If You Are Feeling Suicidal

Remember 5 Things

1.  The pain of life can sometimes feel like it’s overwhelming your capacity to deal with life.  This is particularly true if you are suffering from depression, which is distressingly common among teenagers.

2.  Feeling Suicidal Does Not Mean That You Are

  • Bad
  • Weak
  • Selfish
  • A loser
  • Incompetent
  • Unworthy
  • Unlovable

It Does Mean That You Are Probably

  • Temporarily overwhelmed by the pain of your life
  • Worn out from expending lots of energy to cope
  • Feeling hopeless, unconnected and out of options

3.  Suicide is a permanent solution for temporary problems.  This is true even for the problems that feel overwhelming.  It is obviously always an option, so step away from it now and see if there is a better solution to what you’re experiencing.

4.  Growing up is hard and the teenage years are an emotional rollercoaster.  The teenage years can be wonderful and awful, sometimes in the same day.

Remember that with rollercoasters it can be terrifying on the steep drops, but if you don’t jump off (a bad thing to do), you then head back up.  Rollercoasters can be intimidating at first, but as you get more experience with them, they lose much of their power to intimidate.  Life is like that, so don’t jump off right now – there will be an upturn.

Unfortunately, the down times can sometimes last for a long time.  However, they don’t last forever – even though they sometimes feel like they do.  Sometimes you just endure and keep moving.

5.  There are effective solutions for dealing with the temporary problems, even the severe or long-lasting ones. It doesn’t seem that way when you are feeling suicidal, particularly because you are in extreme pain, are worn out from trying to find solutions and the solutions may not be obvious - but they are there and there are people that will be very willing to help you find those solutions.

So – Stay on the Rollercoaster and take the following 5 steps in taking charge of your life in a way that doesn’t end it.

 

What To Do Right Now Get Emergency Help and/or Follow the Five Action Steps

As small, powerless, alone or pained as you might feel, you can still take effective action – I know that sounds strange, but it’s true.  

If you are in immediate danger, you can get emergency help with one or two calls.

If you are not in immediate danger, but feeling suicidal at all, you can take five actions that will help get you out of the danger zone and give you a chance to get control over your life.

Get Emergency Help if You are in Crisis

For an immediate connection by phone with people who care and are trained to help - call the following help-lines.  If you aren’t satisfied with your first experience, call another line.  The phone counselors are usually well trained, but it’s always a matter of finding the right fit.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline:  1-800-273-talk (8255)

Hopeline.com   800-442-HOPE (4673)

National Hopeline Network:  1-800-suicide (784-2433)

Will link you to a hotline near you

The Trevor Project (LGBT focus):  1-866- 488 -7386

If you don't think you're going to be able to wait any longer and need to be in a safe place, go to the hospital. Get someone to drive you or drive yourself and check yourself in. Services will be in place to keep you safe until you're feeling ready to leave.

If you can't get yourself to the hospital, call 911.  Ask for emergency services to come and help you.

Don't let embarrassment or any other negative feelings prevent you from calling when your life is in danger. You need help, and that's why they're there.

Five Steps You Can Take

There are some very specific steps that you can take – even when feeling overwhelmed - that can help you get out of the danger zone and open up possibilities for you.

Step #1: Promise Not to do Anything Destructive Right Now

Even though you may be feeling overwhelmed by pain right now, give yourself some distance between suicidal thoughts/feelings and suicidal actions.  Promise yourself that you will give yourself 24 hours to start finding new solutions to your pain other than suicide.  

If you are in intense emotional and/or physical pain, remember that your judgment is being clouded by that pain. If you are considering suicide, you are trying to end that pain. Please do not confuse ending your pain with ending your life. The two are very different.

After all you’ve been through, 24 hours is not much more time to wait.  And there really are people and strategies that can make a difference.  If you act on your suicidal thoughts/feelings now, you will never know what might have been.

Step #2: Connect with Others - Don’t Keep Suicidal Thoughts/Feelings to Yourself

Find someone you trust and let them know how bad things are for you right now.  It may be a friend, a neighbor, a therapist, a member of the clergy, a teacher, a coach, a member of your extended family, or a family doctor.  It can also be an experienced counselor at one of the helplines noted above and in the Resource section on this site.  

Ask them to stay with you until you are safe (even over the phone).  If you are not in a safe place, get to one.  Drive yourself, have someone else drive you or walk with you - or call 911 and get help from emergency services.

