Thirty years ago, the atmosphere surrounding mental health and suicide was very different than it is today, especially in some areas. Even today, where you live could affect the information, help, and reactions you receive. Since that time, I’ve learned a better way to respond when a loved one struggles.
If someone you care about changes in some way, something may be wrong. The difficulties go beyond available support. According to statistics, most people who ultimately end their lives are dealing with a mental illness or behavior disorder — whether they realize it or not — though this is not always true. Excessive stress or a combination of things can be factors that also might lead to thoughts of suicide.
Signs? Sometimes there are none. Sometimes changes in personality are complicated by attempts to self-medicate with substances like alcohol or drugs or excessive behaviors such as spending money wildly or doing something uncharacteristic such as making sudden major decisions about lifestyle or beliefs. These are just a few examples. Sometimes you may have only a vague feeling a problem exists; not everyone displays telltale behavior changes. To complicate matters, not all changes like this are serious, especially in the volatile teen years, though young people and children can become mentally ill.
If you think there might be a problem or if you feel you need help yourself, here is what I want you to know.
- Mental health is a spectrum that affects us all. We can fall on various points of the spectrum at different times in our lives, and stress does affect our mental health. Appropriate care is important just as it is for the rest of your body.
- There is no shame in seeking help for mental health or behavioral issues. If others disagree, they are either inexperienced or ill-informed. Be patient and either share what you learn with them or minimize contact if it hinders your well-being or that of your loved one.
- Millions of people live successful and productive lives while dealing with mental issues. Throughout human history, this includes some of the most creative, intelligent, and kind individuals. You can do this.
- There is always hope for improvement. Learning about your condition and following through with mental health professionals takes time, but if you feel you do not have a good match, seek help elsewhere. Staying with it is worth the effort. Today, there are many tools that can help.
- It’s okay to ask questions, and it’s okay to have boundaries that you ask others to respect.
- Support of all kinds can help. Family and friends, as well as professionals such as counselors and nutritionists, peers taking care of their own mental health, and support groups can be part of your wellness team.
- If you have co-occurring problems, these need to be addressed, too. Alcohol Anonymous (AA) meetings are offered virtually now as well as locally, and confidentiality is respected. Other groups operate in similar ways. Ask your doctor for guidance if you need help with withdrawing from drugs or alcohol. Counselors can help you work through relationship or family issues.
- The stress of life and of dealing with mental illnesses, behavioral disorders, and substance abuse or familial problems may seem overwhelming sometimes, but there are coping strategies and options for medications you can use. If thoughts of suicide seem like a way to escape, know that these are only thoughts, not truths. They are temporary. Yet, they are serious and can become consuming. Knowing these are lies and having resources, plans for coping, and a suicide crisis line handy is your best line of defense.
- Suicide leaves behind deep pain and destruction. The lives of loved ones and friends are changed forever, and the struggle to survive is difficult.
- If you love someone who is suicidal, don’t leave. Call for help. Be patient. Reassure him or her that your love is unconditional, that he or she can survive this, that things will get better. Repeat some of the information on this list to provide light in a dark place or sit quietly and listen to share your strength. Remind your loved one these feelings will pass.
- Also actively take care of your own mental health. Be in this together with those you love. Educate yourself. Ask doctors or counselors how you can help, even if it is just by sending them a letter that could shed light on the situation.
- Be courageous. Seek support, and involve yourself in appropriate groups like Al-Anon or Narc-Anon.
- Encourage your loved one by offering to take a walk outside with him or take on some of her chores.
- The future is unwritten. Whatever the problems are, they are not insurmountable though they certainly may feel that way.
McDaniel, J. (2020). What I Wish I Had Said about Mental Health and Suicide. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 25, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/what-i-wish-i-had-said-about-mental-health-and-suicide/