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Compassion Recovery Centers and Joint Commission

Suicidal Ideation: How to Help Yourself and Others

a young woman having suicidal thoughts

If you or a loved one is struggling with thoughts of suicide, you’re not alone. In fact, an estimated 10.5 million adults or 4.3% of the total U.S. population, experience suicidal thoughts every year. A further 3.4 million take these thoughts so far as to plan suicide. Today, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death for adults over the age of 18, with 45,800+ people dying by suicide every year. While many of us experience struggles with thoughts of suicide or not wanting to live, many of us don’t ever get help.

At Compassion Recovery, we understand that thoughts of suicide and depression are caused by diverse factors. You might be struggling with thoughts of suicide because of depression, anxiety, a mood disorder, trauma, substance abuse, feelings of worthlessness, feelings of hopelessness, or any other combination. You may not believe you should follow through on those thoughts and they may even be incredibly intrusive. For that reason, we try to help by offering a personalized approach to counseling and therapy, uncovering the underlying causes, and helping you to create coping mechanisms, to reduce the problems causing thoughts of suicide, and to help you actively improve your life.

If you want to help yourself or others, you can start out with these simple steps.

Talk and Listen Without Judgement

Being able to talk and share about how you feel is instrumental in feeling like you can ask for help, in feeling understood, and feeling like you belong. For many people, difficulty connecting to others, whether because of a mental health disorder, different experiences, bullying, or even a disorder such as autism, can create a huge decrease in quality of life. Rather than getting to enjoy things, you feel outcast and separate, which can lead to suicidal ideation. While there are dozens of other causes for thoughts of suicide, being able to sit down and talk and share in a meaningful way can be important for all of them.

Here, it’s important to practice non-judgement. Hearing people say that they are thinking about killing themselves can result in shock and hurt. That’s especially true if your parent or child is telling you they’re thinking about killing themselves. Or if your partner is. Trying to listen and understand that these thoughts are not necessarily what the person wants but rather an expression of poor mental health and that it can be helped and treated is important.

  • Be supportive. Listen without sharing your own story or relating until the other person is done talking.
  • Don’t judge. If you’re concerned about what others will think, if you have moral concerns, or if you think suicide is bad, try to keep it to yourself. Adding those opinions won’t do anything but reduce trust in you, which will reduce their ability to ask you for help.
  • Be there. Being available to pick up the phone, to come over, or to have someone come over and spend time with you when they are feeling down can make a huge difference. Being able to get support when you need it, even if that support is just someone else in the room with you, is massively impactful.
two men with good habits biking

Establish Good Habits

People feel bad when they don’t exercise, eat right, get enough sleep, or drink enough water. While none of these habits will cure your mental health, they will help you to improve it. That can be especially difficult or challenging if you’re also struggling with depression or a disorder that impacts your executive function. However, doing your best, consistently putting effort into good habits, and trying even if you don’t always succeed will help you to improve your mental health.

  • Go to bed and get up at about the same time most days of the week. You can make exceptions for weekends or holidays, but 8/10 days should be at about the same time. If you have trouble getting to bed on time, try adjusting your schedule so you have downtime without screens before bed, start exercising in the middle of the day, and decrease the size of dinner so that you have less energy at bedtime.
  • Try to eat healthy meals, following the guidelines of meal apps such as MyPlate.gov or similar. That means eating about 80% healthy food, avoiding large quantities of sugar and caffeine, and ensuring that you eat a diverse range of fruits and vegetables.
  • Drink enough water. You don’t need a flat two liters a day but if you’re dehydrated, you’re going to feel tired and lethargic. That can greatly impact your mental health.
  • Exercise 30-60 minutes per day. Investing in light walking and other exercise can boost your mood by improving oxygen levels in the body, boosting endorphin production, and triggering the reward circuit to help you feel better. Eventually, exercise also helps you to improve how you feel, improve your confidence, and improve your mobility. All of those things will actively improve your quality of life.
  • Invest in your social life. While hanging out with your friends or family might not sound like the most medically important thing you can do, it can be. Social support, having fun with people, and enjoying company can be greatly beneficial for your mental health. In addition, it can motivate you to ask for help, can give you motivation to ignore suicidal ideation, and can otherwise help you to feel happy and fulfilled.

In every case, it’s important to invest in enjoying your life. That means continuing to do hobbies, to see friends, and to make good choices for yourself even when you’re feeling down. If you can’t do that or your mental health gets in the way, it’s time to ask for help.

Get Professional Help

It’s normal to experience suicidal ideation and thoughts of suicide or depression. However, that doesn’t mean you have to live with it. In many cases, suicidal thoughts are a side effect of another disorder, of underlying trauma, of self-esteem issues, etc. If you can work with a therapist to understand those issues and to treat them, you can remove the cause of suicidal thoughts.

Unfortunately, suicidal ideation isn’t always treatable. Some people will continue to think of suicide even if they don’t want to kill themselves. In other cases, depression can be chronic. However, even if suicidal ideation is a chronic condition, you can get treatment and therapy to help you learn to mitigate the symptoms so you can improve quality of life.

If you or a loved one is struggling, it’s important to be there for them and to ask for help. At the same time, you also likely want help from a professional who can give you insight into problems, causes, and steps you can take to improve how you feel for the long-term.

If you or you loved one need help with mental health treatmentdrug rehab, or alcohol rehab Compassion Recovery Center is here to help. Contact us to ask about our mental health programs and how we can support your specific requirements as you move into treatment. Our team of clinicians can work with you through diagnosis, customizing treatment to meet your needs, and through behavioral therapy to help you cope with and minimize symptoms and side-effects of your disorder.

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