Article Written By: Julie Reichenberger, MA, LPC, ACC, ACS (original post 9/1/2020, updated 9/3/2021)
September is National Suicide Prevention Month. It is a month designated to promote the awareness and prevention of suicide. There is also a National Suicide Prevention Week September 5 – 11, and World Suicide Prevention Day on September 10th. Organizations raise money and provide information guides on signs of suicide. Others will promote ask-for-help campaigns. Memorials are held and stories are shared. All in hopes of raising awareness of the impact of suicide, providing education on suicide, and reducing the numbers of suicide overall.
The messages are ones of hope, fear, and grief.
Hope that suicide numbers will decrease, that more resources will be available to those in need, and that a loved one is remembered and honored.
Fear for the potential suicide of a loved one who struggles and wanting to save them.
Grief over the loss of a loved one to suicide and a life that once was. Those who have lost a loved one to suicide will often describe life as before and after.
Having a month dedicated to raising awareness is effective in raising awareness of the impact of suicide on everyone, regardless of their relationship to suicide or their attitudes, and beliefs about suicide.
Looking at suicide as a society leads to prevention programs, trainings in interventions, more resources for those struggling with suicidal thoughts or loss of a loved one to suicide.
Looking at suicide individually makes room for acknowledging the great emotional impact it has on those who suffer.
Understanding the individual impact of suicide can help in understanding the experience of suicide.
Over the years, the voice of those who have lived experience with suicide has become stronger. Those with lived experience are either struggling with thoughts, plans or intent, or have attempted suicide and lived through that experience. Their voice has been valuable beyond measure to the messaging and understanding of suicide.
For those who have not struggled with thoughts of suicide, the idea of ending one’s own life can seem unimaginable; selfish even. For those who do or have struggled with thoughts of suicide, the idea of living can feel unimaginable.
For those who have lost a loved one to suicide, the pain is deep beyond measure. The loss is filled with many emotions like sadness, longing, grief, anger, devastation, sorrow, relief, helplessness, hopelessness, confusion. There is no wrong way to feel about the loss of someone to suicide.
The way someone speaks about their feelings about losing someone has a ripple effect and impacts not only those who have experienced a loss but also, those who struggle with thoughts of suicide. They can fill someone who struggles with sorrow, shame, guilt, anger, hopelessness, clarity, confusion, hurt, feelings of despair and misunderstanding, connection and hope.
There is no wrong way to feel about suicide as a person who struggles either. And the way one speaks about their thoughts and experience also impacts other’s and can provide understanding, fear, hope, hopelessness, sadness, frustration, clarity, confusion among many others.
Suicide elicits many feelings from those impacted directly through experience or loss to those who have thoughts or wonderings about suicide with no direct connection to suicide.
September has become the month when a light is shed on all of these experiences in the hopes that lives will be saved, understanding and connection will be made, and awareness and curiosity may lead to more help for those who need help living with the pain or loss of suicide.
For those who have experienced suicide directly, this uninvited journey takes place every day throughout the year for many years.
If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide, have lost someone to suicide, or support someone who struggles, receiving support and care can be very important to your health.
Support can look different for everyone. Some like to meet in groups to talk about their shared experience in loss or struggle with suicide, some engage in advocacy, some find therapy helpful – either individually or as a family or couple, some find reading and listening to podcasts helpful. Whatever it might be, finding support that you connect with can make this journey less lonely.
For those who experience thoughts of suicide they can be anywhere between chronic (persistent and varying in intensity for years sometimes) or acute (short lived and typically not long lasting).
Talking about suicide with a trusted friend, family member, stranger or therapist can be scary for a person who is considering suicide for fears of how others will react. There is often fear of being judged, seen as a burden, being feared and being hospitalized against their will.
If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts and managing suicide urges, here are some ways you can help:
Be Curious When You Notice Change
When you notice changes in someone’s behavior, the way they speak, how they present themselves become respectfully curious. You can do this simply by naming what you see, hear, or feel might be different from their normal way of being.
“I’ve noticed you’ve been coming in late for work and that’s not like you. Is everything okay?”
“I notice you go straight to your room when you come home. Why is that?”
Being seen can feel very uncomfortable to some and can be validating and relieving for others. Regardless, our discomfort with being curious when something feels or appears off, may lead to an important conversation about seeking help that needs to happen. It may open the door to someone getting support they need or want.
Listen Without Judgement
The mere act of listening without judgment may prevent a suicide from occurring. Often people who battle thoughts of suicide find relief in being able to talk about their thoughts and reasons for coming to suicide as an option for them. Being able to talk about suicide, gives space for other options to arise.
Listening without judging and trying to fix, allows the person a space to talk more openly without fear of saying something that will be judged. If a person is more comfortable talking, they may provide more information about their reason for considering suicide which might help you understand where they are coming from and how you can better support them.
Listen Without Trying To Fix
As humans, we are drawn to want to help and fix and provide solutions when there are problems. While coming to solutions and offering help is often helpful for those with suicide ideation, sometimes is best to just listen without offering advice.
