Experts suggest that suicide rates in the UK will rise because of COVID-19. With an increase in the number of calls to suicide hotlines and police noting an increase in the early signs of suicide and suicide attempts, we are in danger of losing more vulnerable people to suicide in our community. Most recently, our Manchester community lost a shining light in 17-year old singer/songwriter, Beth Palmer. We are encouraging our followers to consider giving towards the Remember Beth Justgiving page. To read more of Beth’s story, please read here.
“It’s okay not to feel okay.”
“Feelings are not facts.”
“This too shall pass.”
You might have seen a lot of these quotes on social media in the last month. They are helpful phrases used to encourage us when we are low, and most of the time they might give that little boost that we need to go on with the day.
But what about when they don’t?
What about when the feelings are so strong, they feel like facts? When it seems like there are a million years inside a minute? What about when the not feeling okay is so powerful, so overwhelming, that it can never be okay?
What can you do when the pain of living is so intense that you would do anything to stop it?
There is no magic cure for suicidal feelings. All I can give you today are the lessons I have learned from my darkest times, and the lessons others have gifted me when I was struggling the most.
Here are some things you can consider when you are worried you might be suicidal:
Wanting the pain to stop is a sign you want to live and live well.
Suicide is often not about wanting to die. At least, not actively. Overwhelmingly, the language used by people who we would define as “suicidal” is concerned with ending pain. People assume that the pain I’m speaking about is mental anguish, and of course, it is, but what people often don’t realise is that feeling suicidal often physically feels painful. When our mind is in total turmoil, our bodies often reflect that, and the stress of the body can make living seem untenable.
However, there is a glimmer of hope in this.
If you are overwhelmed with how you are feeling, if you wish you could do something, anything, to make it stop, you are essentially voicing your own worth. You are saying “It’s not right for me to live like this, I can’t do it, and I won’t do it anymore.”
You are correct in this. It is not right for you to continue to live in such pain, but there can be relief from this pain without death. There is a difference between desiring death and wanting to not exist or feeling unable to live in your current situation. So take steps to acknowledge the truth of your feelings:
- Do you feel so overwhelmed you don’t want to keep living like this?
- Do you actively want to die?
- Would you like to live if you could live completely differently, with different feelings about behaviours?
Sometimes we need to recognise the way that we are existing now is not right and needs to change – but it is also vital to recognise that what we want most is a different life, not death, and a different life can be found. How?
Make small choices for a big difference.
A large part of the cycle of depression and anguish that can lead a person to feel like they might want to end their life is the belief that life will not change for them.
If a person finds themselves in repetitive thought spirals, repetitive behaviour patterns and repetitive interactions with others then that can reinforce the idea that nothing in life can really be different. This reinforces the concept of never-ending suffering. It can also make us feel lethargic and let down.
After all, if you are convinced that life will never get any better, then why try anything different? What would the point be? This can come off sounding lazy, but it isn’t. It’s the mind’s last refuge of self-defence from further hurt; protecting yourself against the dangers that change can bring and the possibility that seeking change might make things worse rather than taking a risk on the hope it will make things better.
This is a cycle that can be broken by a small choice: Choose to reach out to someone.
Choose to be honest. Choose to send that text saying: “I’m having a low day and I think I’m in trouble.”
The different life doesn’t come just from changing our circumstances or from outside forces, it also comes from making the small choice to risk on hope. So even when you are exhausted, in pain, struggling and worried, stretch out for the small choice. There are so many things we can’t change about our lives right now: we can’t change the virus, we can’t change the procedures, we can’t change our locations even, but we can change our choices. So choose. Tell someone.
Don’t play chicken with your emotions and your loved ones.
This has been the hardest lesson I have had to learn over the years – don’t play chicken with your feelings when it comes to friends and family. When I was really struggling with my mental health in my 20’s and hadn’t really worked out my support system yet, I used to lie on my bed, feeling the lowest I had ever felt, and stare at my phone, willing someone I loved to text or ring. The thoughts in my head went like this:
“I feel terrible. I need to tell someone, why don’t I tell someone? Why hasn’t anyone called to check? Why is it my job to tell them that I’m struggling, shouldn’t they just know, shouldn’t they just ask? If they really loved me and cared about me, surely they would check in every day. If they call then I’ll tell them but I’m not going to be the one to call first. I’m not going to break first, they should call me.”
