Speaking Up About Suicide
October 7, 2017
By Wendy Hayworth
The most important thing you can do to stop suicide is to speak up.
A life was lost in Lee’s Summit recently. I cannot speak for this individual. I cannot tell you what drove them to this point. Instead, I will tell you what I’ve learned from my own struggles with suicide ideation and what role you can play in saving someone’s life.
Talk. Speak up. Listen. Learn.
I was 12 when my symptoms appeared. Looking back now, I can see the signs much earlier than that, however, it was at 12 years of age that I realized this was more than your normal “teenage angst.” What I was dealing with simply could not be normal.
I was fortunate. I have a devoted mother who I’ve always been able to confide in. She listened to me when I approached her. She did not dismiss me. She got me help.
This was 10 years ago. Ten years ago, mental health was not discussed the way it is today. I wish it had been. There are lessons that I learned almost too late. I am going to tell you what I wish I had known 10 years ago.
If you suffer from mental illness, you are not alone. It feels like you are, I know. Depressed minds concoct all of these little scenarios. These can be powerful. In fact, there were times when part of my brain knew that my “depressed brain” (as I called it) was telling lies, blatant lies. I knew what the truth was. Did I listen to it? Of course not. My depressed brain was too powerful for me to ignore. Arguing with your own brain is not only incredibly difficult, but completely exhausting.
Self-harm is addicting. Many individuals turn to self-harm to cope. This is something that those on the outside have a really hard time understanding. There was a time when I simply did not understand why someone would injure themselves. I could not grasp what was going on in their minds. For most, self-injury becomes a release. It is something that we can control. We can’t control our thoughts or feelings, but we can control what we do to ourselves. Self-injury actually became a stress reliever for me. Sometimes, I would do it just because I was bored.
Many claim that self-injury is a “cry for help.” In a way, it can be. There was a part of me that wanted someone to see my scars and realize that something was wrong. At the same time, I hid them. I was careful with my placement. If someone did make a comment, I had five different excuses for them. I was ashamed of my actions and the marks that are now permanent on my skin.
Non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI) is a very strong indicator that suicidal self-injury is not far away. This is a tricky one. I never took that final step. I came close, I had a plan, but I did not act on it. NSSI does not mean that the individual doing it will attempt. However, nearly all who have attempted, began with NSSI. As with any addiction, you soon need more to get your fix. It becomes normal, you become desensitized. This is where it can get very dangerous.
Passive suicidal thoughts are just as dangerous as active. When most people think of suicide ideation, they are thinking of active suicide ideation. This is when one is making plans, they are taking active steps towards a suicide attempt. Passive suicidal thoughts are more nuanced. Passive thoughts include telling yourself that you would be better dead, that the world would be better without you. I often found myself casually thinking that I should die. Then, I would casually agree with this thought. It became a daily occurrence. Oftentimes, I thought this more than once a day. It became my norm. It freaked me out at first. I knew this was not good. After a while, however, I no longer became alarmed at these thoughts. I accepted them as truth. I honestly and truly believed that I should be dead. This acceptance zaps your ability to care about yourself.
Self-care means doing exactly what you don’t want to do. I fell into the trap of allowing my depression to take hold. I found internet groups that talked about self-care. Their self-care was really self-indulgence. Self-care is not allowing your depression to win. It is not allowing yourself a day in bed or “focusing on yourself” by shutting everyone else out. Self-care is when you force yourself to do the things that you need to do but do not want to. It is hard. You won’t always be able to do it, but once you start, it becomes easier and easier.
Celebrate the small things. They matter. I’m serious. Celebrate and be proud when you shower consecutively for a week, when you eat a full meal, when you remember to brush your teeth, when you get out of bed, when you resist the urge to self-harm, when you’ve gone a week without self-injury, then a month, then more. Celebrate when you do anything that depression tells you not to.
Don’t give up. It’s cliche, I know. I also know that the last thing I wanted to hear from someone was “it gets better.” I’m not going to lie, and I’m not going to sugarcoat it. When I tell you, “it gets better” I mean it. It may not go away completely. It may return. But you will have moments, hours, days, weeks, months, even years where you will think “I am glad I am still here.”
Give yourself a day. If you are thinking that this is it and you are ready to take that last step, stop. Force yourself to give it a night’s sleep. I know that in that mindset, you cannot think of another way out, of another option. Your brain is actually incapable of doing so in that moment. Give yourself time. If you walk away from those thoughts, whether it is watching a movie or going to bed, the overwhelming urge will pass.
This last one goes to everyone, typical and atypical: don’t stay silent. Mental illnesses such as depression, bipolar, and anxiety, are often called “invisible illnesses” for one simply reason: those who suffer, often suffer in silence. We as a society have a bad habit of letting them do so. We often don’t talk about it because we don’t understand it or think that ignoring it means it’s not there. Some also believe that if you talk about suicide, it increases the risk that someone near you will attempt. Research actually shows the opposite. Open and honest discussion is the single best thing you can do for yourself and others who struggle.
People are beginning to be more vocal about mental health. The understanding that it is a disease, an illness, just as much as any physical issue, is spreading. People are telling their stories. Organizations and campaigns are popping up. As incredible as this is, we still have a long way to go.
Obligatory disclaimer: I am fine. Actually, I’m more than fine. I am currently the healthiest that I have ever been. It was not easy getting to this point and I have lost much in getting here (goals, experiences, and even friends). I have also gained a lot. My new goal in life centers specifically around helping others. Part of my recovery process has and is speaking about my experiences, telling others what I know, reaching out, sharing resources, and continually learning about mental illness.
If anyone reading this needs to talk, I am here. If you need resources, I am here. If you have questions, I am here. If you just need someone who understands, I am here.
A former Missouri Press Award winning reporter for the Tribune, Wendy Hayworth graduated from Lee’s Summit High School in 2014. She is now studying Psychology at the University of Central Missouri.