It is inevitable. When I turn on the news and the pundits are pontificating about the latest celebrity suicide, a light switch flips in my head. I sit up a little straighter and listen a little harder.
And then it happens. Every time. The voice in my head says: “Say something. Say something. Say something.” And then I write my response to the news report in my head.
In my mind, I am the poster child for bipolar disorder and a mental illness expert. Deep down, I know it is a delusion of grandeur or my own inflated sense of self-importance, but in that moment, I believe my take on the latest suicide is crucial information everyone needs to hear.
On most days, I discount that inner voice and say nothing, but today I offer you my less-than-expert opinion on suicide.
Here are five things you should know about suicide:
1. People who die by suicide do not wake up one morning and say, “This would be a great day to die.”
Death by suicide is not a rash decision made while drinking your morning coffee or watching the local news. Those who wrestle with mental illness and suicidal ideation are in the trenches battling for their lives day in and day out.
If a suicide is not in response to a traumatic event, the person has likely been grappling with persistent thoughts of suicide for years.
By the time suicidal ideation becomes suicide completion, the person fighting for their life is weary and feels as if they no longer have any fight left in them. They can’t see beyond the darkness and hopelessness that have invaded their mind.
2. Suicide does not feel like a choice.
We have all heard the familiar tagline: “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.”
You have heard it a million times, right? Perhaps you have said it. I have said it myself.
The statement has value. It is truthful, but to the person wallowing in the mire of unrelenting symptoms, it is overly simplistic.
Imbalanced brain chemistry lies to you, beating you down day after day, month after month, year after year. The lies repeat like a broken record until the mind internalizes them: “You are damaged. You are not worthy. Your spouse and your children would be better off without you. Your friends will leave when they find out how crazy you are. You will never…You will always…”
For many who die by suicide, they do not believe there is a choice. They feel suicide has chosen them and not the other way around.
3. Mental illness and suicide do not discriminate.
When a celebrity dies by suicide, the news media thrusts it center stage. Pundits weigh in on what might have happened. No one saw it coming because celebrities have perfect lives. Right? Wrong!
The only thing that separates a celebrity from the rest of the population is the balance in his or her bank account. A fat wallet does not dissuade mental illness and suicide. Beauty and intelligence are not diversions. A broad social circle is not a deterrent.
Mental illness and suicide do not care if you are a Christian or an atheist or if you put your faith in science. Mental illness and suicidal ideation can affect any person, at any time, and at any place. No one is exempt.
4. Most suicidal people don’t want to be dead. They just can’t figure out how to live through the next step.
A common thread runs through my own battle with suicidal ideation. When I hit a brick wall—big or small—my mind goes straight to, “I wish I were dead.” It is just the way I am wired.
As I flip through the pages of my life, it is clear that death is never my true desire. What I long for is rest, the right decision, or the next step.
I don’t want to die. I just don’t know how to live through the latest setback.
Impaired brain chemistry lies and magnifies every obstacle, making the bigger picture cloudy. It obscures the possibility of another way.
5. A person can get suicidal thoughts out of their head by verbalizing them.
There is no cookie-cutter solution to the suicide epidemic. Mental illness wins sometimes. It is a sad fact of life. But I know something that helps—getting suicidal thoughts out of your head by verbalizing them.
Suicide is not your typical coffee shop banter. It is a conversation stopper. It is polarizing. And who wants to share the dark recesses of their mind? Not me.
Do it anyway. Because the one thing I know for sure is that dark thoughts lose their power when light shines on them.
If you only learn one thing from today’s post, I hope it is that those who die by suicide don’t fit into a tidy box. There is not one type of person who is more prone to taking their own life. Mental illness is certainly a contributing factor, but under the right circumstances, anyone could die by suicide.
Suicidal thoughts cast a deadly shadow, making a person believe there is nothing outside the darkness. But when you share your dark thoughts, a light shines on that shadow and hope illuminates the dark place until it reveals a door leading to the other side.
If someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, please use the following resources to help them get professional help:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline—Available 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255 or dial 988.
Crisis Text Line—Connect with a crisis counselor by texting “START” to 741-741. Available 24/7. If someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, please use the following resources to help them get professional help.
Veterans Crisis Hotline—Call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1 to connect with caring, qualified responders with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Many of them are Veterans themselves. You can also send a text to 838255.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention provides a wealth of information about how to handle a suicidal friend or loved one. Read their blog post that outlines the ways to start a real conversation (#RealConvo) about suicide with someone in crisis. Click here to read that blog post.
Read my blog post that outlines five steps to help someone who is suicidal.
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