Coping With Suicidal Thoughts
According to a new CDC report, 11% of Americans seriously considered suicide in June. Even more disturbingly, the highest rates among suicide ideation were among 18- to 24-year-olds (25%) and unpaid caregivers for adults (30%). To put that in perspective, that is three and four times higher than those who met the same criteria during the second quarter of 2019.
Brittany Johnson, a licensed mental health counselor in Indiana, told Insider the findings sadly don't shock her.
"We keep ourselves busy to avoid having to deal with unpleasant memories, thoughts, and feelings, so ... I knew for some people the stay-at-home orders would be difficult for that fact alone," she said. "We spend all our lives trying to run."
Additionally, the added stress of taking care of children and older adults during the pandemic has left unpaid caregivers more vulnerable.
"When you think about the building blocks of stress, it fits," Johnson said. "That helplessness and hopelessness is what shows up in all of these categories, and that's what leads to suicide ideation and anxiety and depression."
Furthermore, adolescents and young adults are also suffering.
"A number of kids are expressing that these are supposed to be the best years — high school and college — the most free years," Anne Marie Albano, a professor of medical psychology in psychiatry at Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York, told the Wall Street Journal. "The possibility that COVID is going to completely change this period of their life, and they won't ever get it back, is overwhelming for a lot of them," she says.
The same is true for essential workers who have been literally carrying the country throughout the pandemic. Racial and ethnic minorities have also been disproportionately affected, but it’s not related to COVID-19. "For a lot of Black Americans and people of color in general, COVID was the least of their worries; they were just worried about how they were already going to survive."
While right now is an incredibly trying and turbulent time, whatever feelings of anxiety and depression you’re experiencing will pass. Moreover, there are ways to help you or a loved one cope with suicidal thoughts.
Be aware of the warning signs.
You can’t see what a person is feeling on the inside, so it isn’t always easy to identify when someone is having suicidal thoughts. However, some outward warning signs that a person may be contemplating suicide include:
talking about feeling hopeless, trapped, or alone
saying they have no reason to go on living
making a will or giving away personal possessions
searching for a means of doing personal harm, such as buying a gun
sleeping too much or too little
eating too little or eating too much, resulting in significant weight gain or loss
engaging in reckless behaviors, including excessive alcohol or drug consumption
avoiding social interactions with others
expressing rage or intentions to seek revenge
showing signs of extreme anxiousness or agitation
having dramatic mood swings
talking about suicide as a way out
It can feel scary, but taking action and getting someone the help they need may help prevent a suicide attempt or death.
Take immediate action.
If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, HelpGuide suggests that you take the following steps immediately:
Promise not to do anything right now. “Even though you’re in a lot of pain right now, give yourself some distance between thoughts and action,” write Jaelline Jaffe, Ph.D., Lawrence Robinson, and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D. “Make a promise to yourself: ‘I will wait 24 hours and won’t do anything drastic during that time.’ Or, wait a week.”
Avoid drugs and alcohol. “Suicidal thoughts can become even stronger if you have taken drugs or alcohol.” add the authors. “It is important to not use nonprescription drugs or alcohol when you feel hopeless or are thinking about suicide.”
Make your home safe. “Remove things you could use to hurt yourself, such as pills, knives, razors, or firearms,” they write. “If you are unable to do so, go to a place where you can feel safe. If you are 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.”
Don’t keep these suicidal feelings to yourself. If not an emergency, talk to someone you trust. Examples include family members, friends, a counselor, psychologist or psychiatrist, doctor, spiritual leader, support groups, or phone hotlines.
Take hope - people DO get through this. “Even people who feel as badly as you are feeling now manage to survive these feelings,” state the authors. “Take hope in this. There is a very good chance that you are going to live through these feelings, no matter how much self-loathing, hopelessness, or isolation you are currently experiencing. Just give yourself the time needed and don’t try to go it alone.”
Other techniques that you can use to make yourself feel better include:
Taking care of your health like getting enough sleep, exercising, and eating healthy.
Spending time doing the things that you enjoy.
Writing down your feelings.
Making a “distraction box” that’s filled things that bring you joy, such as pictures, music, movies, or poems.
Re-focus your attention using visualization or mindfulness.
Reflecting on your personal goals.
If you’re in a serious crisis or need urgent help.
Do not hesitate in reaching out to others, preferably your support system. You should also contact 911 or the following resources:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Call 800-273-8255
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline: Call 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741
It’s important that when discussing your suicidal thoughts you’re honest and describe exactly how you feel. If you feel uncomfortable verbalizing your feelings, write them down and share them with others.
Most importantly, if these thoughts and feelings have subsided, you can prevent them from occurring again by working with a therapist or joining a support group. Moreover, you should become aware if tiggers, learning how to deal with stress and anxiety in a healthy way, taking care of yourself, and developing new activities and interests.