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Bringing Compassion to Suicide Awareness

Someone commits suicide in the United States every eleven minutes. It is among the top ten causes of death, except for adolescents (ages 10-14) and young adults (ages 25-34) for whom it is the second highest. Suicidal ideation is common, with over 12 million people seriously considering it. Over 3 million people make a plan and of those over a million attempt to kill themselves. Life is hard and painful and too many people are isolated and lonely. Depression, anxiety and feeling disconnected from life present an easy slide into suicidal ideation. Likewise, losing loved ones – whether to suicide, drug overdose, disease or accidents – and the grief that follows, brings many to the edge of these thoughts.

It has for me. It has been four years since my son, Ian died. His death was not a suicide, which is to say I don’t believe that he intended to die while vacationing and buying fentanyl-laced drugs. In that time, I have come to understand what drives so many to the edge of questioning the desire to live. For me, it is the overwhelming sadness, and the ways this trauma and grief has woven itself around my family. I miss myself and the life had as much as I miss him. The worst days are when I feel totally alone in the sadness and can’t see the end of it.  

When people say that others would be better off without them or that no one would notice if they were gone, they are giving clear signals that they cannot believe that their life could get better and that they might not be able to imagine going on feeling the way that they do. The burden of long-term feelings of worthlessness, isolation, and disconnection can feel interminable and become unbearable.  Don’t wait until you hear these people say “I want to die” or “I am going to kill myself.”  If you feel concerned for someone else’s safety, don’t wait – acknowledge, make space, and respond. Make a call instead of texting, better yet, go see them if you can. The vast majority of people who are thinking about suicide want to live, if they can find a way out of their pain. 

Suicide is rarely an impulsive act. Many people will think about suicide for days, weeks, months or even years before they make an attempt. For some, treatment for clinical depression and anxiety can make a big difference. Just as many will respond to being witnessed and held in their pain. Although we don’t have much training and skill to meet other people in the deeply bewildering space of sadness and grief, showing up at these times can save a life. Learning to recognize signs of suicide and being willing to talk and to listen to other people at their darkest moments is a true lifeline. 

Dealing with the epidemic of suicide in our country is above all, a call to rebuilding community. Community creates a kind of belonging that heals through shared experiences and witnessing. Communities can be healing in a way that we hope for in our families. But many families do not have the emotional capacity and skill to stay together. Surprisingly, death and the fear of death creates the opposite of community. The bereaved are often left alone. 

Many people are unaware of the resources and help available. Texting or calling 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, formerly known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, will connect you to a national network of trained counselors.  

Other Prevention Resources include:

Preventing Suicide: A Technical Package of Policy, Programs, and Practices 

Learn more and sign up for Question, Persuade, Refer (QPR)  Suicide Prevention Training here: QPR Suicide Prevention Training is for participants (gatekeepers) to recognize the warning signs of suicidal thinking, behavior, attempts and question, persuade, and refer people at risk for help. 

“The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you’ll learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to.”–Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler

 Learning to live with death and honor grief is a great loving act of service that we need for ourselves, and for so many others. Practicing compassion for those suffering from death and suicidal thoughts is perhaps the most courageous and life enhancing thing we can do.   

Learn more about grief support: