughts when I was a senior in high school. It seemed like they came out of nowhere; I came home from a late-night soccer practice one evening and suddenly realized I no longer wanted to live.
The pressures of school, choosing a college, and maintaining grades had slowly built up, like a pressure cooker increasing the expectations so gradually I didn't notice how unhealthy I had become until I reached a crisis moment.
Thank God I made it through that emotion-filled night. Though I survived the evening, I continued mentally wrestling for my life for months. The thoughts of “not enough” and “deserving to die” plagued me for years (to this day, they still come and go, though they are much less frequent now).
Over the next few years, I experienced varying degrees of depression and mental health, and I wrestled with the idea of suicide several times.
At one point, I purchased a rope for a suicide plan and entrusted the rope to a friend who I knew would protect me from myself. (I did this as a protective measure since I was a broke college student; I knew if I was suicidal my first thought would be to retrieve the rope I already owned rather than buy another one.) Later, I burned the rope as a sign of walking away from suicide as a coping option.
Once during college, a mentor (and now dear friend) looked at me, paused, and whispered ever so sincerely, "Please outlive me" as she hugged me tightly. Evidently, I couldn't fool everyone.
On another occasion, I confessed a suicide plan to my therapist, who kindly but firmly helped me navigate the situation. Interestingly, this was over a year after I began therapy, which reminded me that change doesn’t happen overnight, and mental health recovery isn’t always a linear path upward.
I share all these stories not to garner sympathy or sorrow—to the contrary, I'm actually very proud of myself for persevering through some incredibly difficult and painful moments and coming out on the other side! I share the raw truth about my experiences to bring awareness to how common suicidal thoughts, ideation, and plans can be.
On the outside, I’ve been a productive person even in the midst of suicidal contemplation. In fact, others would probably even have deemed me relatively “happy.” Yet inside, I’ve struggled deeply. Depression doesn’t discriminate, and it comes in all shapes and forms.
Suicide doesn’t just affect the socially isolated or those with outward symptoms. I’m proof of that: in high school and college, I was actively involved in church and volunteer work, made excellent grades, was respected in social circles, and was suicidal multiple times. Suicide can affect everybody.
I hope by sharing these stories of times I’ve been suicidal, I can help break the stigma and stereotypes around suicide. The more we talk about it, the less shame will surround the topic, and the easier it will be for those who need help to seek it.
Together, we can promote mental health and address one of the biggest health crises our country faces. To give some perspective on how significant this issue is, in 2016 the number of suicides surpassed the number of opioid-related deaths. Effecting change starts with awareness. If we care about health, if we care about life, if we care about people…we’ll care about suicide prevention.
Chances are, you know someone with suicidal thoughts. What will you do about it?
To those who have been or are suicidal: You are the most courageous people I know. You are fighters, and you are my heroes. You are loved and valued and incredible. You are not alone! If you are suicidal, please reach out for help today (lifeline: 1-800-273-8255); you are worth it!
Some practical action points:
- Educate yourself on depression and suicide
- Be familiar with suicide warning signs
- Provide a listening ear, and
- Know when to refer a friend to a professional (psychiatrist, therapist, etc.)
- Look up resources for those feeling suicidal (hotline numbers, websites, blogs, etc.)
- Take care of yourself. Walking with a friend through depression and suicide can be extremely difficult mentally and emotionally. Be aware of what fills you up and be intentional about those activities (walking in nature, going to counseling, practicing yoga, etc.).
Got more action points? Leave them in a comment below!