Mindpath Health’s Taish Malone, LPC, PhD, shares how to recognize National Suicide Prevention Week.
While it may feel difficult to discuss, suicidal ideation affects many. It is why the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) recognizes the week after Labor Day as National Suicide Prevention Week every year.
Suicide Prevention Week often includes special events, personal stories, shareable social materials designed to help people know their options if they are struggling, as well as discussions on how to have authentic, caring conversations about suicide risk and prevention with loved ones.
By learning more about the issue during this week, you may be better equipped to support someone who may be thinking about suicide.
If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.
Making National Suicide Prevention Strides
Bob Gebbia, CEO of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), says, “National Suicide Prevention Week is a great moment in time throughout the calendar to stop and really focus on what is often a leading cause of death that’s not discussed enough.”
National Suicide Prevention Week may bring attention to this major public health problem of suicide, but Gebbia notes that his organization actually wants the general public to focus on prevention all year round too.
Gebbia explains, “Our mission is to save lives and bring hope to those affected by suicide. We do that by engaging the public, as well as the professionals that bring the knowledge, i.e. the scientists, clinicians, etc.”
AFSP wants the public involved as they are the ones who are losing loved ones to suicide, according to Gebbia. “The more we engage the public, the more we will do to prevent this leading cause of death,” he says.
With the national 988 3-digit number that recently launched, Gebbia hopes that it will help to support those who may be considering suicide with resources. “Quite often, of those who die by suicide, only about half are in any kind of treatment at the time of their death,” he says.
AFSP’s Out of the Darkness Walks can get the public involved to bring attention to National Suicide Prevention Week. “They really offer everyone who cares about this [issue], those who’ve had a loss, those who struggle [themselves], or people that see the importance of this and want to help. It’s a hopeful event, and it brings people together,” says Gebbia.
Permission to Acknowledge Different Emotions
Neuroscientist and clinical social worker Renetta Weaver, LCSW-C, says, “It can often appear socially acceptable to feel sad after the suicide of a loved one. However it’s normal to feel angry or relieved after a suicide.”
Weaver explains, “Emotional well-being is giving ourselves permission to acknowledge our feelings whatever they might be without judging ourselves for those feelings. There are different parts of us that might be experiencing different emotions for different reasons.”
A variety of emotions are valid and can coexist, as Weaver notes that grief can be a complicated journey of ups and downs. “We might even find reasons to smile and even laugh in the midst of being sad as we remember our loved ones. Both honor their memory,” she says.
Weaver highlights, “There is no magic way to prevent someone from completing suicide but there are things we can do to show our support and maybe reduce the risk. The most important thing you can do is talk to your loved one and let them know that you see their pain and you want to help. But define what that help looks like so that you both will be clear.”
For tangible recommendations, Weaver notes that one can help by getting others involved and sharing resources with them. “The others are mental health professionals who are trained in managing suicidality, and can recommend the best course of treatment.” she says.
Care may include outpatient counseling, inpatient treatment, and medication, according to Weaver. “I wish the public would know that even if a person looks like they are just seeking attention or crying for help, it’s important to give them attention and answer their cry for help,” she says.
There is no expectation for loved ones to address the issue, as Weaver notes that one can simply help our loved ones by giving them resources or sitting with them as they call the suicide hotline or another professional.
Weaver highlights, “Just knowing that they are not alone might give them the strength to pick up that phone. But again, you are not a defibrillator, and unfortunately you can’t save anyone else’s life.”
As a provider, Weaver notes that it can be difficult to work with those who struggle with suicide. “I am human just like you and I often wish that I could say or do something to stop a person’s pain,” she says.
Weaver explains, “I too lay awake at night replaying conversations and events wondering if I could’ve said or done something different. That’s when I use my own words on myself and do what I advise others to do.”
Talking to one’s support system, acknowledging one’s thoughts and feelings, and allowing oneself to grieve are all recommendations from Weaver, as she notes that therapeutic relationships come with loss too. “There are ups and downs along this life journey, so my hope is that one day you will be able turn your misery into meaning,” she says.
