What Therapists Want You To Know About Suicide
Thinking about dying is normal.
I am not going to start this article with sterile facts and figures, because you’ve seen and read them. We grew up with fingers wagging at us, monotone voices telling us the risks and causes. We see suicide in movies, used as dramatic plot devices to show ugly terrible things. We vacillate from academic to cinematic, the former boring and the latter gory and glorified. But we don’t talk about the reality of it, the humanness of it, or what do to when we’re thinking about it or when it happens. Suicide is a daily reality, a catastrophic truth, and we have no damn idea how to talk about it. So this #nationalsuicidepreventionweek, we’re offering tools to help start that conversation. Yesterday, we posted tips from ASFP on how to help someone who is contemplating suicide. And today we want to share with you what our MyWellbeing therapy experts told us when we asked what they really wish people knew about suicide.
When looking for your therapy match, it’s important that you feel your therapist can help support your individual experiences. If you’re in NYC and any of the therapists in this article resonate with you, you can tap on their names at any point and check out their profile. If you’ve been thinking about starting therapy and want our team to do the matchmaking for you, head over to our questionnaire and begin the process for free.
1. What do you truly wish everyone knew or had a better understanding of about suicide?
“Suicide tends to be a thing that scares us and makes us feel uncomfortable - but it is a part of life. It’s okay to be scared of suicide, a healthy fear of death is a part of life, and death is also a part of life. Being willing to see in ourselves and others this darker shadow side of being human is important. It’s always okay to talk about suicide and death.” - Alison Pepper
“That suicidal ideation is a more common experience than many people realize or acknowledge, and if you're experiencing thoughts of suicide or self harm it doesn't make you broken or a bad person or crazy.” - Haley Eakin
“As a clinician, I think that even talking about suicide in the first place is extremely important. I have found there is so much stigma in even bringing the topic up, and unfortunately this leads to people feeling more shame and isolation if they feel they don't have a safe space they can come to and bring their struggles. Suicidal thoughts are also more common than most people think. I feel having an open and non-judgemental conversation, with room for authentic discussion, is important. I’d never want to assume I know what a client is going through that is struggling with suicidal thoughts. But I feel we get further in understanding what they are going through if we are direct and ask if this is something they might be thinking about or considering. Pretending it doesn't exist usually exacerbates the unhealthy thoughts and behaviors that can lead to the completion of suicide. However, I think there is a growing awareness that many people are still suffering in silence and I have hope that more education and training for professionals and loved ones will help decrease rates of suicide. There is a ton of support out there and people never have to go through any of this alone. Reaching out and sharing about it is more than half the battle.” - Lindsay McGarril
“Suicidal thoughts are common and many people have them when experiencing depression, stress, and/or anxiety. In most cases suicidal thoughts are temporary and can be treated by a mental health professional through talk therapy and/or psychotropic medication. There is a difference between having suicidal ideation and having a plan and timeline for when you would carry out the act of suicide. Therapists want you to know that talking about suicidal feelings in a safe and supportive environment can lessen their intensity and make it less likely for a client to act on these thoughts.” - Rebecca Gerstein
“Suicide is a permanent solution to feelings that can be temporary. Having thoughts about ending your life is scary, and are a sign that it would be really important to reach out for help. It’s extremely common for people to have thoughts of suicide, and sometimes people fear that there isn’t hope if they begin to have thoughts of suicide. This isn’t true, mental illness and suicidal thinking are treatable. Suicide is preventable.” - Ariella Soffer
2. How you would explain suicidal ideation, signs of it, or factors that might have lead someone to that state?
“Suicidal ideation can vary from fleeting thoughts of what it would be like to die to actually planning and intending to end one’s life. Most of us tend to assume that only depressed people commit suicide when in actuality there are many factors, both psychiatric and situational, that put people at an increased risk for suicidal thoughts and behavior. Some of these include: the perception that one’s existence is a burden to others, feelings of social alienation, reduced fear of death (Joiner, 2005), insomnia, the presence of a medical illness, chronic pain/loss of function, and access to lethal means (e.g., firearms, substances). A person under any of these conditions may be more vulnerable to suicidal thoughts, and could begin to believe that suicide is the only way out. If you feel stuck or are worried about someone you know, a professional therapist can help to consider alternative coping mechanisms and collaborate on solutions to work through the struggles so that suicide doesn’t feel like the only possibility.” - Ariella Soffer
“I think it is important to be straightforward and ask if someone has been thinking about suicide or harming themselves. It is useful to ask if they have a history of suicidal thoughts or attempts and if they have a plan or intent. Clients with a history of suicidal attempts or self-harm such as cutting, are usually at a greater risk for suicide. There are also other important factors to consider such as diagnostic history, if there is a presence of a mood disorder like depression or bipolar disorder, any medication usage, and any alcohol or substance use. It is helpful to get a broad and detailed picture of the client as a whole to assess if suicide might currently be a concern or if it could be a risk in the future.”- Lindsay McGarril
