In A Better You

Why Suicidal Thoughts Happen And What You Can Do

Life is very hard, and oftentimes, younger children aren’t fully aware of how to cope with the unexpected problems life can bring. A big reason why drug and alcohol use is so prevalent among teenagers is due to the fact that they are looking for a way to ‘escape the pain.’ While the pain they’re feeling is real, it can be dealt with in constructive ways. Sadly, suicidal thoughts are one of the ways teenagers cope with misery. They look at life and think it’s not worth living, or they feel as if the world would be a better place without them. These thoughts are not only untrue, but if they’re not dealt with, can lead to actual suicide.

To understand why these thoughts happen, we first need to really understand why suicide ever seems to be an option.

What is Suicide?

According to an article written for Psychology Today by Neel Burton, MD, entitled ‘Fighting Suicidal Thoughts,’ suicide is defined by sociologist Emile Durkheim as, ‘all cases of death resulting directly or indirectly from a positive or negative act of the victim himself, which he knows will produce this result.’ (Burton, Fighting Suicidal Thoughts, psychologytoday.com.)

In that case, suicide is described as a result of an action that is designed to end suffering. In most cases, this is the reason for suicidal thoughts in the first place. Life seems bleak and without any hope, so dying suddenly becomes much more attractive.

However, Burton then offers this stark warning: “Whatever thoughts you are having, and however bad you are feeling, remember that you have not always felt this way, and that you will not always feel this way.” (Burton, Fighting Suicidal Thoughts, psychologytoday.com).

Why does Suicide Become an Option?

Burton brings up key point which parents need to make sure they hammer into their children if their children are suffering from suicidal thoughts. Life won’t always be this hard, and change is possible. However, people who are depressed enough to consider suicide have a hard time wrapping their head around such a claim. People suffering from suicidal thoughts have determined that suicide is their only way out, and that any other option will just bring them more misery.

This is inherently wrong, and Burton addresses that thought process in his article.

“At the time of attempting suicide they experienced intense feelings of despair and hopelessness because it seemed to them that they had lost control over their lives and that things could never get better. The only thing that they still had some control over was whether they lived or died, and committing suicide seemed like the only option left. This is never true.” (Burton, Fighting Suicidal Thoughts, psychologytoday.com).

A few steps exist to helping solve these problems, though. Suicidal thoughts in teenagers can be prevented by parents stepping in and helping, and one way to do that is to make sure that teenagers have no access to anything they might use to harm themselves with. Burton also lists a few risk factors, which when combined, offer a greater risk of a person committing suicide.

1 – Suicidal thoughts – thoughts that they’d be better of dead because they’ve let family members down, want to escape suffering, have no other options, or feel love ones would be better off without them.

2 – The means to commit suicide – having access to weapons, drugs, alcohol, or anything else that could conceivably be used to kill themselves with.

3 – The opportunity to commit suicide – being alone, unsupervised, never talking to people about their problems.

(Burton, Fighting Suicidal Thoughts, psychologytoday.com).

How Do I Fight Suicidal Thoughts?

To help someone fight suicidal thoughts, especially a teenager, it’s imperative to know a few basic things. First, as Burton mentions, three big things can factor into suicidal thoughts and tendencies:

1 – Demographics – males, anyone young or single, divorced, or widowed is at a higher risk for suicide than other demographic groups.

2 – Social factors – being unemployed, shaky employment, and a poor level of support socially all contribute to suicidal thoughts.

3 – Clinical risk factors – suicidal thoughts are often a byproduct of depression or other mental illness, and mental illness is largely genetic. If families have a history of self-harm, depression, or other mental illness, then suicide is much more likely.

(Burton, Fighting Suicidal Thoughts, psychologytoday.com).

Burton then offers a ‘safety plan’ to help cope if you happen to be suffering suicidal thoughts. For parents, this can be an invaluable resource. Making sure your child knows what to do if he or she falls into a suicidal thought process will do wonders to help them improve their mental state.

1. Create a list of positive attributes about yourself and read through them.

2. Remind yourself of positive things that have prevented you from committing suicide already.

3. Distract yourself by reading, listening to music, or watching a favorite comedy movie.

4. Get sleep. Take sleeping pills if needed.

5. Delay any suicidal attempt by 48 hours, or more.

6. Call someone, a close family member or a friend. If they don’t answer, call the suicide prevention hotline.

7. Go to a safe place.

8. Go to the Emergency Room.

9. Call an ambulance.

(Burton, Fighting Suicidal Thoughts, psychologytoday.com).

Burton offers a good solution here. Helping your children walk through these steps can drastically reduce the amount of time they feel suicidal thoughts, as well as any chance that they might try to commit suicide.

