The S Word: Talking About Suicide
Because I’m a therapist, people often assume that I have it all together, or else that I’m a complete mess. I think (and hope) that I disprove both of these assumptions. I try to be candid about my limitations and my own mental health challenges, and have done a great deal of work in therapy to address both. I firmly believe that my experiences with depression and anxiety have helped me become a better, more supportive, and more understanding therapist. While I continue to have challenges in my life, I have also assembled a toolkit of coping skills I can use when I need them. I have many supportive and loving people around me. I have a family, I have children, I have a career that I love, and a business that I am passionate about.
And yet, I have experienced and will likely continue to experience thoughts of suicide. Part of my experience of depression means that when I'm at my worst, I will fantasize about an escape plan and wish that things would end. Yes, that means I think about dying. I have learned that when I am having these thoughts, I need help as soon as possible. They are a red flag that let me know I need support managing my depression.
When I have discussed this with friends and family who do not have the first-hand experience with depression, it can be alarming for them. It scares them and they don't know what to say or do; sometimes, they will try to help in ways that aren't always helpful. In response, I will feel ashamed and like I have to pretend I am okay to spare them their fear and worry. I will tell myself that something is terribly wrong with me and that I need to keep parts of myself hidden from the people I love and who love me. That can be hard for all of us.
In the past few years, I have lost two colleagues to suicide. These are people I cared about and would look forward to seeing, people who were driven, intelligent, loving, and loved. Meanwhile, as a society, we have collectively lost a number of beloved figures to suicide. The deaths of Robin Williams, Kate Spade, and Anthony Bourdain affected many of us deeply. We were heartbroken about them. Although there is no “bright side” to suicide, these deaths did something important: they brought the topic of suicide to the table. We began to talk about suicide more openly and honestly, and to be more open about our own experiences. The significance of this kind of openness can’t be underestimated: when we are honest with ourselves and with others, we have the potential to reduce the number of people who die by suicide.
I write this to help give you permission to have these hard conversations. If you are someone who thinks about suicide, my hope is that you can name this to yourself and others too. The people who care about you want to support you. If they need help knowing how, please feel free to share this article with them. Or reach out to us, we are here and we want to help.
And if you believe someone in your life is thinking about suicide, maybe reading this can help make that a little less scary and overwhelming. It’s okay to ask them in a caring way, and then listen without judgment; when appropriate, help them build a network of resources and support.
Visit #BeThe1To for more advice on how to support someone with suicidal thoughts.
If you’re in a crisis yourself, confidential, non-judgmental and compassionate help is available 24/7 by phone or online chat through The Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255).
You can also seek support by texting CONNECT to 741741 (The Crisis Text Line).