Here are solutions to your problems that don’t involve suicide.
After struggling with debilitating fibromyalgia symptoms for 7 years, Cassandra Metzger almost ended her life at age 41. Grieving the loss of her mother, she felt alone — alienated from friends, family, even her own body.
“When I learned the man I planned to build a life with had married someone else and was about to become a father, it shoved me over the edge. I desperately wanted to end it all with my oxycontin stash,” says Metzger, who founded Wellspring Stones, an online oasis for people living with illness.
Such suicidal thinking is mind-numbingly common. Each year 2.5 million Americans create a plan to end their lives, while 1.1 million attempt suicide and 33,000 take their own lives, according to a 2013 commentary published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
“And those are just the reported figures,” says Afton Hassett, PsyD, associate research scientist in the Department of Anesthesiology at University of Michigan Medical School. “The phenomenon is more widespread than anyone realizes.” But if you learn to channel your feelings appropriately, you can find a way forward.”
Here, seven strategies to stop deadly thoughts in their tracks — or at least not act on them.
- Wait it out. Make a vow to wait 24 hours before doing anything drastic. Better yet, wait a week. “If this is going to be the last action you ever take, there is no reason you have to do it right now,” says Jaelline Jaffe, PhD, a licensed marriage and family therapist. Feelings come and go, and you WILL feel better again. The challenge is to stick it out until the vortex lifts, and often that requires support from friends, family, and health experts. Sometimes the solution is as simple as a medical prescription.
- Don’t go it alone. Tell friends, family members, loved ones — anyone, really — how you’re feeling. While it’s hard to voice those feelings, particularly when you’re grasping at straws to stay alive, even confiding in a perfect stranger could save your life. Call 24/7 suicide hotlines for immediate support (1-800-273-TALK or 1-800-SUICIDE), or use the Crisis Text Line via the number 741741. “Worst-case scenario, go to the nearest emergency room and say ‘I’m feeling desperate and suicidal and I need help,’” says Jaffe. No matter who you tell, though, release the shame. Your life is more important than any short-term self-consciousness.
- Ditch the drugs, alcohol, and other destructive substances. It’s natural to want to numb your pain, but addictive substances are never a solution and they usually create additional problems, explains Jaffe. More immediately, they can cloud your thinking and cause death by overdose, even unintentionally.
- Remove fatal tools. When you’re trying to get past suicidal feelings, remove your access to things you can use to hurt yourself. If you’re an addict or alcoholic, keep those substances out of your house. Prone to cutting? Lock up your knives and razors so they’re more difficult to retrieve. Own a firearm? Get rid of it, or at least lock it up (unloaded and separate from the ammunition) and give the key to a trusted friend.
- Shift your thoughts. If your default pattern is to replay your top 10 misery hits on a loop — I’m a loser, no one loves me, I’m never going to amount to anything — become aware of those thoughts, question them gently, and try to adopt an alternate view. Called “cognitive behavioral therapy,” this approach focuses on monitoring and modifying thoughts, assumptions, and beliefs and builds problem-solving skills. For Metzger, this shift in thinking created a sense of calm in the midst of chaos. “You realize you can choose how you react,” says Metzger. “Suddenly you no longer feel like a victim of circumstances beyond your control.”
- Create an emergency action plan. Develop a set of steps you can follow during a suicidal crisis, and ensure resources are easy to retrieve. Make a list of three or four trusted friends you can call in an emergency. Log suicide hotline numbers into your phone, as well as numbers of supportive people, such as a minister or psychotherapist. You might even have Uber or Lyft in your phone, so you can get a ride to the nearest emergency room, suggests Jaffe.
- Indulge in healthy distractions. Find healthy ways to minimize your pain. Spend time in nature, exercise, meditate, practice simple breathing techniques, or challenge self-defeating thoughts in a journal. The key, says Jaffe, is to do something that taps into your preferences. When you engage in things that bring you joy the need to escape may recede.
Even if you can’t see it right now, there are solutions to your problems that don’t involve suicide. Now 49, Metzger uses a wide range of strategies — including journal writing, meditation, and spending time in nature — to work through painful feelings rather than trying to flee from them.
“If you can remind yourself that light eventually follows dark, you can get through it,” says Metzger, who has adopted the mantra, “suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” “It’s easy to forget, but darkness can and does dissolve. So remember that, always."
October 08, 2015
Christopher Nystuen, MD, MBA