According to the National Institute of Mental Health, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death overall. During the COVID-19 pandemic, that statistic is sure to have risen. We all have unhealed pain points that can make us vulnerable to suicidal thoughts for any number of reasons, but right now we are more vulnerable. Over the last year, we have experienced collective trauma, the destabilization of social structures we rely on and upheaval in the fabric of our society. We’ve been confronted with widespread illness and death, isolation, separation from our family, friends and communities, rampant lies and misinformation, systemic racism and violence, and the spread of white supremacy and domestic terrorism. This can be a heavy burden for anyone, but when layered on top of pre-existing pain and vulnerability, it can be overwhelming to the point of deadliness.
It’s crucial to have solid information about suicide and how to recognize the causes and potential warning signs. One of the most effective things we can do to address our own vulnerabilities is to find quality mental health care. Treating these paint points in the past and present with EMDR therapy can be a great way to build resilience to suicidal ideation (ie. suicidal thoughts and fantasies) or self-harm.
If you are suffering in the aftermath of a loved one’s suicide, EMDR therapy can help you heal and process your grief. It’s important to recognize that you can experience secondary trauma or activation of your own pain or suicidal ideation from learning about the suicide of someone you know, even if you were not close to them. It can even happen when an a well-known public figure dies by suicide. Do not minimize the impact these experiences and exposures may have on you, particularly during this time of collective trauma. Exposure to the suicide of a loved one, community member, or public figure is a risk factor in itself.
BELOW IS A COMPILATION OF IMPORTANT INFORMATION ABOUT SUICIDE. PLEASE SHARE WITH FRIENDS AND FAMILY MEMBERS.
*Some information was taken from the National Institute of Mental Health’s website, http://nimh.nih.gov/
Suicide does not discriminate. People of all genders, ages, and ethnicities can be at risk. Suicidal behavior is complex, and there is no single cause. Many different factors contribute to someone making a suicide attempt. But, people most at risk tend to share specific characteristics.
Many people with trauma engage in suicidal ideation as a coping mechanism (fantasizing about having a way out of the pain) but it does not mean that they will go through with it. Conversely, many people who appear outwardly happy, successful and put together are secretly in deep pain and quietly decide to end their lives.
Knowing about a friend or family member’s trauma history can help when looking for risk factors, since many people who complete suicide do not outwardly show signs.
Drug overdoses can be accidental, but they are often attempted/completed suicides
Depression, other mental health issues, or substance abuse
Bullying (at any age)
Certain medical conditions
Chronic pain or health issues
A prior suicide attempt
Family history of a mental illness or substance abuse
Family history of suicide
Family violence, including physical or sexual abuse
Having guns or other firearms in the home
Having recently been released from prison or jail
Financial struggles (may be kept hidden)
Intense pressure (Olympic/high-level athletes, public figures, etc)
Being exposed to others' suicidal behavior, such as that of family members, peers, community members or public figures
WHAT TO LOOK FOR:
Talking about wanting to die or wanting to kill themselves
Talking about feeling empty, hopeless, or having no reason to live
Making a plan or looking for a way to kill themselves, such as searching for lethal methods online, stockpiling pills, or buying a gun
Talking about great guilt or shame
Talking about feeling trapped or feeling that there are no solutions
Feeling unbearable pain (emotional or physical)
Talking about being a burden to others
Using alcohol or drugs more often
Acting anxious or agitated
Withdrawing from family and friends
Changing eating and/or sleeping habits
Not engaging in self-care or caring for their health
Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
Taking great risks that could lead to death, such as driving extremely fast
Talking or thinking about death often
Displaying extreme mood swings, suddenly changing from very sad to very calm or happy
Giving away important possessions
Saying goodbye to friends and family
Putting affairs in order, making a will
HOW TO SUPPORT A LOVED ONE WHO MAY BE AT RISK: (Bullet points from NIMH site)
Do they have suicidal ideation? Do they have the means to self-harm? Do they have a plan to engage in self-harm or suicide?
Ask: Are you thinking about killing yourself? It can feel hard and scary to ask this direct question. Suicide feels taboo to talk about for a lot of people, but when a loved one has suicidal ideation, asking about it can actually help them feel seen and understood. Your loved one may feel shame and secrecy around their suicidal ideation, and knowing that someone else is willing to hold space with them and talk about it openly can be a relief and lead to prevention of harm.
Keep them safe: Reducing a suicidal person’s access to highly lethal items or places is an important part of suicide prevention. While this is not always easy, asking if the at-risk person has a plan and removing or disabling the lethal means can make a difference. (NIMH)
Be there: Listen carefully and learn what the individual is thinking and feeling. Research suggests acknowledging and talking about suicide may REDUCE RATHER THAN INCREASE suicidal thoughts. (NIMH)
Help Them Connect: Save the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s (1-800-273-TALK (8255)) and the Crisis Text Line’s number (741741) in your phone, so it’s there when you need it. You can also help make a connection with a trusted individual like a family member, friend, spiritual advisor, or mental health professional.
Stay Connected: Staying in touch after learning a person is having suicidal ideation, after they have experienced a crisis, or after being discharged from care can make a difference. Studies have shown the number of suicide deaths goes down when someone follows up with the at-risk person.
WHAT IF I DO ALL THIS AND A LOVED ONE GOES THROUGH WITH SUICIDE ANYWAYS?
This is an important topic. The first thing to remember is that it is not your fault. Ultimately, each and every one of us is responsible for our own life. It is common to feel guilty, or believe we could have done more, said something different, or handled things another way. Suicide, painful as it is, is a person’s choice. We cannot always save people from their own pain. Grieve, seek trauma care with a licensed therapist, as needed, and practice deep self-care. You may consider repurposing feelings of guilt or the questions of “what if” to a commitment of educating yourself and others about suicide. Talk about it realistically and openly. Refuse to keep it cloaked in shame and taboo, and work to address it as the very real mental health crisis it is.
During the covid pandemic, risk of suicide is elevated for many, many people. The heightened anxiety, increase in isolation, financial difficulty, lack of usual support systems, possible illness, and increase in substance use can put people over an edge they might be able to avoid during more normal times. Keep your loved ones close. Do what you can to stay healthy and connected. Practice self-care like your life depends on it, because it does.
Please share this information with friends and family members. Resources are available in your community. The EMDRIA website, https://www.emdria.org is a great source of therapist nationwide referrals, and we are available to help find care as well.