When people talk of mental health issues there is often a glossing over of the topic of suicidal thoughts within depression. A lot of euphemisms are used if any mention at all. When I hear or read about someone going through a period of dark thoughts or despairing, do they really mean thoughts of suicide? Are they just too scared to use the word. I know I’ve been taught to not say it in the past. Yet I cannot help but think that by not talking about it we only make it more difficult for those suffering those thoughts to seek help in times of need. If you cannot say suicide when you are well and discuss what that struggle is, how can anyone be expected to feel brave enough to admit it when in crisis?
I’ll be forty-four in less than a month, at the time of writing this, my first suicide attempt was when I was sixteen. I’ve only had one other attempt since and that was in my early twenties. Since those attempts I have been able to get myself into the hospital or get other help before getting to the point of trying to end things. However, I have many times needed that help over the years. What I deal with living with bipolar and anxiety disorders is a chronic and incurable condition. I am able to manage it most of the time with therapy and medication. At this point in life, mostly therapy. This was not always the case for me though.
I see how mental health is stigmatized overall within society and that things are slowly changing for the better. Yet, I also see that the talk about suicide is still not occurring enough. That people still seem too afraid to speak of it. It has been my experience that suicidal thoughts are not a black and white thing. There are a lot of shades of grey. One does not go from simply depressed to jumping off of a bridge most of the time. There are many stages in between. The healthcare system itself needs to find a way for those with the in between stage thoughts to be able to express the need for help without worry of an overreaction. I’ve lost count of the number times I stopped talking to a healthcare provider because they overreacted to my using the words ‘suicidal thoughts’ when I was not at a point of crisis. I’ve had to lie to therapists and doctors both over the years when not in crisis to avoid them being uncomfortable with the word suicide.
The therapist I have now is awesome though. I can talk to them about the stages of suicidal thoughts that I go through and get the help I need before I hit a crisis point. So many others just assume crisis or worse will not help you unless you are in crisis. I actually spent nine hours in an emergency room once only to be turned away in the end because they felt I was not in enough of a crisis to warrant attention. That’s a long and bitter story not for here though.
A person with diabetes gets to know their own ups and downs with that chronic illness over time. Many chronic illnesses are like that. What most also share is a medical knowledge that can be shared with friends, loved ones, or care givers to help aid the sufferer. This came with openly talking about that illness and not making it taboo or stigmatized. The suicidal thoughts that can come with deep depression should be the same. The brain is an organ of the body like any other and we need to realize that it malfunctioning is a medical condition that can be discussed like all other medical conditions.
I know my own ups and downs, have learned many coping skills, when to get extra help, what the warning signs are for me. But, I only learned all this through trial and error and almost died along the way learning it. If there had been open conversation about this, if I had been able to talk about this sooner, I could have gotten to where I am today with a lot less hurt and pain. Most of all though, and please really think on this one, most of all I wonder about all those that did not make it like I did. How many people took their own life due to this lack of conversation, lack of information, this stigma?