3. Coping tools for losing a loved one to suicide?
“I truly believe the main copping tool for dealing with a traumatic event, like the loss of a loved one to suicide is community. Surround yourself with love and support; talk to people and if talking is too much just be with people, eat meals, listen to music, rest/relax together, laugh together, cry together. Therapy could also be a helpful support. And of course do the things in your life that have always brought you pleasure, that is different for all of us so think about what you love to do to relax (sleep, tv, massage, good book, etc.) or what you love to do to let out energy (run, dance, team sport, gym, journal, etc.). If being alone feels right do that but stay connected to friends and family or someone special to you.” - Alison Pepper
“It is important to maintain a continuing bond or a continued emotional relationship with the person you lost. This can be done by lighting a candle for the person, writing them letters or speaking to their picture. Meaning making is also a coping strategy in the wake of a suicide. Many people find meaning in suicide prevention and advocacy work. One way is to raise money and get involved in the Out of Darkness Walk Community Walk, which takes place in over 50 states and aims to raise awareness and bring hope to those impacted by suicide. Another great coping strategy is to join a support group. The AFSP (American Foundation of Suicide Prevention) has a list of groups for survivors of suicide on their website. Since grief can be alienating, many survivors cope with their loss by sharing their experience and feeling connected to others who have been through it too. I will be running a 10-week group for Sibling Survivors of Suicide and Overdose Loss, beginning September 17, 2019.” - Rebecca Gerstein
“Losing a loved one to suicide is one of the most difficult losses because it “doesn’t make sense” and there are usually more questions than answers. Talking to someone to process your own feelings - of loss, blame, survivor’s guilt - can be really useful. Additionally, attaining some level of understanding is a crucial step in the healing process. There are many resources available to those who seek to understand why someone they love has chosen to end their life, and two books in particular that I would highly recommend: Why People Die By Suicide was written by a leading suicide researcher who lost his own father to suicide. Additionally, Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide was authored by a clinical psychologist who has written at length about her own struggles with serious mental illness.” - Ariella Soffer
“I've found many of my patient's experience distress around a loved one's suicidal ideation and talk/threats of self harm. It is not your fault if a loved one suicides, and if you are worried about a loved one, many cities like NYC have resources to do wellness checks, or 911 is always available to conduct a wellness check.” - Haley Eakin
4. What effect does the media's portrayal of suicide have on the societal conversation around it?
“The media’s portrayal of suicide feels flat to me. There are so many dimensions of pain that build up around suicide for a person and then a community of people that experience the loss. No matter how hard a tv show or movie attempts to capture this kind of pain and grief it will miss the full mark. Art points to the human experience, it can help us learn and help us feel but I don’t know if suicide or the aftermath of suicide is ever given enough time or space in a movie or show that is really needs. That said, I do think that every time suicide is present in a book, tv show, podcast, or film it brings suicide more into the collective consciousness which is powerful and helpful. Knowledge is power. Not being in denial about suicide and its affects is important for all of us to live more fully. Being awake to the realities of suicide can protect us.” - Alison Pepper
“Media can have both positive and negative effects on suicide, it really depends on how it is presented and discussed. The most important thing in my opinion is making sure that it is both sensitively presented and coupled with action-oriented steps for people watching or reading who may be experiencing distress so that they know easily and quickly how to reach out and access help and support. Often when suicide comes up in the news it does so because someone famous has died by suicide. It is important to note that suicide is not limited to celebrities. It is the 11th most frequent cause of death in the United States and the 3rd most frequent cause of death among young people. There is 1 death by suicide every 16.6 minutes. These statistics indicate that this is a national health crisis and we need to do what we can to raise awareness around it.” - Ariella Soffer
We hope this article was helpful in opening up conversation on an extremely stigmatized topic. A huge thank you to our My Wellbeing practitioners for their thoughtful answers: Alison Pepper, Haley Eakin, Lindsay McGarril, Rebecca Gerstein, and Ariella Soffer. Interested in contacting one of these therapists? Simply click their name to check out their MWB profile.
No matter who you are and what you’re going through, you deserve support, no questions asked. You are not alone.
If you’d like to submit an idea for our “Everything You Need To Know” series, or ask questions for upcoming articles, follow us on @findmywellbeing and be on the look-out for our Q+A series in our stories. You can also DM us with article ideas!
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About the author: Haley Jakobson is a writer of plays, poetry, and creative non-fiction. In her writing Haley explores mental health and wellness, sex and trauma, queerness, and bodies. When she isn’t scribbling on the subway, she is hanging out with the MWB team as their Digital Content Manager, and acting as the Artistic Director and co-founder of Brunch Theatre Company, an inclusive platform for emerging theatre artists to join the conversation. A poet in the millennial era, Haley reaches an audience of 10k+ readers on her instagram page. Haley lives in Brooklyn and is a gemini.