Suicide should not be viewed as an option for solving problems. So why do many think it is?
HOW DID WE GET HERE?
Too often, I read or hear about another teenager who has died by suicide. While the faces of those who suffer are personal to each of us, (One of my best friends killed herself.), the feelings of loss and helplessness stemming from this epidemic are universal. I find myself asking “why” did this happen again? Why is it happening more often? You’ve read the stats. We’re talking about HUGE growth and Covid has made it worse.
TAKE SUICIDE OFF THE TABLE.
As a teenager in the 80’s, suicide wasn’t a blip on my radar (read about Carolyn Day here), and it wasn’t viewed as an option to solve life's problems. For the most part, it wasn’t even talked about. Somehow that has changed. Now many kids and teens view it as a legitimate option for solving life’s most harrowing problems. Just ask a few teens. I have. Often the conversation goes like this, “Well, I have thought about it, but I wouldn’t really do it...”
“Thought about it.” That could mean absolutely nothing and represent nothing more than fantasizing away stress, anxiety, depression, and the like. But what could it mean to that same teen in crisis, when rational thinking is replaced by impulse? Unfortunately, suicide begets suicide; if she, the most popular girl in school, can die by suicide, it’s an option for me. NO! Please, no.
Take suicide off the table as an option. Please. Your present compulsion to harm yourself will subside. Your depression will most likely lift. Every problem is solvable, or at the very least can be addressed. You are worth the fight, and life is worth living! Don’t force a solution that you can NEVER take back. You are worth the fight.
STRATEGIES TO STOP IT.
Feeling sad, angry, stressed, or moody is normal. More and more research are coming to the forefront about how stress can be seen as a positive, a sign that something is important and impactful, that you care about it. So how do you know if you’re depressed? The trouble with depression is that it’s sneaky; it can creep so slowly and stealthy into someone’s system that it might be hard to recognize.
There are signs that medical professionals rely upon to identify depression. These same pros also readily acknowledge that life can be messy, hard, stressful, and sad, and that feelings that arise from life’s “downs” can be completely normal. (And normal or not, seeking help and connection are always a good idea.)
And that is what is so damn difficult. Separating the intense feelings that come as we move through life’s challenges from those that could be more long-lasting and harmful.
- Are you sad or irritable more often than not?
- Do you feel tired, lack energy, give up easily?
- Are you putting little effort into schoolwork?
- Are you having trouble concentrating in class?
- Are you failing to turn in work, get lower grades?
- Are you withdrawing from friends or activities?
- Are you missing school days, or frequently late?
GET UNCOMFORTABLE. TALK. ASK FOR HELP. PLEASE.
When all you want to do is curl up in bed, or scroll endlessly on social media, reaching out to other people for help will be hard, because it’s literally one of the last things you want to do. But you need to do it.
It’ll mean mustering the energy, and likely the courage, to find someone you can talk to, really talk to. Sharing feelings can be uncomfortable. You may feel exposed and vulnerable, and that’s scary. If you find someone you trust and feel you can talk to safely, do it. If it’s not a parent, maybe it’s a brother or sister, or a best friend. It could even be a teacher. Talking about your own feelings might inspire someone else to share their own stories of depression or sadness with you. Suddenly, you won’t feel so alone because of the connection you’ve made. We all struggle in life. There is no shame or weakness in asking for help. In fact, it’s one of the bravest things you’ll ever do.
THOUGHTS ARE NOT FACTS.
I’m not good enough. Nobody likes me. Too much is expected of me. I’m a burden to everyone around me. Negative thoughts can quickly send us into a spiral of anxiety and depression. When this happens, stop, and pause. If you can put some space between you and your reaction, it could change your relationship to the thought. YOU are not these thoughts. In her book, Uncovering Happiness, Elisha Goldstein suggests asking yourself the following if you’re stuck on a negative thought:
- Is it true?
- Is it absolutely true? Can you see the thought another way?
- How does the thought make you feel? Name the feelings and notice what storylines you might be holding onto.
- What would things be like if I didn’t hold this belief? Imagine possible benefits to relationships, energy levels and motivation.
DON’T UNDERESTIMATE SLEEP, EXERCISE, AND TIME WITH FRIENDS.
Many teens express that adults just don’t understand how stressed, overwhelmed, and overworked they are. Additionally, these same teens are getting less sleep, less or no exercise, and are spending less in-person time with friends – behaviors that mitigate stress.
Stressors + less healthy behaviors = recipe for problems. It can snowball.
DO ONE GOOD THING FOR YOURSELF.
Even upon waking, heading directly to a window, or better yet, OUTDOORS, for natural light is thought to help with sleep cycles and mood. There’s no downside. TRY it. Commit to less screen time, more in-person time. Even a brisk walk can help. Commit. Make your commitment public. Tell your friends, adults or anyone your plan. Ask for help. Try.
We know teens who calm their minds before sleep using mantras and conscious breathing. Try slowly breathing in and silently saying the word, “letting” and then breathing out and saying he word, “go.” Then repeat this again and again. Focusing on the repetitive words and slow breaths may help lull you right to sleep.
YOU ARE ALWAYS ENOUGH AND NEVER TOO MUCH.
Life is beautiful and awful and messy. It’s not perfect, and it’s not meant to be it. But you are perfect every step of the way…just as you are at any given moment. You’ll make mistakes. That’s how you’ll learn and grow. Sometimes you’ll feel broken, and you’ll feel overwhelmed wondering if you’ll ever feel better. In those times remember the wise words of Morgan Harper Nichols, “…you’re not a burden, even when it feels that way. What you are going through is not too much, you are not too much.”
YOU GOT THIS.
Written by Carolyn Day