Do not let fear, shame, or embarrassment prevent you from seeking help.   Remember, it’s not a sign of weakness or being inadequate.  One of the keys to life is being able to ask for help – in small and large ways.  We all need support at different times.  Just talking about how you are feeling and how you got to this point can release a lot of the pressure that has built up, clarify your thinking and increase your ability to cope.

If you don’t feel understood, find someone else.  There will be a surprising number of people that will be ready to support you, but not everyone will be good at it (see “Help Your Helpers” below).  In fact, the more people you engage, the better.  

Step #3: Take Heart and Remember Who You Are - People Do Get Through This

Yes, right now the pain of life is overwhelming your capacity to cope.  Even in the midst of the pain and discouragement, however, there are several reasons to take heart and regain a sense of hope.

First, remember that you have fought for yourself up to this point and you are much tougher than you feel right now.  You have expended a tremendous amount of energy coping and drawn on a lot of strength.  Those qualities are still there even though they may have been temporarily overwhelmed.  They will re-emerge as you get some rest, get connected to those who can help and discover some new strategies for dealing with these pressures.

Second, the pressures and pain that have overwhelmed you right now will not last at such a high level – in the vast majority of cases.  As a teenager you will face lots of challenges because that’s the way it works and it’s how you grow and develop – but they won’t often approach what you are feeling now and you will continue to develop your abilities to master them.

Step #4: Avoid Drugs and Alcohol

Suicidal thoughts can become even stronger if you have taken drugs or alcohol.

It’s tempting to use drugs or alcohol to make the thoughts go or diminish the pain. But adding these chemicals to your body actually just makes it a lot harder to think clearly and they can make depressive feelings more powerful.  They can also leave you more vulnerable to impulsive thoughts and actions, which is really dangerous right now.

Step #5: Make Your Home a Safe Place

Remove, lock up or give to others things you could use to hurt yourself, such as pills, guns, knives, razors, or other sharp items, like scissors. If you are on prescription medications and thinking of taking an overdose, give your medicines to someone who can return them to you one day at a time as you need them.  This protects you from impulses to harm yourself from sneaking up on you.

If you don't feel safe staying by yourself at home, go to a place where you do feel safe, like a friend's house, your parent's house, or a community center or other public place.

Help Your Helpers

This might seem like a weird thing to think about when you are feeling suicidal, but you can actually exert a lot of power in getting the help you need.  Suicide scares people and few have much experience or training in helping people who are suicidal.  You will probably be surprised at how many people will want to support you.  You may also be surprised at how scared they are of doing or saying the wrong thing or simply not knowing what to do to be supportive.

 

You have a lot of power to exercise in very direct ways.  For example, you can simply say to your helpers things like:    

  • “You don’t have to have the answers.”
  • “You don’t even need to know exactly what to do or say.”
  • “Just stay with me.”
  • “Just help me stay on the rollercoaster and find a way back up.”
  • “Just let me know that you care
  • “Help me get connected to others (friends, family, clergy, teachers, coaches, neighbors, etc.)”
  • “Help me make my world safe – removing things that I might use to hurt myself.”
  • “Help me connect to the hotline”
  • “Get me to the hospital”

Helping your helpers can be really important.  Unless they are trained in how to help someone through suicidal feelings, they are probably wondering what to do – what to say, what actions are OK, and what will make things worse.

It sounds weird, but help them help you.

Six Longer-Term Life Strategies Staying Healthy and Managing Your Life

 

The strategies noted below are good strategies for recovering from suicidal thoughts/feelings or a suicide attempt.  They are also good strategies for managing your life throughout adulthood.  

 

So, there are three reasons to engage in them.  First, they can help you recover as fully as possible from this suicidal crisis.  Second, they can prepare you to deal with any recurrence of suicidal thoughts/feelings, which sometimes ebb and flow like the tide.  Third, they are simply good life strategies.

 

  • Build – and Use - Your Support Network.  

Talk to one or more people in your network every day even if you feel like withdrawing.  Support networks are always good to have.  They don’t have to be real big and they aren’t just focused on helping in crises.  Particularly when you are feeling suicidal it is important to have as many connections as possible, so that you are not too dependent on any one or two connections.

 

A support network is like a spider’s web.  You can have connections to friends, family, neighbors, teachers, coaches, your faith community, community organizations, teammates or club members, etc.  There is a surprising number of possible contacts in your network.  

 

Some connections will be really strong and some will be light.  As you are feeling suicidal this is a good time to (a) be assertive in talking with people in your network and (b) adding some new people, such as counselors/therapists, helpline counselors or online organizations dedicated to helping people deal with suicidal thoughts and actions.

 

Note.  Many or most of the people in your network won’t have much experience with suicide and may be unsure of how to support you.  That’s OK.  As long as they are present and care about you, you can find your way together and it will be fine even if it feels awkward.  This may sound weird, but you might need to reassure the people supporting you that they are doing OK.  Really.

 

Also Note.  Building and maintaining a support network is a life skill that we all need to lead the kind of life we want to live.  It’s not just for when you are suicidal.  Support networks help us deal with the challenges of life and lead the meaningful lives we want to live.

 

One More Note.  Avoid spending time with people who are either (a) bad influences that may lead you into unhealthy situations or behaviors or (b) people who just don’t get what you are going through, may be judgmental or dismissive of how much pain you have been in or just want to give advice.

 

  • Identify the Triggers that Can Lead to Feelings of Despair and Suicidal Thoughts.  

Triggers can be certain people or groups, using alcohol or drugs, anniversaries or special days, relationship stresses (including break-ups), school challenges or books/movies/music/internet sites with dark or depressive themes.  

 

Avoid the triggers that you can avoid and plan ahead for how to deal with those that you can’t avoid.  Sometimes triggers will surprise you, but in those cases you can respond quickly if you have been paying attention to what can trigger you.  

 

3.  Make a safety plan.  Develop a set of steps that you can follow during a suicidal crisis. It should include contact numbers for the key people and organizations in your support network.  That is everything from friends and trusted adults to helplines and emergency numbers like 911.  Share your plan with others so they are better prepared to help you.

 

You can also include notes to yourself that can provide guidance – you talking to you.  Make up your own – in your own voice – but the following are examples.

 

“I got through this before even though I didn’t think I could.  I’m glad I did and I can do it this time too.”

 

“Remember that suicide is a permanent solution to temporary problems – even the most severe ones.”

 

“I didn’t think people would care last time, but they did – and they helped.”

 

“Give yourself (me) 24 hours to see if you can find a better solution than suicide – I did it before.”

 

4.  Take care of yourself and manage your stress.  This is pretty straightforward, but sometimes takes a good deal of discipline or changes in habits (which is hard).  

  • Eat right.  Taking care of yourself starts with eating right – including not skipping meals or eating compulsively.  If your eating is out of control, get professional help because eating disorders are tough to conquer.  
  • Get enough sleep.  This is really hard in high school, so this might be a tough challenge.
  • Get enough exercise.  “Enough” doesn’t mean you have to train for a triathlon.  The big difference is between no exercise at all and a little or moderate exercise.  You can also use relaxation exercises.  
  • Make sure you get some quiet time.  As with exercise, the big difference is between a little quiet time and no quiet time.  You can simply take a moment to pay attention to your breathing, meditate, review what you want to do with your day, or simply think positive thoughts (about yourself or others).
  • Be very careful with your use of alcohol and drugs. Drugs and alcohol can interfere with your decision-making and problem-solving abilities, increase depression, leave you vulnerable to destructive impulses and simply replace more healthy behaviors.
  • AND stay connected to your support network.  If you are doing that, it’s easier to disconnect from unhealthy relationships.

 

Sound too “parenty” or prescriptive?  If so, try to get by that – it’s really

just common sense and these strategies can make a big difference

(even a few of them).

 

5.  Continue, restart or develop new activities and interests.  You may have stopped engaging in activities that were meaningful or fun for you, so it would be good to restart those activities.  It would also be healthy to start some new activities.  There may be some that you have always wanted to do or some that seem like they might be fun or meaningful.  

 

Some experimenting might be in order, so you can try new things and continue if they work for you or move on to something else.  There is an impressive array of things you can explore, for example volunteering, sports, various clubs, travel, cooking, performing arts, woodworking, computer/internet activities, etc.

 

6.  Get treatment for medical conditions, particularly depression.  Depression is highlighted here because it is such a powerful contributor to suicidal thoughts, feelings and actions – and it is a medical condition that can be treated.  The right medication along with time with a therapist or counselor is a powerful combination and one that you can use to get on top of depression and gain much more control over your life.  

 

You may have other medical issues, such as injuries or chronic illnesses that also need medical treatment.   Don’t delay.  This is part of taking care of yourself, so that you are in the best shape possible to manage your life.

Resources

National Suicide Prevention Hotline:  1-800-273-talk (8255)

National Hopeline Network:  1-800-suicide (784-2433)

The Trevor Project (LGBT focus):  1-866- 488 -7386