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  • Writer's pictureAli

Suicide Prevention Month: The Basics

This topic - the topic of suicide - is never an easy one to unpack or process, but it is a necessary one. My hope is to gracefully journey through this heavy and sensitive issue with compassion, truth, and a whole lot of vulnerability. Our stories are our strength, and I'm thankful you're here to listen to mine and the stories of others who have struggled against the battle of suicide. Awareness is a key component of healing, so let's get to it.

 

My struggle with suicide ideations began my sophomore year of high school at the very tender age of sixteen. To set the stage and add some background, I had recently experienced my parents' messy, chaotic divorce where I was led to believe that my mom had abandoned me. The previous year, I had experienced painful alienation from my cheerleading squad that led me to resign from my team and would be the end of my career. The final straw was an unexpected and unspoken breakup from a girl that I was deeply infatuated with who ghosted me in real life before ghosting was even a thing. She avoided me at school and refused to talk to me or provide any sense of closure (I would later learn that true closure comes from within). Those combined experiences eventually persuaded my mind and heart that my life was better off nonexistent.

Shortly after the combined heartache reached a breaking point, I met with my guidance counselor and confided in her that I was feeling suicidal. She inquired deeper into my mental state, and she asked tough questions to better understand if and when an action plan would take place. Although I hadn't nailed down a concise plan to end my life, I explained that if I was going to go through with it, I would likely use some form of a handgun and ensure a quick end. From what I recall, I explained that I was not privy to firearm access, but that would be my loose-ended plan if I had one. She consoled me as best she could, and let me return to class as usual.

Shortly after returning, I was advised to return to the counselor's office where I would be met by my parents. The counselor had made them aware of my admission of having suicidal thoughts, and they were immediately and extremely upset with me. I'm sure in their minds they were behaving as concerned parents, but I saw them as insensitive, accusatory, and dismissive. Their actions and words didn't help my hurting heart, and that was something I desperately needed and deserved.


As a quick disclaimer, I don't place blame or hold animosity toward anyone or their actions, but I owe it to myself to have honest conversations about my experiences. My story as it involves my recollection is valid and is deserving of space and grace. That is true of you as well, friend. Your life, your story, your experiences are valid as YOU see and feel them.

 

So where do we go from here, and how to we raise awareness with this truth? First, we have to start with the basics of suicide, suicide attempts, and suicide ideation. Here are those definitions:

  • Suicide is defined by the the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) as, "a death caused by self-directed injurious behavior with intent to die as a result of the behavior."

  • Suicide attempts defined by the NIMH are, "non-fatal, self-directed, potentially injurious behavior(s) with intent to die as a result of the behavior. A suicide attempt might not result in injury."

  • Suicide ideations defined by the NIMH are, "thinking about, considering, or planning suicide."


Those definitions might seem obvious, but when phrased, characterized, and called by name, they hold merit and greater weight. To further emphasize the magnitude of suicide, we must face the staggering facts surrounding the topic. According to the NIMH and CDC data, a 2019 research study concluded:

  • Suicide is a leading cause of death in the U.S., with suicide being the tenth leading cause of death for all age groups, taking the lives of over 47,500 people.

  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death among ages 10-34, with the first being unintentional injury such as, motor vehicle accidents.

  • Suicide is the fourth leading cause of death among ages 35-44, with the first being unintentional injury such as, motor vehicle accidents.

  • The highest leading method of choice by both males and females is a firearm, with a total of 23,941 people using this method.

  • Males are the highest demographic to die by suicide, with an estimated 55.6% of men using a firearm as the method of choice.


Additional data from the NIMH and the CDC in 2019, involving racial minority groups also contain staggering statistics that measure those who die by suicide:

  • American Indian males are the highest group overall to die by suicide with an average number of 33.4 out of 100,000 lives lost.

  • Black males are the second highest minority group to die by suicide, with an average number of 12.4 out of 100,000 lives lost.

  • American Indian women rank the fifth highest group to die by suicide, with an average number of 11.1 out of 100,000 lives lost.


Among social minority groups, particularly the LGBTQ+ community, The Trevor Project and the CDC state the following information:

  • A national study concludes that 40% of transgender adults reported having made a suicide attempt, of which 92% of these people reported having attempted suicide before age 25.

  • Each episode of LGBTQ+ victimization, such as physical or verbal harassment or abuse, increases the likelihood of self-harming behavior by 2.5 times on average.

  • LGBTQ+ youth who come from highly rejecting families are 8.4 times more likely to have attempted suicide than those who come from lower-level rejecting families.

  • One out of six students nationwide have seriously contemplated suicide in the past year.