More tips

Helpguide.org offers a great group of tips on dealing with suicidal thoughts as well, and their methods seem to be slightly more direct than Burton’s. As with anything medical, the same approach won’t always work for two people. People are different, inherently, and treating any suicidal thoughts the same won’t work. Different approaches are needed, and this is an example of something other than what Burton proposed.

1 – Promise not to do anything right now.

– Suicide is a scary thing, and it’s always a big deal. If you can promise yourself to wait, for a period of 24-48 hours at the very least, you’ll delay the chances of suicide happening.

2 – Avoid drugs and alcohol.

-This has already been touched on but is worth revisiting. Drug and alcohol are often looked to as escapes from the pain of life, and can become a permanent escape if one so chooses. Making sure you don’t have access to drugs and alcohol can do wonders for avoiding suicide.

3 – Make your home safe.

-Aside from the obvious drugs, alcohol, and weapons, a lot of other things around the house may end up being used as tools for suicide. Saws, electrical wires, rope, and other tools or equipment could conceivably be used as a tool to end your life, and removing them removes options.

4 – Take HOPE

-People have successfully been fighting and beating depression and suicidal thoughts for thousands of years. While your situation is terrible, take hope in the fact that others have been where you are, and instead of giving up, they fought on and are happy now.

5 – Don’t keep suicidal thoughts to yourself.

– A sad byproduct of society is that, even in an increasingly liberal world, mental illness is still hush-hush, talked about with a taint of derision instead of being dealt with openly and honestly. This contributes to a lot of people being embarrassed to talk about their feelings and problems, which is a large cause of suicides and other disasters. Taking the courage to buck the trend, say no to societal norms, and actually have a discussion about your feelings with someone will drastically reduce the chances of you actually committing suicide.

How to Help those You Love

Watching a loved one go through a bout of severe depression that leads to suicidal thoughts, or even suicidal attempts, can be trying, traumatic, and exhausting. Wanting to help your loved ones through such an experience is natural, but often you’ll feel as if you can’t get through to them.

People suffering from depression and suicidal thoughts see suicide as literally the only option; they think that after all they’ve been through, dying would be a preferable option. Understanding why people think this way is key to helping them through their problems.

Helpguide.org has an article about suicide prevention, and they list the following as common misconceptions about suicide that need to be cleared up if you really want to help loved ones who are suffering:

FALSE: People who talk about suicide won’t really do it.

Almost everyone who commits or attempts suicide has given some clue or warning. Do not ignore suicide threats. Statements like “you’ll be sorry when I’m dead,” “I can’t see any way out,” — no matter how casually or jokingly said may indicate serious suicidal feelings.

FALSE: Anyone who tries to kill him/herself must be crazy.

Most suicidal people are not psychotic or insane. They must be upset, grief-stricken, depressed or despairing, but extreme distress and emotional pain are not necessarily signs of mental illness.

FALSE: If a person is determined to kill him/herself, nothing is going to stop them.

Even the most severely depressed person has mixed feelings about death, wavering until the very last moment between wanting to live and wanting to die. Most suicidal people do not want death; they want the pain to stop. The impulse to end it all, however overpowering, does not last forever.

FALSE: People who commit suicide are people who were unwilling to seek help.

Studies of suicide victims have shown that more than half had sought medical help in the six months prior to their deaths.

FALSE: Talking about suicide may give someone the idea.

You don’t give a suicidal person morbid ideas by talking about suicide. The opposite is true — bringing up the subject of suicide and discussing it openly is one of the most helpful things you can do.

The same article also offers these tips for talking with a suicidal individual:

Do:

  • Be yourself. Let the person know you care, that he/she is not alone. The right words are often unimportant. If you are concerned, your voice and manner will show it.
  • Listen. Let the suicidal person unload despair, ventilate anger. No matter how negative the conversation seems, the fact that it exists is a positive sign.
  • Be sympathetic, non-judgmental, patient, calm, accepting. Your friend or family member is doing the right thing by talking about his/her feelings.

But don’t:

  • Argue with the suicidal person. Avoid saying things like: “You have so much to live for,” “Your suicide will hurt your family,” or “Look on the bright side.
  • Offer ways to fix their problems, or give advice, or make them feel like they have to justify their suicidal feelings. It is not about how bad the problem is, but how badly it’s hurting your friend or loved one.
  • Blame yourself. You can’t “fix” someone’s depression. Your loved one’s happiness, or lack thereof, is not your responsibility.

Following these tips, and learning how to understand suicide, will do wonders for helping you deal with people in your life who may be suffering from suicidal thoughts. While it’s difficult to understand and cope with, with help any problem can be overcome.

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