Suicide. It is a seven-letter word that can bring an array of emotions depending on the person and context. For some it can be a familiar word, but for others it can be scary territory. There may be questions of confusion, “Why am I thinking this way? I have everything.” There may be questions of frustration, “Why can’t they just go away? How do I stop them?” There may be questions of fear, “What are they going to make me do?” People experience suicidal thoughts in diverse ways, it looks different for everyone.
You may feel alone, helpless, sad, angry, frustrated, and like there is no other option. And it can feel terrifying. What can feel just as terrifying is not knowing how to open up to someone about it. The thing with suicide is we tend to run away from it, whether it is because we do not know how to talk about it, because we do not know who to go to, and simply put there is a stigma attached to it. There is a misconception that by talking about suicide we are encouraging someone into it by giving them ideas, that we are opening up a door that should stay closed. It can feel frightening to face something that you do not want to, but you can either keep running from it or face it head on.
Open the door, let it come in, let it sit next to you… get to know it. When does it come to visit? What does it tell you? How does it make you feel? And if that feels too scary, find someone you can trust and open that door with them. One way to learn to manage suicidal thoughts is to familiarize yourself with them. Because once you know what you are up against, it becomes easier to know how to manage them and talking about suicide becomes less intimidating.
An important thing to remember is that there is a difference between passive and active suicidal thoughts. Passive suicidal thoughts are when you think about dying or you wish you were dead, but do not necessarily have a plan. Active suicidal thoughts are when those thoughts are accompanied by a specific actual plan, with intent and a method. When you are getting to know suicide, it is important to differentiate between the two when they show up, because it can help determine what to do. If they are active suicidal thoughts, then more action is needed, reaching out to someone you trust, calling a suicide hotline, removing lethal items from your space/home, and/or admitting yourself into a hospital. If they are passive suicidal thoughts, you can sit with them and let them pass (because they will), call someone, write about it, find something comforting, all depending on what you need in that moment.
Knowing what suicidal thoughts look like for you, what emotions they bring, what thoughts they generate, what they make you want to do are key factors in determining what your safety plan looks like.
I know talking about suicide can be difficult, I know that it takes a lot of vulnerability, but the more you familiarize yourself with it the less scary it becomes. So, when you feel ready, tell suicide to come on in and have a seat…
Vulnerability is not a weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.” -Brene Brown in Atlas of the Heart: Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of Human Experience