The Shame of Suicide Ideation
TRIGGER WARNING: suicide
We all have demons. Some of us know them well. Others are oblivious to our weaknesses. In 2019, I tried to outrun mine by moving to Southern California. Two-thousand miles from everything I’ve ever known. Truly on my own for the very first time in life. I felt free and alive. A fresh start. A new beginning. Leaving the past and all the baggage on the East Coast. At first, everything was amazing. California was paradise. But it didn’t take long for my flaws to make their move. My life unraveled quickly. The demons I ran from? Welcomed me with open arms. California wasn’t a mistake, but there were decisions not fully fleshed out that ushered in my nightmare. Before long, I was unemployed with my entire professional network on the opposite coast. Most of my days and nights were spent alone attempting to numb myself with altered states. After weeks of spiraling without being able to gain control, I realized the worst monster in my life was my own mind.
It was the third major depressive episode of my life.
But no one could tell.
I didn’t want to burden anyone with my problems. My mind convinced me that the reactions of friends and family would reflect how I was feeling. Shitty. They wouldn’t want to hear it, not have time for it, or would be thinking, “there’s always something going on with, Brian. Dude just moves from train wreck to train wreck.” Maybe they were right. So, every day I lied to the world. I put on a mask. Smiled. Laughed at jokes. Held open the door for strangers when I was out. Attended the occasional social event. If I could muster the energy. Usually, I’d just bail at the last minute. Or not show up at all.
When I was employed, I’d go to work, come home, and spend the night in front of the TV on my phone. Some days, I’d just sleep. After I was fired from my job, I’d apply for new employment for an hour or two a day, barely eat, and lay around watching TV or aimlessly scrolling my phone. Existing didn’t fit in my budget. My mind seemed to be okay with the development.
My immune system was so weak, I was constantly sick, exhausted, and depleted of energy. I had a nasty cold that I couldn’t break for six months. I should have known it was the blues.
My eating habits joined the fray. I either didn’t eat a thing or binged ate chips, snacks, sugar, and fried foods. Nutrition? For what?
Is it my own fault? Did I create this mess? Is human existence suffering? Have my traumas destroyed my mind? Is my mind destroying my life? Do I think too much? Is there a chemical imbalance in my brain? Am I just a meaningless soul drifting through this world? What is wrong with me? Why is my life so awful? Why am I always so tired? Why am I so unlovable? Why can’t I love myself? Why do I hate myself? Why is everything so god-damn awful?
I couldn’t remember the last time I was genuinely happy. Maybe when I reached California, thinking it would save my life? But that moment was fleeting. All are, but depression blocks out this human truth.
I knew that the best thing for me was to seek professional help, but “I can’t even afford help” was a reality for me, like it is for many. Imagine knowing you’re sick, but not having the means to get help. Asking someone for money and/or help because “you’re thinking about suicide” isn’t only an unrealistic expectation in our society, but it feels like a burden that causes the exact reaction most people suffering with suicidal thoughts are trying to avoid. More frustration builds. Shame piles on. Further down the black hole the mind goes.
I wasn’t sure if I ever would have the courage to go through with ending my life. Suicide was something I thought about often over the years. Not always in a sad, dark, or bitter way. Sometimes it was out of exhaustion. Tired of not being able to express how I was feeling. Terrified of what was lurking in my mind. Sick of pretending everything was okay. Afraid to ask for help.
I was living like I was dead. Why not get it over with?
If I did end my life, I wondered how long it would take for people to discover me. Being in California and no office to show up to every day, I figured no one would notice for at least a week. A rotted corpse for a rotten life.
I understood that some people would be sad if I died, but I hurt every day. In silence. All on my own. They’d get over my passing. Host a memorial. Friends and family vowing to be more open and honest, which would ultimately be nothing more than empty words. After a few years I’d be nearly forgotten … minus pictures, memories, and a few random thoughts. Life goes on.
Things can get dark in this world. The mind unravels quickly when it’s hurting. Like a snowball tumbling down a frozen mountain. Each thought compounding one another. Each disappointment magnified. The slights blown out of proportion.
What helped me start to break the hold depression had on me was the Crisis Text Line.
A year earlier, during a job interview with a potential employer, the interviewer mentioned she was volunteering for the Crisis Text Line. For whatever reason, her words popped into my head when I hit rock bottom. I texted the number and a kind volunteer took some time and talked with me for a bit. It didn’t cure my depression. I wasn’t back to my old self. But I did find some relief. And was offered follow-up chats, information, and steps to take to help get my mind right.
It’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to wish you were dead. It’s okay to have negative thoughts. But if you’re having these thoughts constantly, more than usual, or feel compelled to act on them, ask for help. It’s okay. Life can be very hard. Impossible at times. It’s only natural to experience lows. Some people just feel lower than others. It’s not someone’s fault for experiencing these feelings. It doesn’t make them weak or sensitive. To me, those who feel those lows are brothers and sisters in arms. Your struggle matters. You matter. You’re not alone. We’re in this together.
