(TW: suicide, sexual assault, depression, mental illness.)
It’s a term that not many people want to repeat and a concept that not many want to explore. But the truth is that everyone is affected by suicide in some way. Most individuals who die by suicide have some form of mental illness. The most common condition that victims struggle with is depression. The risk is even higher for individuals who suffer from depression along with another form of mental illness.
I’m tired of seeing faces of panic when the subject is brought up. Society expects us to masquerade as someone who has it all together. That’s not only unrealistic, it’s dangerous. It’s important to realize that not everyone who suffers from mental illness is suicidal, but the majority of those who suffer from suicidal ideation endure some form of mental illness, have opportunity, triggers, or even missed warning signs. And sure, suicide is a difficult subject to talk about, but that’s exactly why it’s so important to bring it to light.
“But, Ellen, isn’t September suicide prevention month? Isn’t that enough?”
Yes, it is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.
Thanks for bringing that up. Is it enough? Hell to the no. Just because there’s a month dedicated to bringing awareness to a social concern doesn’t mean that we should forget about it the other eleven months of the year. However, having a month dedicated to a specific concern is a terrific opportunity to learn more about it and apply it to your own everyday life. In this case, we are focused on the prevention of suicide. Too often when a beloved celebrity or someone we know personally attempts or has completed suicide, we ask a variety of questions with one being
“What could I have done to help?”
The first step to help prevent suicide of the ones we love and care about is to defeat the stigma surrounding mental illness and suicide.
“But, Ellen, suicide is the selfish and cowardly way out. Plus, aren’t most of them looking for attention?”
Too often we label someone who is either wrestling with suicidal ideation, has attempted suicide, or has died by suicide as selfish, cowardly, and/or looking for attention. The media certainly doesn’t help with this stigma. A recent example would be the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why. There’s a lot of controversy over this show on whether it depicted suicide well or not. In my honest opinion, it doesn’t. It showed multiple situations on what led up to her suicide, including a sexual assault scene. However, it didn’t mutter a single word about mental illness such as depression or PTSD. Instead, it glorified suicide and romanticized it.
So, when someone decides to confide such a vulnerable thought, it’s not uncommon that the one they trust enough to tell attempts to stop them by shaming them for fighting their inner battle. Most people don’t want to die by suicide for revenge or to “prove something.”
Most of the time, it’s because they believe they are a nuisance to those around them and feel there is no place for them here. Do you really think telling someone who is already experiencing such painful emotions that they’re a coward and looking for attention is going to help them or stop them from thinking such thoughts? It would only magnify their distress. It would also discourage the person who was brave enough to reach out again in the future if it’s not already too late.
“If only they would have reached out for help, maybe the would’ve lived.”
Remember my last point?
With such negative stigmas surrounding mental illness and suicide, are you surprised that some people hesitate to reach out for help? On the flip side, one can’t just assume they never reached out for help. A lot of individuals do in fact use their resources. But the first step for them is to usually go to someone they trust, and if they don’t receive the help and support they need, the less likely they will pursue it longer.
While it’s important to communicate the need for people to reach out to resources and health care professionals, often people either don’t recognize what they’re experiencing or they don’t have access to mental health resources. Whether it’s because of their lack of insurance, location (such as rural areas), transportation issues, lack of treatment types, or other financial barriers, it’s crucial to recognize that this is just as much of a systemic issue.
“Isn’t this just an overreaction to their problems? There are people who have it way worse in the world.”
Why does someone think it’s alright to minimize someone’s life experiences or the extent of their emotions?
Everyone is different and deals with situations their own way. The significance of their situation doesn’t discount their pain. It still hurts. Would you tell someone who was shot in the leg that they don’t need treatment because there are people out there who have worse injuries? No? Then why would it be any different than mental illness?
“If someone wanted to commit suicide, they would just do it.”
This couldn’t be further away from the truth. As mentioned above, those who can do reach out for help. And the first person they go to would most likely be someone they know and trust on a personal level.
“So, what can I do to help in the best way I can?”
There are many ways you can respond in a helpful manner, such as listening first. A lot of times, when someone comes and talks to you, it’s better if you just listen instead of looking for an opportunity to speak. However, you don’t want to be put in a place where you are taking on more than you should be handling. Know when to recommend professional help, especially when they seem to be planning on taking some suicidal actions. When someone comes to you and confides that they may be suicidal, take it seriously.
Don’t brush it off.
If you have any reason to believe that they have a plan in place and are in a dangerous spot, call for help immediately, make sure that all weapons are out of their reach and DO NOT leave them alone. Even if someone doesn’t directly confide to you, it’s important to recognize the signs of someone who may be contemplating suicide.
Once we start working on dismantling these harmful stigmas surrounding mental illness and suicide and become more compassionate individuals, we can start to see real change in the suicide rate. It will literally save lives.
If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, please don’t hesitate to reach out for help. You are not weak, selfish, cowardly, attention seeking, or manipulative. You are a strong and courageous human being that deserves to receive the help, love, and support you deserve.
National Suicide Prevention Hotline (24 hour service): 1-800-273-8255
Txt4life (24 hour service): Text “Life” to 61222
The Trevor Project (an LGBT+ crisis line): 1-866-488-7386
SCSU Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS): 320-308-3171 (for appointment) ; 320-253-5555 (after hours crisis)
Active Minds (student organization)
Ellen is a 4th year undergrad majoring in Sociology and plans to attend physical therapy school after graduating. She is half Hispanic and half Asian. She was born and raised in Houston, TX and moved to Minnesota with her mom and sister in 2010. Ellen is a hardcore feminist and is passionate about social justice. She enjoys talking about topics such as race, gender and gender violence, LGBTQ+, class, ability, and mental health. When Ellen is not at school or work, she loves to spend her time running ultra-marathons, doing yoga, meditating, gardening, playing the oboe and piano, playing video games, listening to people’s life stories over coffee/tea, spending time with family, volunteering, annoying her sister, and playing with her birds. Associate editor.