September is Suicide Awareness Month. It is also known as Suicide Prevention Month. This is a time to spread awareness about proactive steps for suicide prevention and to remember those lost to suicide. I want to contribute to the discussion by sharing my experience relating to this topic and talking with Suicide Prevention Expert Alexandra Wyman, all with the goal of potentially saving a life. How? By reminding you to check in on your loved one’s mental health.
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Suicide Awareness Month: What you see (and don’t)
The reality is that you might not know what your family member or friend is thinking or feeling. You might not know that they are going down a dark path mentally. I know this all too well.
After a devastating sequence of events, I felt there was no other option than to end my life. While this was more than a decade ago, it does not make it any less horrifying to think about it as I treasure life so much today and realize I would not be here if the attempt had been successful.
The appearance of coping
While I looked like I was coping well on the outside with a well-kept physical appearance and continuing to go about activities, the reality was that I was planning my last day and how I would end my time here on Earth. This gives me chills to write now, given how different my frame of mind is after getting help for my depression and anxiety. But I want to share this to explain that you often do not know what another person is contemplating or planning when it comes to this topic.
I had friends and family that were close but, no, I didn’t want to share it with them. Were there opportunities to do so? Sure, but I would have been the one to instigate it, as they had no clue about my mindset. I may have looked sad at times, given I felt my world was caving in, but clearly, I was able to put up a front that I was coping as no one saw my actions coming.
Hiding it well
My parents were shocked to get the call from the police that I was going to the hospital from an overdose. They definitely did not see this coming, and neither did anyone else.
But, you see, I didn’t want anyone to know. They will not understand, I thought. I feel alone, I felt so sure. There is no other option, I told myself again and again.
But, you see, that’s not true. I had support around me to help me following that failed attempt. It wasn’t until later I saw that. I didn’t think anyone would support me. Sadly, not everyone gets a second chance at life. Their suicide attempts aren’t attempts but instead are successful and devastate those who grieve in the shocking, horrifying aftermath.
The power of conversation
Could a conversation with a loved one have made a difference to them? Possibly. To me? Perhaps I could have gotten professional help after a conversation started by a loved one. It could have opened a door to get the resources earlier that I needed.
Possibly. Hope is what we need when it comes to preventing suicide. And more awareness. You might not know that someone is suffering behind a closed door.
Suicide Awareness Month: Starting the dialogue
As I say, there are not always signs. As Alexandra Wyman explains, “In my personal experience, there are no real signs that someone is contemplating suicide. This makes it hard because we like predictability and ways to know how our loved ones feel or what is going on for them. Some people may be open about their feelings and what is going on for them and others may not.”
Sadly, Alexandra is all too familiar with this topic. She lost her husband to suicide in 2020. Since then, she has been helping people find the tools to work through suicidal thoughts and support those who have someone in their life who is having this ideation. Her memoir The Suicide Club: What To Do When Someone You Love Chooses Death is a best seller.
As Alexandra said, some people are open to the conversation, and others are not. But, some people ARE. And that’s what we have to focus on.
Opening up the door to honest communication
It could be as simple as asking a close friend how they are coping after a breakup, a job loss, or another life event. Perhaps it is over a cup of coffee or on a walk. Bring it up casually, not intrusively.
The point here is to open up the conversation. To provide the opportunity for the other person to talk about what they feel. Would I have talked about it in this situation? Possibly. And once those words are out there, the individual can start to get the support that they don’t think they have and see that another person loves them enough to try to help pull them out of the darkness.
Again, not everyone will talk. I hid my thoughts of suicide well before my attempt. I asked Alexandra if that is what often happens.
“In the conversations I have had with many who have lost loved ones and in my own personal experience, yes. If someone is talking about it, then that is a good opportunity to intervene and provide help and truly see the person for who they are and their needs. The shock about suicide so often is because no one sees it coming,” says Alexandra.
Sometimes, they will open up if you start a mental health conversation. Or, they might come to you with their thoughts and feelings. Let’s talk more about the specific dialogues if they open up saying they are thinking about ending their life.
Tips from Alexandra Wyman on talking with someone contemplating suicide
As discussed above, you can be proactive and reach out to someone who you are aware is going through a tough time to see how they are doing. Alternatively, a loved one might come to you and start the conversation.
Checking in with the other person
I asked Alexandra about each scenario. Firstly, what are some ways to check in with someone who you think might be contemplating suicide? She said, “Ask specific questions about how someone is doing. Ask specifically if they are contemplating hurting themselves. Use 988 as a resource.
If someone has a plan and is asking for help, get them to a hospital. Let the person know you are there with them and see them and their hurts. Only do this if you can truly be a support to the person. I also recommend not trying to fix the person or their struggles.”
In other words, get professional help right away. This is not on your shoulders to fix the situation. Instead, the goal here is to start the dialogue to then get them the help they need to potentially save their life. This direction can put them in touch with those who can provide what is needed here to start them on a better path mentally. And you can continue to support as a loved one while they get that much-needed professional treatment.
When they come to you to talk
What about when they open up and come to you for help? They are reaching out during such a low time, and, again, Alexandra has tips to guide you in this situation.
“Some ways to respond if someone comes to you saying they are thinking about ending their life. Ask them if they have a plan and what the plan is.
Be honest if you don’t know how to handle what they are saying and let them know that you want to reach out for help yourself to guide them. Use 988. Get someone to the hospital if the concerns are imminent.”
In summary, get them to the hospital if they have a plan, and don’t try to fix the situation yourself. Getting them the resources ASAP is necessary for such a serious scenario.
Mental health challenges are not something to take lightly. And you can play a support role that makes a big difference in someone else’s life.
For Suicide Awareness Month in September and beyond
While it is not easy for me to share my experiences, I do so to potentially bring more awareness to the mindset of someone contemplating suicide. In the US, 988 is the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. Here in Canada, help is available at Talk Suicide Canada at 1-833-456-4566. Please seek help if you are thinking about ending your life.
Offering support as a loved one by opening up a mental health conversation or responding to someone who begins to talk about this issue is pivotal. Your support as you take them to the appropriate professional for immediate help can prevent their loss of life.
As Alexandra Wyman told me, “This does not mean we take responsibility for others and their choices. It means we care about what is really going on in their life without trying to change them, compare them to ourselves or fix what is going on for them.”
To participate or make a difference this month, please check in on your loved ones. “Connect with each other. Tell people you care about that you love them and see them. I know this is different than joining a cause, however, connecting with others and really caring about how another person is doing is an important part of prevention.”
And we all ought to do our part. During Suicide Awareness Month in September and throughout the year. Thank you to Alexandra Wyman for your valuable contributions to this discussion.