Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States. Recent statistics state that one person dies of suicide every 40 seconds. And while you can find tons of articles pointing to signs that someone is suicidal, the truth is that you don’t always know. Dr. Michael Miller, associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical says, “Many people who commit suicide do so without letting on they are thinking about it or planning it.”
It’s heartbreaking to admit, but it’s a lot easier to recognize the signs after the fact. And there can be a lot of triggers:
- Episodes of depression or anxiety
- Loss of a partner or a job
- Personal crisis
- Lack of social support
It’s not as easy to point out a suicidal person as we might think. In fact, Dr. Miller goes on to say, “Many people never let on what they are feeling or planning. The paradox is that the people who are most intent on committing suicide know that they have to keep their plans to themselves if they are to carry out the act. Thus, the people most in need of help may be the toughest to save.”
Here are five reasons suicidal people might not seek help or speak up:
1. They’re afraid of the stigma
Suicidal thoughts tend to come in waves. The person who’s considering suicide often doesn’t realize that it’s become a legitimate problem until it’s too late. It might be appropriate to tell someone they’ve been fantasizing about killing themselves, but they’re often not sure they’d ever follow through. In the meantime, they’re well aware of the public shame around the topic, and they’re afraid of people close to them distrusting, stereotyping, or avoiding them.
2. They don’t want to hurt the people closest to them
The people who would be most helpful to a person struggling with suicidal ideation are the people that would be most hurt by it. Someone trapped in a mental cycle of self-harm just wants the fear, pain, hopelessness, or anxiety to stop. They’re usually not trying to get back at anybody, and they’ll often keep it to themselves because they don’t want people around them to take it personally.
3. They don’t want to be accused of attention seeking
Contrary to popular belief, most people considering suicide aren’t trying to get in the limelight. Too often, the first couple attempts by someone get written off as obvious attempts at seeking attention. It would seem that doing considerable harm or succeeding is the only way to convince others you’re serious—and that’s completely unacceptable. A lot of people who desperately need help don’t ask for it because they’re afraid no one will take them seriously anyway.
4. They don’t want to be a burden
If someone is depressed or anxious, they already feel like a disappointment and dead weight for the people around them. This feeling of being too much work or requiring too much attention is the catalyst driving them to contemplate such a drastic solution. To come out and tell people that they have these thoughts only compounds the problem they want to solve. They’re afraid that vocalizing the problem would only place the burden on everyone else—and being a burden is what they desperately want to avoid.
5. They’re ashamed
People who struggle with suicidal thoughts often carry the same views and opinions as everyone else. They see suicide as weak, pathetic, and cowardly. They’ve seen the damage it does, and they hate it. Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop it from considering it—and that cognitive dissonance is severe. The shame associated with suicide is just as real for the people struggling with it as it is for everyone else.
Be aware of the signs
Knowing the signs is essential, but it’s not always enough. If you have someone in your life dealing with one or more of the triggers associated with suicide, pay attention to them. Go on the offensive. Let them know they’re loved. If it seems appropriate, talk to them about suicide. It’s okay to ask them whether you should be worried, but know you can’t always take a “no” at face value.
Here are the overt signs to pay attention to:
- Suicidal talk or pre-occupation
- Discussions about hopelessness, helplessness, or feeling trapped
- Feelings of worthlessness, shame, or self-loathing
- Getting affairs in order or discussions that feel odd or conclusive, like goodbyes that feel final
If you’re reading this and know you need to seek help, I’d encourage you to talk to someone. If that doesn’t seem feasible, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.