Sometimes the tragedy of suicide seems to take us by surprise. Maybe no one saw it coming, or didn’t think they’d ever choose to actually carry out such a tragic plan. Other times, the journey through dark days has been long and difficult. Many who have carried deep burdens often struggle through much loneliness, depression, and the pain of not knowing where, or how, to find freedom.
Those who love them most are often left wondering what to do, how to help, and confused over why they can’t seem to just snap out of it all.
According to statistics, more than twice the number of people in America die from suicide than homicides each year, and more lives are taken by suicide than by car accidents.
Suicide is such a tragic, final decision to a temporary problem. It seems to affect us all in today’s world, and if we haven’t personally struggled here, we probably know someone close to us that has. Yet, the truth is, it’s preventable.
The struggle, however, is real. And the pain is not easily soothed by a simple encouraging word, or by ignoring that a problem even exists.
Not yet two years ago, when much-loved comedian and actor Robin Williams tragically took his life by suicide, it once again opened doors of conversation. This dear soul who lived his years with the heart to bring joy and laughter to others, had battled many dark days through physical illness, addiction, and depression. And his life represents countless others, who also have battled through, as well as many who still struggle today.
Taking the steps to remove the shame from mental illness, depression, substance abuse, and suicidal thoughts is crucial in our society. We can’t ever live truly free if we’re still trying to hide our wounds and scars, ashamed of revealing real struggles. We cannot truly help others if we don’t want to address the actual issue and reach out in love, without judgment, offering care and support.
Life often doesn’t fit into neat little boxes of explanation. Sometimes it doesn’t make sense. Sometimes the biggest battles are internal and the giants we stand against can’t be seen by those around us. But it’s still real—and fierce—to those who face it daily.
The first step in helping another soul who is carrying such deep struggle is to recognize there’s a problem. And often the biggest hurdles to overcome are the false misconceptions that we have carried through the years about suicide and mental illness.
Common Misconceptions about Suicide and Those Who Struggle with Suicidal Thoughts:
“Don’t talk about suicide because it might give someone the idea to do it.” False.
There has been no indication over the years that simply talking about suicide will plant the idea in someone’s head to do this. Those who struggle with suicidal thoughts are often longing to talk about their struggles. They feel alone in the battle and are waiting for someone to recognize or validate their pain. We must not ignore the issue out of our own fear and worry that it may cause harm or plant seeds of confusion.
“Suicidal people are only trying to get attention. They’re just being selfish and overly dramatic.” False.
Suicidal people are troubled, hurting, and needing someone to reach out and help. Every discussion about suicide, plan to carry it out, or attempt, should be taken very seriously, with steps of action to provide safety and get them the help they need.
“People with suicidal thoughts are just crazy, or weak. They need to toughen up and deal with their problems.” False.
Some of the most educated, gifted, and strong people in this world have taken, or attempted to take, their lives through suicide. Athletes, young professionals, famous musicians, actors, artists, writers, pastors, leaders, businessmen and women, youth who seem to have bright futures ahead, mature adults who have lived full lives, and even characters from the Bible; all of these and more, have attempted to end their lives by suicide. To be labeled as “crazy,” “weak” or “just need to get a grip in life,” is unfair and unfounded. Though many who choose suicide have also struggled with mental illness, depression, or addictions, most often, these issues are very treatable with medication, care, and counseling.
“There are usually no red flags or warning signs with suicide. You can never tell what a person is thinking about something so deep and dark.” False.
Though some suicides and attempts may be impulsive, many times, in looking back, there were some red flags along the way. Often just being aware of what those danger signs are, or looking at common factors, such as substance abuse, depression, mental illness, loved ones suffering from loss, abuse, or bullying; can help us to recognize ahead of time, those who may be especially at risk.
“Just because they’re talking about it, doesn’t mean they’re really going to do it.” False.
If someone is talking about suicide, this is a huge red flag. They are crying out for help and statistics reveal that they are the ones who often will attempt it.
“If someone’s determined to attempt suicide, then nothing you do or say is ever going to change their minds.” False.
It is known fact that many who have survived suicide attempts, later talk about not really wanting to die, they just no longer wanted to suffer with the incredible pain they were facing. Many who survive an attempt are able to get help and are thankful for the chance they now have to live on. Suicidal thoughts and struggles may return, but it is never inevitable that a person will choose to end their lives. This is why help, action, and treatment are so critical.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline lists common warning signs to be aware of, for those who may be contemplating suicide:
- Feeling like a burden to others
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Acting anxious or agitated
- Behaving recklessly
- Increase in the use of alcohol or drugs
- Talking about feelings of hopelessness
- Searching for methods online
- Talking about wanting to die
- Withdrawing or feeling isolated
- Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
Once we’re aware that a problem exists, we must take action on behalf of the one struggling. We can’t ignore it, hoping the issue will just go away, or assume they’re only wanting attention.
If we know someone who might be in danger, here’s a few ways to help:
1. Recognize there’s a problem. Learn what the red flags are and choose not to ignore.
2. Open the door for conversation. Don’t be afraid to ask them if they have a plan in place or are contemplating suicide. Be aware to not react with complete surprise or personal judgments – this may shut the door for more discussions and help.
3. Be there. Just our presence and support alone may help the one feeling isolated and confused more than we could ever know.
4. Take action, ensure safety, reach out, and assist them in finding help. Remove any dangerous items or weapons that could aid them in carrying out a suicidal plan.
5. Know that you’re not alone; there are many others equipped to stand with you, and to help your loved one who is struggling. Don’t feel the need to keep everything secret, or to be their only means of help. Call the Suicide Hotline, or 911 if you need to. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help and treatment.
6. Pray and believe that God can work on behalf of those who battle suicidal thoughts and tendencies. Nothing is beyond His power; He can do amazing things to change their future, bringing hope and healing.
God gives us opportunities every day to reach out and help those around us. He’s equipped us with His wisdom, discernment, and compassion, so we never have to turn and look the other way. We may be the only lifeline some have. And we can point them to the One who has the power to heal and set free.
As dark as the times may sometimes seem, with proper help, treatment, and support, there’s still hope ahead. No matter the struggles we journey through today, God still has more in store.
And He is able to bring us through to other side, by His healing and strength.
“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).
Note - If you or a loved one is struggling with suicidal thoughts and tendencies, please get help. Don’t try to face this on your own. There is hope and healing, and there are many who will journey through this trial with you. Call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) at any time day or night 24/7, to talk to someone who understands. Or go online at www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org for more information and help.
Debbie McDaniel is a writer, pastor's wife, mom to three amazing kids (and a lot of pets). Join her each morning on Fresh Day Ahead's facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/DebbieWebbMcDaniel, for daily encouragement in living strong, free, hope-filled lives. Find her also at http://twitter.com/debbmcdaniel and http://www.debbiemcdaniel.com.
Publication date: April 13, 2016