People who die by suicide don’t necessarily want to die.
August 8, 2018
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, deaths by suicide have increased by 30% since 1999. In the age of social media, in particular, awareness of these deaths might feel even more increased, since family and friends often use these platforms to mourn their lost loved one. For many, the conversation surrounding a loved one’s death is often also filled with questions. In instances where it seemed as if the person who died by suicide might not have struggled with mental illness, an urge to solve an impossible mystery might overwhelm.
“People who die by suicide don’t necessarily want to die, they want to stop the pain that they’re feeling,” says Cynthia Catchings, LCSW-S, of Talkspace. “Some people who die by suicide don’t have any discernible warning signs. Suicide isn’t directly related to mental illness — even individuals without mental illness can be prone to suicidal thoughts.”
Rachel O’Neill, PhD, LPCC-S, also of Talkspace, notes that these kinds of deaths tend to be a response to a “crisis situation,” meaning that it could be the result or aftermath of a crisis that an individual felt unprepared to deal with. In these instances in particular, she says that tendencies of perfectionism or hopelessness in a crisis can be seen as “warning signs” in place of the mental health issues we’re more used to talking about.
Low self-esteem, a lack of support, and history of trauma can all also push individuals to a more difficult place than they might be used to experiencing. Dr. O’Neill describes the sensation of suicidal thoughts as “a little like tunnel vision — you might start to feel like it’s the only way for you to stop feeling a particular urge or sensation.” In these instances, even if you have no history of behavior that you associate with suicide, such as depression, it’s important to get help right away.
“The urge might come with no history of warning by invading us with a feeling of despair and no solutions,” explains Dr. Catchings. “That moment looks like a dark tunnel and there is no way out of it. We feel lonely, betrayed, disappointed, sad.”
Texting or calling a suicide prevention line or reaching out to friends and family in this moment might feel impossible, but these resources and support systems are there for you in your time of need. Grounding mechanisms, which Dr. Catchings recommends seeking out therapy to help develop, can also help distract yourself from overwhelming thoughts. If you feel like you’re in danger of harming yourself, reach out to a prevention hotline or 911 right away, even if it feels embarrassing or stressful.
If you suspect someone around you is at risk, Dr. Catchings stresses the importance of helping them find professional help and positive resources in your community, like support groups, instead of attempting to solve the problem between the two of you.
“As friends and family, we want to help as much as possible, but this requires the assistance of a mental health professional,” Dr. Catchings says. “The best we can do is to guide our friend or relative to find the right help.”
This is also important since suicide itself is often misunderstood. Especially in cases where individuals might not have left the signs we look for such as ideation, expressing feelings of depression, or a history of feeling at risk – the tragedy of these deaths can cloud the way we talk about them, which hinders people looking to get help.