It’s the time of year when many of us feel the joyful anticipation of time spent with family and friends. For those of us who are perfectionists, it can come with festive stress. And, it can send others spiraling into depression, depending on life circumstances and mental health and wellbeing.
This hit me really hard this weekend, when not one, but two of my friends told me they had each lost a colleague to suicide over the weekend. I googled it, and I was shocked to learn how much it’s growing. According to USA Today, the suicide rate in the U.S. has climbed 33 percent since 1999.
As someone who lives with clinical depression, it troubles me to know that so many people are losing their battles with life’s challenges and/or the irrational reasoning that the world would be better without them.
I have lived through dark days myself, and I’m grateful that these were never so dark that I wanted to hurt or end myself. When I had a scare with a bad reaction to a medication years ago, I was dialing my doctor’s office within minutes of the “dark thoughts” that crossed my mind as I almost mindlessly pumped gas in Uptown Dallas…
For me, those thoughts were so foreign — so out of character — that it felt like an electrical jolt to realize I had just had them. I remember thinking, “Where did that come from? That’s not me. Something is wrong.” And, then I felt really grateful for the warning that came with the new prescription about the potential for suicidal thoughts. My doctor changed my medication immediately, and it has made a wonderful difference in my life.
I know this hasn’t been the reality for others, including a few people I have known in my life. According to the Cleveland Clinic, “suicide is not a mental illness in itself, but a serious potential consequence of many mental disorders, particularly major depression,” and knowing the warning signs can help. These include:
- Excessive sadness or moodiness
- Sudden calmness
- Changes in personality and/or appearance
- Dangerous or self-harmful behavior
- Recent trauma or life crisis
- Making preparations ( making a will, giving away personal possessions)
- Threatening suicide
If you recognize these signs in someone you care about, it’s critical to intervene as soon as possible. Psychology Today offers this advice:
- Tell them you’re concerned about them.
- Don’t be afraid to ask them about it. It won’t push them to suicide if they weren’t considering it.
- Ask if they’re seeing a doctor or taking medication. If so, encourage them to contact the treating physician immediately. Offer to go to the appointment with them. If not, help them find a mental health professional and make an appointment or take them to a walk-in clinic at a psychiatric hospital or a hospital emergency room.
- Don’t try to argue them out of suicide. Let them know you care, that they are not alone and that they can get help. (Don’t say things like “You have so much to live for” or “If you kill yourself, it will hurt your family.”)
- Call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
- Do not leave them alone.
My friend Marji, who lost her sister to suicide years ago, advises that being proactive is vital with someone who may be suicidal. It’s not leaving a phone number to call. It’s making an effort to reach out, connect and check on this person. And, it’s repeating that again and again if you think someone may be in a dark place.
At worst, you’re showing you care. At best, you may be saving a life. In a post she shared earlier this year, Marji makes this point: “Every time you proactively reach out to someone in pain, you are lighting a spark, and sparks grow into flames…”
So, know the signs, recognize them and take action to care for yourself or others who may be in a dark place. It just might make all the difference.