September is Suicide Awareness Month.
September is a designated time for us to share stories, resources, and awareness. Over 40,000 people a year in the U.S. die from suicide. That is a horrifically high number. I don’t know how many others suffer from depression and anxiety and grief as a result of those losses, but it seems like it must be astronomical.
Here are a few things I’ve learned that I think are worth passing on this September.
1. Be Nice. This may sound overly simplistic, but it couldn’t be more important and a lot of times it couldn’t be more difficult. For me, a red flag that I’m sinking into a depressive state is my irritability. I snap at people and I say rude things – things I don’t even mean. As a result, I piss off people around me and I end up feeling horrible – sinking me even further into the hole sliding into. It’s strange because I don’t even notice I’ve sunk that low until I find myself repeatedly acting like an asshole. Instead of yelling back every time or screaming, “WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU?” like you probably want to, a gently phrased, “Are you feeling okay? You don’t usually snap at me so much.” could go a long way. So could a touch on the arm or a neck massage. Emotions are strange – and depression lies and makes you forget that you were ever capable of feeling well – so you just might help your loved one realize that what they are feeling and how they are acting isn’t typical for them.
2. Take something off of their plate. A common symptom of depression is extreme exhaustion. Offering help with even the simplest of tasks (washing dishes, picking up something from the store, making a freezer meal) can help your loved one feel like they can handle life a little better. Forget the phrase, “Let me know if I can do anything.” Instead, ask if there is anything you can help with at a specific date and time, or offer up 1 or 2 options of specific help that you know you could provide.
3. Ask them if they have self-harming thoughts. Not everyone who has self-harming thoughts, or even suicidal thoughts, is at that moment actually contemplating suicide. However, it does give a huge heads up that professional help is needed. Most people don’t offer up to others that they are having self-harming thoughts and most loved ones don’t think to ask. Even though it can make us uncomfortable – THIS IS THE QUESTION WE NEED TO ASK. If they are having those kinds of thoughts – tell them they NEED to make an appointment. With ANYONE. Depression lies and tells us that everyone probably has these thoughts even though this is not the case. A general practitioner is a great place to start if your loved one isn’t already seeing someone. Tell them to use you as an excuse for making the appointment. You aren’t expected to help them figure this out on your own – but you can refer them to a professional who can.
4. Share your own struggles. You might not have experience with anxiety or depression or other mental health troubles, but if you have battled – let them know. Sharing your own experiences lets them know that it’s okay to not feel okay. It opens up the opportunity for your loved one to speak about struggles that are often hidden inside because they of the stigma that surrounds those topics. It will help them feel not so alone. Be mindful not to tell them what will work for them – because what each person needs is different.
5. Take care of yourself. If the person you are supporting is very close to your inner circle, you need to be mindful of compassion fatigue. Compassion fatigue is when the physical and emotional toll it takes to support a loved one starts to affect your own health. It’s important to be supportive, but you cannot do that well without taking care of yourself. Do not feel guilty about taking care of yourself. I don’t know who made up the phrase, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.” but it’s dead on. Remember that you are not responsible for fixing your loved one’s depression all by yourself.
If you have been affected by the suicide of a loved one, know that it is not your fault. We can only do what we can do, and as much as we would like to think we can control the actions of those around us, the reality is we cannot do more than offer the support we are capable of offering.
If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HELLO to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.