Suicide is scary. When someone is talking about suicide, our anxiety and fears increase and we often go into wanting to save, protect and fix. There is time for this, after we make room for hearing someone’s reasons for wanting to suicide.
Ask About Suicide
If you are worried about suicide with a loved one, stranger or friend ask about suicide. Asking clearly and directly, “Are you thinking about suicide?” leads no room for confusion about whether they are thinking about suicide or whether they are wanting to engage in non-life threatening self harm behavior.
Once you know whether someone is having thoughts of suicide or not, continue to listen without judgment and without trying to fix. Once you know someone is thinking about suicide, you can ask more questions about whether they have a plan for keeping themselves safe or not and whether that is something worth considering.
Create A Plan For Keeping Safe From Suicide
Creating a plan with someone for when thoughts of suicide might become unmanageable while there is no current suicide crisis can be helpful for when one might arise. A safety plan should be written down or saved on a phone and include the following elements:
- Descriptions of specific experiences, stressors, or other factors that lead to, or trigger, thoughts of suicide. This may include thoughts, feelings, behaviors and symptoms that are connected to thoughts of suicide.
- Identify coping strategies to help keep calm or distract from thoughts of suicide that a person can do when they notice above warning signs they might be falling into more intense thoughts of suicide if nothing is done. Also important, is identifying anything that might keep the person (or you) from using distraction and coping strategies when in crisis.
- Create a list of people and social settings that provide distraction. Consider: Who helps me take my mind off my problems, at least for a little while? Who helps me feel better when I socialize with them? Are there places I can go (e.g., a coffee shop) that can help me take my mind off my problem?
- Create a list of people to ask for help when coping strategies and distraction isn’t working.
- Create a list of professionals or agencies to contact during a crisis.
Attend A Training On Talking and Asking About Suicide
There are many trainings available to those wanting to learn how to talk about suicide with a loved one or know how to intervene when someone is at risk of suicide. A couple for consideration are:
Look Beyond Warning Signs, Statistics, and Risk and Protective Factors
While warning signs, statistics and risk and protective factors are useful; they can lead to over and under identifying a person at risk of suicide. If we rely only on published warning signs, statistics and risk and protective factors when considering who might be thinking of suicide, we can identify too many people or not the right people because they may or may not fall into these categories. These have been established and published because they are helpful in identifying many people who might be struggling (with or without thoughts of suicide). And, they should not be our only reference.
Take Care of Yourself
Taking care of yourself as you provide support to others is important to your and their well-being. Know your boundaries around your ability and willingness to show up as a support and be honest with others about that. If you are worried about a loved one you are a caretaker of, make sure you also have your support and people to talk with. This is not easy and you don’t have to support others alone.
Be Familiar With Other Supports
Sometimes your loved one might not want to talk to you about their suicidal thoughts. That’s okay. There are resources available and you can help connect them with these resources. Whether it’s another friend or loved one, a therapist or coach; helping connect them with someone they might feel more comfortable talking with is a positive way of showing support.
If you are not comfortable talking about suicide with someone, that’s also okay. Again, know your limits and abilities. Being familiar with supports can help ease your worries about this.
There is help out there for those who are struggling with thoughts of suicide or wanting to help someone who is.
If you or someone you love is in need of immediate support, visit a walk-in-clinic or nearest emergency room, or call the Colorado Crisis Services to speak with a support specialist at 1-844-493-8255.
Individual and Family Therapy
If support through therapy is something you are curious about, our clinicians at Denver Metro Counseling are here to answer questions about this journey and invite you to reach out for more information and resources.
Our clinicians are trained to work with suicide through a trauma-informed approach.
We do not rush to hospitalization. We will listen to your story, and bear witness to your pain. We will help you identify your reasons for suicide and ways to work through coping with intense urges, while also providing opportunity to explore ways of healing from pain and suffering through therapy, whether that is talk therapy or EMDR therapy.
We can help. We will also connect you with other resources for therapeutic support if we are not able to meet your needs.
Local Support Groups
Other Supports and Resources
If you would like to engage in activities during National Suicide Prevention Month and are curious about what you can do to help impact this cause there are several resources available to you locally and nationally OR are interested in resources and community:
Live Through This
Speaking Of Suicide
The Colorado Office of Suicide Prevention
Suicide Prevention Coalition of Colorado
The Second Wind Fund
Colorado Crisis Services
Rocky Mountain Mental Illness Research Education Clinical, Centers of Excellence MIRECC – VA
National Alliance on Mental Illness
The Trevor Project
Suicide Prevention Resource Center
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
American Association for Suicidology
Julie is the owner of Denver Metro Counseling and has been working with teens and adults since 2006. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor, Associate Certified Coach, Approved Clinical Supervisor, EMDR Certified and an EMDR Consultant in Training.
Julie has provided trainings to hundreds of individuals on how to assess risk of suicide and help someone in crisis through LivingWorks’ Applied Suicide Prevention and Skills Training workshop.
Julie specializes in working with trauma, suicide risk, ADHD, anxiety, depression, and supporting other therapist through personal and professional growth.
Denver Metro Counseling is a group of clinicians who provide therapeutic support for teens, adults, parents, and families. We help people build positive relationships with themselves and others.