SUICIDE – the scary word that seems to be hard, awkward, and taboo to talk about but why? Why are people scared to bring up suicide and why are others scared to have it brought up to them? Is it because talking about it makes it seem more real? Or is it because we are genuinely afraid that talking about it will increase somebody’s chance of dying by suicide? Regardless of the reason, we don’t talk about it when the reality is, we need to! Suicide is not and should never be a subject to shy away from.
I often think what society would be like if we discussed suicide openly. Sometimes I reflect on my younger days and ask myself: What would have happened if I was able to open up about my suicidal feelings earlier? What if instead of suicide being taboo, suicide was openly discussed – where would I be now? What if, instead of being terrified to confide in somebody, I was repeatedly met with open arms and ears? What if I didn’t even need to bring it up to somebody- what if somebody asked me how I was doing and if I was feeling suicidal? What if suicide was a part of our daily conversations?
Let’s take a moment to think about what those struggling with suicidal thoughts may need: A hug? A place to lie their head? Somebody to listen? Somebody to believe them? Somebody who will take the time and be there? People who are thinking of suicide are not looking for you to solve all of their problems; they want somebody to hear them out and believe them—somebody who is open to listening, caring, and not being judgmental.
Now, let’s think about what people who are having suicidal thoughts maybe don’t need: Somebody ignoring them? Downplaying their feelings? Somebody timid to discuss because they may think it will increase the risk of dying suicide (a myth, by the way..)? Somebody thinking it is an act of seeking attention? Somebody changing the subject because they find suicide too uncomfortable to talk about?
What if instead of trying to avoid discussing suicide – we went all in. We asked the person what they needed. We were supportive and assisted in finding further support. What if we were always ready to listen to or hold the person. What if we all realized, that talking openly about suicide does not increase somebody’s risk of dying from suicide. What if we realized that having conversations about suicide may relieve somebody’s pain, validate their overwhelming feelings and prove they are not battling their pain alone? There’s a strong power in that.
When I reflect back, I always wish I had ONE person to truly listen and hear me out, without judgment or disbelief. Somebody who realized I was not reaching out for help for attention, I was reaching out because I needed support and somebody to be there, listen and believe these awful feelings I was having. I needed somebody to validate my feelings and be a rock when everything seemed to be going wrong. What if you were that person for somebody else?
I understand that suicide will not magically be a causal conversation had today, tomorrow, or next week for everybody, but with time, openness and empathy, suicide can be a normal, everyday conversation. And that starts with all of us. It’s going to take time, effort, commitment, non-judgemental spaces, but it can happen. Think back to what was a taboo conversation, five or ten years ago: Sex? Sexuality? Racism? Politics? Global warming? As we start talking openly about other areas of the world and our lives – let’s add suicide to the list!
After all, is it really a “tough” conversation worth having if it saves a life?