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Breaking the Silence: How Can We Can Normalize Talking About Suicide and Suicidal Ideations?

Stigmas and Beliefs That Perpetuate Silence

There has long been this very real and intense fear that talking about a person's suicidal ideations will cause them to think about them more and lead them to taking action on those thoughts; that it is better to try and pretend the thoughts don't exist and avoid any conversation about them until they magically disappear.

In some religious or cultural beliefs, it is considered a sin to "commit suicide" because it is a waste of a life that was created for a greater purpose; and due to the enmeshment of beliefs and law was considered to be illegal to even discuss those feelings. So regardless of the amount of suffering a person may be experiencing this should never even be considered as an option.

Then there are some who feel that if a person chooses to end their life they are being selfish and this act is completely inconsiderate to the people around them. Which causes intense shame for the person struggling with these thoughts and feelings.


Why The Above Stigmas and Beliefs Cause Harm

People who experience suicidal ideations or attempt to end the intense suffering do not do this out of a choice, they are truly in unimaginable pain which in and of itself is extremely isolating.

Being afraid of discussing those thoughts and feelings with them only adds to their isolation because in many cases this is the only thing they are able to think about; ruminating in anguish and confusion about why they feel this way.

The belief that this is a sin or illegal may cause a person to feel they are unnatural, inhuman, and defying a higher power when they did not make a choice to suffer this way; they are in true real pain, not "committing" a sin or breaking a law"

Telling someone they are selfish because if they have thoughts of suicide or make an attempt to end their suffering will not help them to heal, they are not choosing to feel this way because of a selfish or self centered way to escape commitment and responsibility; they do not feel there is any other way to make the pain stop.


What We Can Do Instead; What Actually Helps

First of all... STOP SAYING "COMMITED SUICIDE" when we use this phrase we are implying that due to religion and law when a person has these feelings or these plans they are in defiance of a higher power and deserve retroactive punishment rather than compassion. Instead we can use phrases like "death by suicide", "he/she/they chose to end their life/suffering", or "killed him/her/their -self".

People who are struggling with suicidal ideations do not deserve to be punished, judged, or ridiculed for feeling things that are out of their control; what they really need is a place to talk about how they are feeling, support from a professional, guidance, friendship, and most of all to know that the way they feel is a human experience.

If you are able to sit with someone who is experiencing these feelings and give them a place to talk about them then know there may be nothing you can do to change these feelings so don't go into fix it mode, just listen. Allowing your loved one a safe space to discuss their feelings may help ease their anxiety, feel less isolated, and possibly allow them the space they need to let go of the thoughts if even just temporarily.

Sometimes you may not be able to hold space for someone experiencing these feelings and that is okay too; you are allowed to set a boundary for your own safety; instead encourage your loved one to seek out professional help, support groups, educational materials on intrusive thoughts about suicide... because while some people may not feel ready for therapy, medication, or other treatment they might be open to reading a book or attending a support group. Just encourage them to do something and keep talking about it.


Don't Be Afraid To Say...

"So you've been thinking about killing yourself? say more please..."

"When you tried to kill yourself what did you use?"

"How long have you been feeling this way?"

"Have you ever considered talking to a professional?"


Ways to Offer Support and Set Boundaries...

"Would it be okay if we pause this for now and keep talking about it tomorrow?"

"If you ever did feel ready to talk to a professional, I will go with you."

"Would you be open to removing things that are triggers from your home?"

"You are not alone, the way you are feeling is such a human experience."

"My therapist gave me lots of tools to cope with feeling overwhelmed, can I share them with you?"

"I don't have the spoons/I'm not in the right headspace to support you but lets look at other options together, ok?"


Talking about suicide openly and with compassion is the least harmful thing you can do for anyone who is struggling with feeling at a loss for ways to cope with unbearable pain.


Need help? Know someone who does?

Contact the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline if you are experiencing mental health-related distress or are worried about a loved one who may need crisis support.

Connect with a trained crisis counselor. 988 is confidential, free, and available 24/7/365.

Visit the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline for more information at 988lifeline.org.


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