By Dr. Micaela Wexler
Whenever I say this to people, they think I mean for them to help prevent suicide in other people. They immediately think about their families, friends, co-workers, children, spouses. In most cases, they are eager for tips on how to join in the fight to stop suicide.
“I mean YOU, specifically. Suicide prevention starts with YOU.”
Suicide is something that can happen to anyone. While we all need to help each other in preventing this tragedy, you can’t prevent someone else from committing suicide unless you prevent yourself from committing suicide.
“Well, that’s easy,” people tell me, “I don’t believe in suicide. Suicide is a selfish act; I would never do that to my loved ones.”
It turns out that people who commit suicide were once just like you: they didn’t believe in suicide. Like you, they had children, parents and friends. They loved them very much and did not want to hurt them. Just like you, they had religious beliefs that once gave them strength and comfort. They had goals and dreams and plans. They had crushes. They had love affairs. They had marriages.
So, to prevent suicide, you have to start by examining yourself.
Do you find yourself doing things you never did before like yelling at the grocery checkout person? Are you snapping at your husband? Does your best friend suddenly make you fly into a rage? Are you drinking more than you ever did? Are you in a financial crisis you feel you have no way out of?
Do you find yourself being careless about your safety: being less careful about locking doors at night; not slowing down for yellow lights; driving recklessly on the freeway?
Many people have these thoughts. That doesn’t mean you should ignore their seriousness. Letting thoughts like these pile up can put you on the road to developing a serious depressive episode. That is the most common reason for suicide.
If you are having these thoughts, then you are not taking care of yourself. You are not taking time to enjoy life. You are losing sight of your dreams and goals. Maybe you are not spending enough time with friends who appreciate you. Maybe you are working too much, at the expense of socializing and exercising.
You can do things immediately if any of these situations pertain to you. Right now, take a deep breath and think of something positive you will do for yourself TODAY. It can be something simple like taking a walk, calling a good friend, making plans to go watch a movie, buying yourself a new song, playing a computer game.
Look at your schedule and see what items are on it that make you feel good. How can you add more? You may not be able to get out of your financial crisis, but you can probably find someone to talk to, either about your problem, or something completely unrelated, to take your mind off your crisis.
If you are having the thoughts I’ve mentioned, this is a sign you need to find time to reflect on what is good about you and your life; you need to make it a DAILY practice; you need to refocus on your hopes and dreams. You need to reach out to loved ones, clergy, maybe a therapist, or the employee assistance program.
There are some thoughts that will require much more than than what you can do alone. There are thoughts that are a sign of something serious that needs immediate professional attention.
Do you feel you have no purpose in life? Do you feel completely hopeless? Do you ever find yourself having thoughts about what it would be like to be dead? Do you find yourself thinking that people would be better off without you in their lives? Do you find yourself going beyond simply not slowing down for yellow lights, and actually running red lights? Do find yourself wondering what it would be like to go toppling off the overpass? Do you notice you are preoccupied with the after life?
These are all thoughts that are a sign of serious suicide risk. Do not ignore this. There are several options for immediate help, from calling 911 and talking to the police, to calling 1-800-273-TALK or 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-273-8255, 1-800-784-3433) or going to the emergency room. Either one of these options will lead to a trained professional who can help determine the type of help you need immediately.
Nine out of ten people who commit suicide had a diagnosable mental disorder. But, only THREE out of 10 people who die by suicide received mental health care in the year prior to their suicide.
So, start preventing suicide by taking a look at yourself. Because, trust me, we need you around.