Suicide Prevention Awareness Month content has dwindled down since the first week of September, but with winter and holidays approaching, it’s important to remember that people you know are suffering in silence. Be a little kinder. You have no idea what someone is going through.
There’s a lot of shame around mental health, depression, and suicide. The stigma isn’t the only barrier.
Below there are resources for those struggling with suicidal thoughts and tips for those who suspect someone they love is experiencing suicidal ideation.
If you are thinking about suicide or struggling with depression or addiction, check out the resources below:
Crisis Text Line
The Crisis Text Line is a free text messaging resource offering 24/7 support to anyone in crisis. Since August 2013, more than seventy-nine million text messages have been exchanged.
Text HOME to 741741 (24/7)
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Online chat: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat/ (24/7)
The Trevor Project offers crisis intervention and suicide prevention to LGBTQ youth through its hotline, chat feature, text feature, and online support center.
Text START to 678678. (Mon-Fri 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. EST/12 p.m. to 7 p.m. PST)
The Veterans Crisis Line is a free, confidential resource staffed by qualified responders from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Anyone can call, chat, or text — even those not registered or enrolled with the VA.
800–273–8255 and press 1 (24/7)
Text 838255 (24/7)
Online chat: www.veteranscrisisline.net/get-help/chat (24/7)
Support for those who are deaf or hard of hearing: 800–799–4889
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) national helpline offers confidential treatment referrals in both English and Spanish to people struggling with mental health conditions, substance use disorders, or both.
800–662-HELP (4357) (24/7)
TTY: 800–487–4889 (24/7)
Helping Those Who Suffer From Suicidal Thoughts
If you know someone who experiences or suspect may be experiencing suicidal thoughts, Mental Health UK has an excellent resource. Quick, actionable, takeaways can be found below:
If you think that someone might be having suicidal thoughts, you can encourage them to talk about how they’re feeling. You might feel uncomfortable talking about suicidal feelings. You might not know what to say. This is entirely normal and understandable. It might help to:
- Let them know that you care about them and that they aren’t alone
- Empathize with them. Be aware you don’t know exactly how they feel. You could say something like, ‘I can’t imagine how painful this is for you, but I would like to try to understand’
- Be non-judgmental by trying not to criticize or blame them
- Repeat their words back to them in your own words. This shows that you are listening. Repeating information can also make sure that you have understood it properly
- Ask about their reasons for living and dying and listen to their answers. Try to explore their reasons for living in more detail
- Focus on people they care about, and who care about them. And who they might hurt by leaving them behind
- Ask if they have felt like this before. If so, ask how their feelings changed last time
- Reassure them that they won’t feel this way forever, and that intensity of feelings can reduce in time
- Encourage them to focus on getting through the day rather than focusing on the future
- Ask them if they have a plan for ending their life and what it is.
- Encourage them to seek help with which they are comfortable. Such as help from a doctor or counselor, or support through a charity such as the Samaritans
- Follow up any commitments that you agree to
- Make sure someone is with them if they’re in immediate danger
- To help them to get professional help
- Get support for yourself. See the next section below for more information.
Remember that you don’t need to find an answer, or even to completely understand why they feel the way they do. Listening to what they have to say will at least let them know you care.
If they’re not ready to talk, you can say you’re there for them if they want to later. But showing that you’re there for them can be helpful.
If you’re unsure if someone is having suicidal thoughts, you can ask:
- Are you thinking about suicide?
- Are you having thoughts of ending your life?
- Are you thinking about killing yourself?
It can often be better to ask direct questions rather than vague ones. It’s usually better to address the person’s feelings directly rather than avoiding them. Asking someone about suicide doesn’t usually mean that they’re more likely to kill themselves. And it might be a relief to them to talk about it. What won’t usually help someone who is feeling suicidal? When someone tells you that they are feeling suicidal your first thoughts may be to:
- Try and find a solution to their problems
- Tell them to ‘cheer up,’ ‘pull themselves together’, ‘man up’ or ‘snap out of it’
- Change the subject
- Give them advice
- Ask questions unrelated to how they’re feeling, to distract them
- Tell them that they have no reason to feel like that
- Tell them that they shouldn’t feel like that, or they’ll feel better soon
- Downplay the seriousness of how they’re feeling
- Compare their situation to someone’s whose seems worse
- Tell them you know how they feel
- Compare their feelings to your own personal experiences
- Tell them that they should be grateful for having a good life
- Tell them that are being silly
These responses are unlikely to be helpful. They may make someone feel:
- ‘small’ or insignificant,
- stupid for feeling the way they do,
- like ‘no one understands,’
- criticized, or
Reassurance, respect, and support can help someone to recover from a difficult time.