What Helps When You’re Suicidal - From Those Who Have Been There
Real-world advice if you're experiencing suicidal thoughts - or supporting someone who is.
by Tess McClure
15 August 2018, 11:49pm
New Zealand has the highest youth suicide rate in the OECD. This week, VICE spoke to three young women who survived suicidal ideation about their experiences, what being suicidal was like, how they managed to come out the other side, what did or didn’t help, and what strategies they’ve developed. Here, we’ve compiled their advice into this list of concrete steps and strategies, for those experiencing suicidal thoughts or supporting those who do.
Medication can be great - but it may take a while to get your mix right
“I know people are now questioning the medicalisation of depression, but for me, it was really helpful to start thinking of my depression like it was diabetes. Yes, there are lifestyle changes you can make that help manage your condition, but some people need medication too.”
“For the last seven years I have been on and off about five different medications trying to find the right one, and now I take a concoction of three different medications, and that seems to be working quite well at the moment.”
“Don't feel bad about going on medication, I am probably never going to come off mine and I am fine with that.”
Don’t be put off by false starts in therapy
“I had a false start with therapy. During this period of suicidal ideation I'm describing, I was seeing a therapist in Auckland who asked me if I was eating enough vegetables and suggested that getting a boyfriend would help me feel better. I found it condescending, reductive and expensive. … [Later] I found one who I liked the look of—he mentioned being experienced in LGBTQ issues and had a background in feminist theory. We focused a lot on family, identity and meaning in our sessions, and I found the work challenging but helpful.”
Reach out, but…
“Whenever I have a suicidal thought I tell someone, usually my husband. He understands that this doesn't express any wish of mine to die, they are just a symptom and a barometer of my mental health.”
“Get some company. When I'm in crisis it's pretty messy—uncontrollable sobbing, shaking. It's not easy to let another person see you like that. But having company keeps you safe. “
…reach out to people who are actually able to help - and try not to be discouraged if the first person you speak to isn't helpful.
“I would recommend finding at least one person you can talk to about how you're feeling who has the ability to make you feel better about it, whether that's a professional, friend or family member. I have had several people over the years who I "reached out" to and who didn't check in on me subsequently or who didn't know what to say and so said nothing, or nothing especially empathetic.”
“Learning to rely on the people who do show up for you, showing up for them in return, and deprioritising or ending relationships with people who can't give you the support you need is probably the best advice I could give anyone based on my own experience, and an important qualifier to the "just reach out!" line, I think.
Other ‘self-care’ strategies might be helpful.
“Acupuncture that has been phenomenal for my anxiety. You’ve got to get a good one, but for me, it was better than valium. I am still doing that. Massages because the main thing for me was my nervous system was in fight or flight for so long that I was totally burnt out.”
“I would say self-care is number one. I mean sleep, I mean eat, I mean exercise. Don't drink all the alcohol in the cupboard.”
“Walking does really help.”
And from the professionals - consider making a safety plan.
When you’re no longer feeling at immediate risk, make a safety plan of steps to take, people to contact, and decisions you want stuck to if you become unwell again. Having made your own plan when you’re well is also a way to maintain your autonomy when you’re ill. There’s a template here.
If you know someone who is struggling…
Don’t discuss methods [even with people you’re not aware are suicidal].
“I had been living with a close friend who was involved in investigating most of the suicides that happened in the Auckland region. At one point she mentioned one method—and I latched onto that information and stored it.”
“My mum particularly is always calling to check on me and texting me so I just know that they are there for me. And my friend group, I've got a really good strong group of women.”
The first thing is just not to freak out. I appreciate a calm, pragmatic response. When people get very emotional, even an outpouring of love and concern, I just find that exhausting—it's one more thing I have to deal with when I'm already overwhelmed.
“Just be there, show up, make sure they are eating, make sure they are sleeping, just text them and when they say “I don't want to see you”, just show up. I think that is the main one. Just show up, be there, be dependable.
“Being present is the most important thing. Just say "I'm here with you. I will be with you while you get through this."
... and keep coming through—sometimes it’s the long haul.
“It is not “oh they are sad this week, oh that's good, I went round twice” - because sometimes it's going to be months and months and months and you need to keep showing up.”
Need to talk or access professional help?
Free call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor
Lifeline – 0800 543 354 or (09) 5222 999 within Auckland
Suicide Crisis Helpline – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)
Healthline – 0800 611 116
Samaritans – 0800 726 666