In the wise words of Douglas Adams in the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, DON’T PANIC! This is not a cry for help or red flag. All is well 🙂
I also need to say I am not a mental health professional, what I talk about below is my own personal experience. Everyone is different, everyone has different thought patterns and ways of dealing with mental health problems. Please be mindful of that if you are the one struggling and respect that if you need to support someone. I’ve linked a few resources at the bottom that might be useful but a quick google will find many more.
An article came up on my news feed recently from the International Association of Pre-menstrual Disorders (IAPMD). It was about suicide. A word able to panic, scare and alarm much of society if brought up in conversation. The stigma surrounding suicide often creates a failure to acknowledge its existence, prevents people feeling able to acknowledge its pathway and talk about it openly. Yet, it’s a subject that needs to be talked about.
It’s on the rise. Male suicide increased 14% between 2017 and 2018. In women the rates of suicide are lower but there have been links made between pre-menstrual disorders and suicide risk at specific times in a woman’s cycle, hence the link that prompted this post. According to MIND, the mental health charity, suicidal thoughts or ideation is something that many people will experience at some point in their lives.
As we continue through the current pandemic and subsequent life changes that many may experience, there are concerns amongst health professionals that suicide rates may increase further.
I’ve experienced suicidal thoughts periodically since my 20’s. They always come in times of stress and through periods of depression. They’ve risen their head again as my PMDD symptoms have become more acute during the last few months of the Covid 19 pandemic. I have never, ever felt like I would go through with anything but, regardless of that to me those thoughts of ending my life are at times scary. Sinful, wrong. Why think of dying when I have so much to live for, when it would cause so much pain and unhappiness to so many if I were no longer here.
For me it’s a sign of desperation. A sign that I’m overwhelmed and struggling to cope. Sometimes the thoughts are fleeting, lasting only a few minutes or hours. Other times they can recur for days. Sometimes they’re not scary, almost a comfort blanket that I have a way out. Time and again though I always know there is a way out and that I won’t go through with any of those thoughts that have whirred through my head. The safety net of knowing the harm it would do to my children, family and friends is enough for them to remain as just thoughts and nothing more.
These thoughts however are also a trigger for me to look for help and assess what’s happening in my life at that moment. Whether that be bending the ear of a friend to talk it through with (I’m incredibly lucky to have a couple of friends who I know won’t freak out on me), seeking out professional support or making some lifestyle changes.
The fact I have these thoughts doesn’t mean I’m at imminent risk of committing suicide and need to be put on some kind of watch list. They are the early stages of a pathway which I first read about in that IAPMD article I referred to above and is linked here IAPMD – suicide risk . Whilst the article is geared towards pre-menstrual syndromes, the steps it talks about are universal. It was also an eye opener to me about how careful I need to be with these thoughts. To acknowledge them and recognise if they’re getting beyond a dangerous point and putting me into risky territory.
What I’m trying to say is that if someone, a friend, a family member, a colleague says they’ve been having suicidal thoughts, please try not to panic. I understand talk about death can be distressing but in this instance that conversation may be a positive sign that a person is acknowledging a problem and is looking for help…………the first step on the road to recovery from poor mental health. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to have to pry their fingers off the nearest high bridge or hide all the knives. You don’t have to be their counsellor or feel responsible for them but listening and supporting, just being there and acknowledging those thoughts with no judgement or rebuttal or dismissal is the best thing you can do. Encourage them to find professional support too.
If you’re having these thoughts and don’t know where to turn please consider finding someone to talk to. Your GP, a self-referral to a local mental health service, a trusted friend. If those thoughts worry you or you think you might act on them, get help.
Just acknowledging the existence of these thoughts to someone else has helped me immensely. It takes away some of the guilt I feel when such thoughts appear. No details need to be said to friends, just a nod to say they’re back and I can feel them give me a bit of space, an extra hug, knowing I’m OK but just need a bit more TLC for a bit.
What I do absolutely want to say is that don’t be ashamed to talk about these thoughts, they’re more common than you think. If talking will help you, find someone you can talk to. Whilst it might seem a scary thing to discuss, opening up to the right person can make a world of difference.