Unfortunately, many suffering from depression and suicidal ideation don’t seek the help they need because of the stigma. They might worry that no one will appreciate or understand the gravity of their struggles, or they might be terrified that a confession about suicidal or depressive thoughts will lead to unbearable judgments. Sadly, society perpetuates the generalization that people with this mental health issue are weak, dramatic, selfish, or manipulative. All too often, individuals who suffer from depression and suicidal ideations are blamed for their feelings and behavior, leaving them feeling even more isolated and alone.
It’s Not A Choice
If someone you know fights a daily battle with negative thoughts and emotions, please remember that depression is not a chosen mindset or behavior. It is a biopsychosocial condition resulting from the interplay of biology, psychology, and social engagement that affects nearly 15 million Americans. And, tragically, the world loses approximately one million people per year to suicide. That’s a life every 40 seconds. To make matters worse, an often overlooked fact about depression is that it cannot simply be turned off; It is an illness that goes well beyond feeling “down in the dumps” into a dark, disturbing world that usually feels impossible to climb out of. A person with depression and suicidal thoughts or self-harm tendencies can’t change their feelings in the blink of an eye. With this in mind, how can we help people who suffer from this kind of mental illness?
Reduce The Stigma
We can start by reducing the stigma. You can do this out in the community by reminding others that suicidal ideation is not a choice. You can help personally by changing the way you approach the conversation of suicide with someone who is feeling suicidal. When you are talking with a person struggling with suicidal thoughts, avoid using language that might make them feel worse. This includes blaming statements, such as, “how could you do something like that to your family?” It also includes statements that marginalize their experience, like, “look on the bright side!” For someone who is depressed and suicidal, guilt trips and simplifying the problem often contribute to more feelings of isolation. Instead, listen carefully, be patient and non-judgmental, and offer your support. Be clear that you care and that they have you to talk to, and remind them that there is help available. And, though they may not feel this to be true, it’s important for them to know that these feelings will ultimately pass. Above all, if your loved one has suicidal thoughts, make sure they know that you are concerned for them and take their feelings seriously.
Another way you can help people who are suffering from suicidal thoughts and depression is to reduce blame. Part of the reason there is such stigma around suicide and depression is because our society has been taught that the individual is to be blamed for their feelings. When a person attempts or commits suicide, they are often inhumanely perceived as “selfish” for leaving behind loved ones or “weak” for giving up on life. Instead of blaming the disease, society blames the individual. Someone with suicidal feelings is no more in control of their health than someone with a broken leg. And yet they are scrutinized and judged for their emotions and choices. If you want to make a difference for your loved one and others suffering from depression, take it upon yourself to help change our society’s conversation around suicide and depression. Tell others how to help the people around them effectively, and remind them never to blame the individual; blame the condition instead.
If you or someone you know is suffering from suicidal thoughts and/or severe depression, remember that there are so many resources available to help. You are never alone, even if it might feel that way. Many in our community are dedicated to helping you or your loved one find peace and happiness. In addition to our own compassionate therapists at Oregon Counseling, this includes the White Bird Clinic and CAHOOTS, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and online self-help resources such as www.ulifeline.org, www.halfofus.com, and www.suicide.org.
Identifying the Signs of Suicide or Suicidal Thoughts
Warning signs of suicide or suicidal thoughts include:
- Talking about suicide – making statements such as “I’m going to kill myself,” “I wish I was dead,” or “I wish I hadn’t been born”
- Mood swings, such as being emotionally high one day and deeply discouraged the next
- Preoccupation with death, dying, or violence.
- Feeling trapped or hopeless about a situation.
- Increasing use of alcohol or drugs
- Changing normal routine, including eating or sleeping patterns
- Doing risky or self-destructive things, such as using drugs or driving recklessly.
- Giving away belongings or getting affairs in order when there is no other logical explanation for why this is being done
- Saying goodbye to people as if they won’t be seen again
- Developing personality changes or being severely anxious or agitated, particularly when experiencing some of the warning signs listed above
Warning signs aren’t always obvious, and they may vary from person to person. Some people make their intentions clear, while others keep suicidal thoughts and feelings secret. If you ever have any questions or concerns about someone you love, don’t hesitate to call us at (541) 714-5620.
Below is a list of crisis resources if you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts:
- If you or someone you know is in an emergency, call 911 immediately.
- If you are in crisis or are experiencing difficult or suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273 TALK (8255).
- You can also access the crisis text line by texting TALK to 741-741 to text with a trained crisis counselor from the Crisis Text Line for free, 24/7.
- Call CAHOOTS Crisis Assistance in Eugene at 541-682-5111.
- The Trevor Project is a support network for LGBTQ youth providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention. You can call the 24/7 TrevorLifeline at 1-866-488-7386 or access a 24-hour text line (Text “START” to 678678).
- To access the Veterans Crisis Line, send a text to 838255.
- American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
- Suicide Prevention Resources Center
- National Institute on Mental Health
- Supporting Someone Who is Suffering
- Ending the Stigma & Suicide Prevention