By Gabrielle Cebuliak, Counselling Intern, Catholic Family Service
As the stigma around mental health issues begins to decrease, we hear more about the importance of mental health awareness on TV, in the news, and even from some friends and family. Unfortunately, despite great strides in advertisement and attempts to break through the barriers, the stigma attached to these concerns remains.
When discussing mental health awareness and stigma, it is natural for the conversation to turn towards suicide. After all, this is also saturating our media: we see it on the news and on popular TV shows, hear it whispered in school hallways, and talked about on the phone or over text.
All of these mediums bring suicide to the forefront of conversation. Hearing about celebrities taking their own lives, for instance, brought up shock and disbelief for some that their idols were feeling so alone. For others, it reminds them of their own feelings and thoughts they have had in the past, or reminded them of loved ones. For many others, there was the acknowledgement that suicidal thoughts truly are invisible, just as mental health issues are often considered invisible illnesses. As you would expect from an invisible illness, there still remains some mystery around suicide, suicide intervention and suicide prevention.
Suicide is defined as the intentional act of taking one’s life. But of course, it’s much more than that. Someone contemplating suicide is thought to be in so much pain that they perceive taking their own life as the only way to end the pain. The Canadian Mental Health Association describes “the suicidal state of mind . . . as constricted, filled with a sense of self-hatred, rejection and hopelessness.”
Suicidal ideation is defined as a thinking about taking one’s own life or a preoccupation with suicide. People who experience suicidal thoughts might fantasize about ending their life, imagine what it would be like to no longer exist, or even have the thoughts and be disturbed by them.
It’s important to know that just because someone thinks about suicide, it doesn’t mean they are going to take their own life. But it is important to talk to someone about these thoughts, whether it is a trusted friend or family member, trusted adult, or helping professional.
Who is at risk?
Suicidal thoughts can be experienced by anyone of any age, gender or ethnic group. Suicide truly doesn’t discriminate.
Experts, however, suggest that some factors place people more at risk, including:
- Actively abusing substances, like alcohol or drugs
- Dealing with a major physical or mental health issue
- Experiencing a major loss or change (loss of a loved one, unemployment, financial crisis)
- Being in a major transition period, such as adolescence or as a senior
Some signs that someone may be planning on ending their life include:
- Giving away possessions
- Social isolation
- Drastic change in behaviors
- Talking a lot about death or fixating on death
- Joking about death or suicide
No warning signs?
While some suicidal people may exhibit warning signs that they are planning on ending their life, it is not uncommon for there to simply be no warning signs. Either way, the loss is simply devastating.
Thinking about suicide?
Are you thinking about suicide or having thoughts of not being around or “there”?
It’s possible to have thoughts of suicide and not be actively planning to end your life. Many people experience suicidal ideation and never act on these thoughts. However, some risk factors can suddenly push people from thinking about suicide to planning suicide: big changes, losses, substance use, to name a few. Therefore, it is important if you are thinking about suicide to talk to a trusted friend or adult or a helping professional about your feelings. If you are planning on taking your life, it isn’t too late to reach out for help.
Left behind after a suicide?
The Canadian Mental Health Association states that roughly 25% of people know someone who has died by suicide.
The family, friends and colleagues of those left behind after a suicide have to grieve and cope with the sudden loss. It’s not uncommon for loved ones to turn to one another and examine the loss in detail, and often blame themselves.
If you know someone who has died by suicide, you are not to blame. It is a common reaction to experience feelings of guilt and self-blame after a loved one’s suicide. Other emotions you might feel are anger and relief: these too are natural to experience after a suicide. Bereavement counselling and support groups can help make sense of these difficult and conflicting emotions.
Do you know someone grieving a loved one lost to suicide?
- Do not assign blame. The decision was that of one person and no one else.
- Be there. They are grieving a death in the family – silence from their friends and a lack of acknowledgement of the death (no matter how well-meaning) will not take away that pain or minimize it.
- Grief has no time limit. They will work through it in their own time and way – there is no right and no wrong way to grieve.
If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, are suicidal, or have lost a loved one to suicide – ask for help and reach out.
Asking for help can be hard – it takes courage to reach out for support.
Every person is unique and what helps one person might be very different from what helps someone else. Talk to your friends and family and explain how they can support you.
The Distress Centre in Calgary has a 24-Hour Crisis Line: 403.266.HELP (4357)
You can also reach out to us for help. Our Affordable Counselling program provides pay-what-you-can individual or family counselling for people of all ages, faith traditions, cultures and backgrounds. For support or counselling, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 403.233.2360.
September 10 has been declared World Suicide Prevention Day. This year’s theme is Working Together to Prevent Suicide.