Trigger warning

By Nancy Black

Editor’s Note: This editorial discusses mental illness and suicide, which may be disturbing to some readers. Reader discretion is advised.

“Un-alive-ing myself.” That is what the younger generation, who were raised with cell phones in their hands, call killing themselves these days. The don’t say or write “suicide,” because social media platforms flag posts that mention that word and may take them down. 

Some researchers say talking, reading or hearing about suicide may trigger those struggling with depression and push them over the edge. I understand that thought process but, at the same time, I truly believe we, as a society, should be talking more about mental illnesses and depression. 

Two very dear friends of mine are currently dealing with the loss of a child who died by suicide. Notice I didn’t write, “committed suicide.” That is a taboo term these days because, according to the Suicide Prevention Alliance: “The words, “commit/committed” may imply that an act is criminal or may be looked at as a mortal sin in many religions. Suicide at one point was considered a crime in communities across our country but now is considered outdated and irrelevant.”

Sally Spencer-Thomas, Ph.D., one of the premier psychologists working in suicide prevention today, said: “the litmus test for talking about suicide is to substitute the word “cancer” for the word “suicide” to see if the sentence still makes sense or if it has a negative connotation. We wouldn’t say “committed cancer” or “successful cancer” — we would simply say “cancer death” or “died of cancer.” Thus, when it comes to suicide, we should say “suicide death” or “died of suicide.”

Both of my friends lost young adult sons. One family knew their loved one was struggling; the other had no idea. What everyone should know is that effective, evidence-based interventions are available to help people who are at risk for suicide. 

The first step is to tell your health provider. Their primary purpose is to help. 

Yet saying, “I need help,” are three of the hardest words to utter when a person is suffering. There are so many resources available to people who are suffering. Hope is a feeling hard to muster if you’re in the depths of depression. But there is hope. And those who are depressed or mentally ill do not need to feel alone. Like the cancer analogy above, a person wouldn’t fight cancer alone. Why should anyone experiencing depression or thoughts of suicide be any different? It takes a village to recover from whatever disease or disorder a person is suffering from. Do not try to go it alone. Get help!

The National Institute for Mental Health suggests:

“If you notice warning signs of suicide — especially a change in behavior or new, concerning behavior — get help as soon as possible. Family and friends are often the first to recognize the warning signs of suicide, and they can take the first step toward helping a loved one find mental health treatment. If someone tells you that they are going to kill themselves, do not leave them alone. Do not promise that you will keep their suicidal thoughts a secret — tell a trusted friend, family member or other trusted adult.”

If you or someone you know is in crisis:

Call or text the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or chat at The Lifeline provides free and confidential support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, across the United States. Call 911 in life-threatening situations.