September was Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month, and I was very aware. Two years ago, I almost suicided, and that anniversary is disorienting at best and traumatic at worst. Here is my take on what it means to be “aware” of suicide.
Suicide and suicidal thoughts, ideation and attempts can affect anyone. Statistics will suggest it impacts some people more than others, but numbers don’t tell the whole story. The only numbers I want to use emphasize the overwhelming prevalence of suicide: suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States, and the second leading cause of death in American college-age students. It touches people of every background. Even those who do not have suicidal thoughts are likely acquainted with many people who do.
Suicide affects us beyond individual struggles — it’s present on a societal level in the jokes we make, the media we consume and even the way we talk.
I can’t explain how exhausting hearing a suicide joke is when you struggle with suicidal thoughts. It’s bad enough that your own brain is constantly generating suicidal thought after suicidal thought, but for someone outside your own brain to give voice — to give power — to that line of thinking is draining beyond words. I’ve made suicide jokes, too. I used to make them all the time as if that would make it easier to cope with my ever-present deluge of suicidal thoughts. But then I became aware of how tiring it was to hear my words come from other people’s mouths, and I decided to stop. Now, when my roommate says, “I’m ready for death,” I shoot back, “Death ain’t ready for you.” It’s a little silly, but it helps. It strips the language of its power, reminding me I have more life to live. I am stronger than the call of the void.
What I have spent seven long years of my life fighting, others find entertaining. Suicide becomes a plot point, a catchphrase, a storytelling tool. Books, movies, television shows, even the news make a spectacle out of suicide through romanticization or villainization. Stop watching. Suicide is a painfully intimate problem, so please respect that by seeking proper resources and education so that you can better support yourself and those around you. Consuming media that romanticizes the plight of the suicidal individual helps no one.
Take tangible steps to be a better ally. Some things will take a more conscious, persistent effort, like changing the way we talk. I know “suicided” sounds clunky, but in all seriousness, it’s less judgmental than saying “commit suicide.” “Commit” makes suicide sound like something to feel guilty over. There’s already enough pain in suicide; assigning guilt to the struggling individual is the last thing we need to do.
The last thing I ask is that you work to learn how to talk about suicide in a meaningful way. There are lots of resources out there to help you start a conversation. If you’re worried about someone, say so. Sure, it might be awkward if you ask a non-suicidal person if they’re thinking about suicide, but a little awkwardness is a fair price for the opportunity to help someone struggling with suicidal thoughts and ideation.
And if you’re suicidal, from one suicidal person to another, I say this: the thoughts will probably never go away, but where they are relentless and unchanging, you are dynamic and growing. You will get stronger. The thoughts will only ever be what they are — you have the potential to be so much more. The situation doesn’t get better necessarily, but you will. Trust me.
Authors for this piece are Junko Anderson, Allison Powers and the Active Minds E-board, a chapter of the organization at Occidental College. Active Minds is a national organization that aims to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness and promote good mental health.