By Kait Vanderlaan, LSW.
September is Suicide Prevention Month, which can mean a lot of different things for many people. For some, it’s a painful reminder of losing a loved one to suicide. For mental health professionals, it’s a time to advocate for screening and preventive services. For many people who are struggling with suicidal thoughts, September may be an opportunity to seek help; it may also be a time that is just as challenging as the previous month to know who to reach out to, and feel comfortable doing so.
Reaching out for help can be terrifying and challenging, especially when an eating disorder, depression, or other issue is constantly trying to convince you that you’re worthless and don’t deserve help. (Spoiler alert: you are NOT worthless and you DO deserve help).
If you’re feeling suicidal, it’s admirable that you’ve been fighting these thoughts for so long.
It takes tremendous strength to do so—use that same strength to reach out and ask for help. Asking for help is extremely brave, not a moment of weakness. You deserve support.
If the first support you reach out to doesn’t work out, don’t give up on support all together.
The first person or resource you ask for help may not be the best match, and that’s okay, but it doesn’t mean that all supports will be unhelpful. Similarly, the first person you date is often not the person you marry. Services are in place to work for you, it’s okay to switch therapists, talk to multiple people in your support network, and try different services to find what works best for you. There is no one size fits all type of support, everyone is unique.
Therapy can be expensive, but there are free/low-cost options.
Many places have community mental health centers that have free or reduced cost counseling available, and many therapists will work on a sliding scale to make therapy more affordable. There are also hotlines available when you are experiencing a crisis or those suicidal thoughts become unbearable. Places like Crisis Text Line and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (NSPL) are free and available 24/7 to provide support to people in crisis. To reach Crisis Text Line, text ‘NEDA’ to 741741 and a trained Crisis Counselor will respond. Want to talk on the phone? You can call NSPL at 1-800-273-8255.
Be kind, gentle, and patient with yourself. Change doesn’t happen overnight.
Mental illness often makes us say cruel and awful things to ourselves, and can make us feel that people would be better off without us. When negative self talk comes up, take a moment to pause. What would you say to a friend who was struggling? Talk to yourself the same way you would talk to someone you care about.
Speaking of friends, you don’t have to be a mental health professional to be there for someone who is struggling with suicidal thoughts.
Professional services can be an important component to making sure someone is okay, but you can be too. It’s okay not to know what to say. The most important thing is to be there for your friend or loved one, and listen without judgement. Validate that their pain is real, and remind them that you are there for them. Ask them what they need, and what would be most helpful for them. If you feel additional support is needed, don’t hesitate to encourage them to seek professional help—and offer to help them do it.
You matter, and you can get through this. Look into different supports, and take it one day at a time. There are people who care about you and want to help you get through challenging times. We all need a little extra help from time to time, and remember there is no shame in asking for help.
Kait Vanderlaan is a supervisor at Crisis Text Line, a therapist, and in recovery. She is passionate about eating disorder awareness and suicide prevention. Kait loves yoga, hiking, music, and tacos.