Suicide Prevention Requires Social Justice
Founder of Estoy Aqui, Ysabel Garcia, MPH, says, “Wanting to die does not always signify wanting to physically die. Oftentimes, we are talking about a situation or situations that we want to make disappear.”
As a first-generation Dominican immigrant, Garcia recalls her first encounter with the psychiatric system soon after she had moved to Springfield, MA, which is when she discovered, “The act of suicide cannot happen by itself. It is encouraged and reinforced by systems of oppression.”
In fact, Garcia views suicide as a call to action, as saying, “I deserved better.” In this way, she views suicidal thoughts and behaviors as potentially empowering in preventing the actual act of suicide.
For example, Garcia notes that having a suicide note might keep someone from dying by suicide because it becomes a source of control over their lives. “It can be a reminder that they can choose to physically die at any moment, and there can be a sense of dignity in that process,” she says.
Garcia highlights, “White supremacy culture, capitalism, and oppression are the major culprits of suicide and mental health issues regardless of race/ethnicity. The mental health field needs to start digging deeper.”
In her case, Garcia notes that her issue was not low self-esteem, but anti-Blackness and colorism. “My issue wasn’t anger management, but dealing with microaggressions due to my accent. The so-called evidence-based trainings do not address these nuances, unfortunately,” she says.
What psychiatrists call depression, anxiety, etc. are languages of pain that can be translated and transcribed with the support of others, according to Garcia. “What they call symptoms are dialects within these languages that are often trying to tell us this life is not sustainable,” she says.
These are some of the reasons why she founded Estoy Aqui, which means, “I am here,” a bilingual training service that centers social justice, community care, cultural strengths, and lived experience when educating others about suicide and mental health.
Suicide Can Compound the Grief
Licensed Professional Counselor with Mindpath Health, Taish Malone, PhD, says, “Loss prompts very deep emotions regardless of the means, yet suicide often compounds those feelings because elements of shame, guilt and even triggers for their own struggling feelings are added.”
While many may be aware of the five stages of grief, as denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, Malone notes that they may not understand that these stages have no distinct order, so each can be revisited more than once, and it is subjective to every individual person.
Malone highlights, “Shame and guilt are also another side-effect of suicide. Many times loved ones or those who are close to the victim reflect on the what ifs and take accountability for not being able to prevent it.”
Shame usually stems from the stigma of suicide, as Malone notes that how they feel might reflect their inability to stop it or that it occurred at all. “The guilt is tied to regret of not being able to stop it,” she says.
Malone explains, “Some with a history of considering suicide may be impacted by having emotional and cognitive flashbacks, reminding them of the surrealness, that in empathizing, they themselves are at risk.”
The closer the relationship to the person involved in suicide, the stronger loved ones can expect to feel the loss, according to Malone. “Since impacts can result in hopelessness, worthlessness, despair, despondence, dread, anxiety, and pervasive sadness, suicide exposure should encourage them to seek mental health help to prevent exacerbating reactions,” she says.
Malone recommends counselling to support those who may be struggling with thoughts of suicide. “If they have made an outcry and or have a previous attempt, you may want to consider more intensive care to ensure they get the level of care needed to stop escalation,” she says.
Talking with them about a safety plan is another strategy, as Malone notes that providing resources can help them, as can checking in as often as you can. “Spend time with them and or call them,” she says.
Malone highlights, “Encourage their personal enrichment. Help them get involved in things they like and participate if applicable.”
Suicide affects everyone exposed, as Malone notes it does not discriminate. “Anyone can be subjected to such thoughts,” she says.
Malone recommends, “I encourage everyone to look out for one another. You never know the difference you can make just checking on someone to make sure they are alright. Keep in mind that while there are suicidal signs that are common warnings, each person is different.”
To view the complete article with sources and learn more on how to observe National Suicide Prevention Week, click here.