It is imperative to remember that these men, women, and people are just that, people. They are not merely numbers in a list of statistics to gather surface-level information about and venture away from. They are humans worth remembering and reflecting upon in remembrance of lives that were taken too soon because of the grip of mental illness. To bring one of these stories to life, I'd like to share an excerpt written by a student to an author expressing their thoughts of suicide. This young person known as, "Hailey" in Just Keep Breathing, a memoir-type book written by Reggie Dabbs and John Driver, contains a letter sent to Dabbs expressing deep anguish. Hailey writes:


"Dear Reggie,

I hope you get the chance to read this. I am 17 years old and a senior at XX high school. A few days ago I was ready to end my life. A guy that I have spent two years on broke my heart and told me I was a slut and a dumbass and told me he hated me. I was hurting so bad I carved what he said to me in my arm. I look at the scars as a reminder of the pain he caused. I was pregnant last year with his child and he left me and said the baby wasn't his. I felt alone and scared and the baby wasn't developing right and I got preclampsia. I had an abortion. People call me a babykiller...they don't understand that I lost a child. I feel like I'm in a hole that I can't get out of. My family doesn't have money for me to get treatment. I don't know what to do. Well here's the poem I wrote.


A heart that once had a beat

A pair of eyes that once were bright

A soul once so clean and neat

A smile once shown with light


A life filled with hurt and pain

A body beaten and left as a bruise

A broken mind never fully sane

A battle fought an added lose


A deep cut on her precious skin

A thousand tears forming a pool

A loss for life, for death a win

A stupid girl, a b****, a fool


A father's complete absence

A mother's cruelty

A step father's rape presence

A life check, a reality"



Regardless of our political, social, and religious differences as a people, our most imperative and highest responsibility is to love people, respect people, connect with people, and invest in people. No matter our diverse views regarding abortion, marriage equality, the BLM movement, and other controversial topics, our priority as humanity is to care for people and extend grace to those who are hurting. There are hundreds of thousands of people just like Hailey battling suicidal thoughts or actions every year, and it's our duty as humanity to extend compassion, offer community, and create a space for healing.

 

Suicide rarely, if ever, manifests itself in action immediately after an initial thought. Often times, many people ruminate over depressive, dark thoughts without pause before making an attempt at suicide. If you're concerned that you or a loved one might be at risk for suicidal behaviors, here are warning signs to look out for:

  • talking about feeling empty or hopeless or having no reason to live

  • talking about feeling trapped or that there are no solutions

  • feeling unbearable emotional or physical pain

  • displaying extreme mood swings, suddenly changing from very sad to very calm or happy

  • talking about feeling great guilt or shame

  • using alcohol or drugs more often

  • showing rage or talking about seeking revenge


While I am not a therapist and contain no formal training or education on the topic, I am however, fully aware and identify with many of these warning signs as I reflect on my own previous suicidal thoughts. I'm certainly not negligent to my own privilege and support during my heaviest moments. With the help of my therapist, we determined the best course of action during an intensely vulnerable session was to seek voluntary admission to a mental health facility. That was the best decision of my life to date. I recognize that not everyone has access to therapy and adequate, affordable healthcare, which is why I deeply recognize my fortitude and favor.

If you think you know someone who might be contemplating suicide, here are my gentle words of wisdom:

  • listen intently and with grace

  • comfort them and invite a safe space for hard conversations

  • encourage them to seek professional guidance

  • reassure them of their strengths, talents, and gifts

  • invite them outside of their usual spaces

  • recognize that you are doing a great job loving those around you


Even the smallest of actions and words can mean the greatest to a hurting heart, and it's evident that by being here, you already love your people well. Join me next week for more in-depth discussions about suicide awareness and how to better love our people.

See you then!


*If you or someone you know has thoughts of suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or text the Crisis Text Line (text HELLO to 741741). Both services offer 24/7 support, are free, and confidential.*


 

Sources:

[1] “NIMH » Suicide Prevention.” NIH National Institute of Mental Health, 1 Aug. 2021, www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/suicide-prevention.

[2] The Trevor Project. “Facts About Suicide –.” The Trevor Project, 20 Sept. 2017, www.thetrevorproject.org/resources/preventing-suicide/facts-about-suicide.

[3] “Home.” National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, suicidepreventionlifeline.org. Accessed 10 Sept. 2021.

[4] “Crisis Text Line | Text HOME to 741741 Free, 24/7 Crisis Counseling.” Crisis Text Line, Wide Eye, 2013, www.crisistextline.org.

[5] Dabbs, Reggie, and John Driver. Just Keep Breathing: A Shocking Expose’ of Letters You Never Imagined a Generation Would Write. 1st ed., vol. 1, Thomas Nelson, 2016

pages 102-103.

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