When I look back at it now, I can so clearly see that what is behind all of those thoughts is stigma and pride. I was sure that by showing my vulnerability to others by asking for help, I would somehow be in their debt or reveal myself to be needy, or weak in their eyes.
What I see now was that I was hiding behind this idea of “strong and silent suffering,” not realising that this is just an extension of a harmful stigma from the 19th Century. Nowadays, I know better. When the darkness surrounds me I have a few folks on speed dial, and I know not to make myself guilty for asking them for help. Instead, I see it as proof that I really trust and love them with every part of me.
Make a plan with friends and loved ones.
“But I don’t want to burden them!” You say. “I love them too much!”
I used to say the same, whilst secretly building resentment when people didn’t automatically insist on being burdened. What I realise now is that I wasn’t really giving my friends a fair chance. I was judging them on their lack of response when I hadn’t actually given them an opportunity to respond by being honest about how I was feeling.
What changed this thought pattern for me was considering this: “If I had a friend who thought they were suicidal, would I want them to tell me?” Of course, I would! “Would I want them to tell me what they needed from me?” Hell, yes! So I started to make plans with friends.
They don’t have to be formal plans, they could just be a mutual understanding that when you text a certain word or phrase, you need a check-in.
Or, you could be more explicit.
In the past, I have had a friend text me every day to do a mental health check-in. I have developed code words with friends for when I am overwhelmed in a public space and need help. I have had a friend or partner remove all the razors from the bathroom before I showered.
The reality is, that in these difficult times when health resources are stretched and difficult to get access to, we do need to be creative in how we protect our mental health and the mental health of those around us. That will probably include having more people involved or being more involved in the health of others than we may have expected. Of all the consequences of lockdown, this may not be a bad one. As a nation, we have become too comfortable with leaving the mental health chat to the professionals, but if lockdown has taught us anything it is that life is to be lived in the community, especially the hard parts of it.
Don’t minimize feelings to deny yourself formal help.
“It’s not that bad,” we say. “It’s not nearly as bad as some people. I don’t need to call a hotline/my doctor/a friend.”
So often, people are deterred from seeking professional assistance because they don’t believe they “count.” They imagine that somewhere there is a quantitative value of what a “suicidal person” is and that somehow, they don’t fit.
The truth is that everyone fits.
Everyone on the planet may, at some point in their life, find themselves feeling like they can’t carry on living. They are all deserving of help however they got there, whether their circumstances are typically “tragic” or not.
So call a helpline. Call your GP. Call a counselling service. Ask a doctor friend for a recommendation.
They are not going to turn you away, and if, by some freak of horrible circumstances, they do, then know this: They are wrong to do so. You deserve appropriate mental health care.
One of the concerns about COVID-19’s impact on mental health and wellbeing is the concern that people will hesitate from reaching out for formal mental health care because they are concerned about diverting services from the more “needy.” This is totally understandable, and we’ve all been encouraged to take some pressure off the health services, but let’s be totally clear – they are not talking about people who think they might be suicidal.
Your health concern is not minimal or minor just because it’s mostly happening in your brain. It is major, and important and deserves treatment. Don’t deny yourself what you need to survive.
This is a really hard time we are going through right now, but just because everyone is struggling doesn’t mean that your struggle is somehow unimportant.
Just because everyone’s mental health is under strain due to lockdown, doesn’t mean you are somehow “failing lockdown” by feeling the way you feel. If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, if you feel like you are fighting for your life but don’t know why you should keep going if you are overwhelmed and thinking about ways you might make the pain stop, then please, make a small change, take a small step and start a conversation about it.
We are all busy taking steps to protect our NHS and protect each other but that also includes your mental health too. We have lost so many wonderful people at this time already. We don’t want to lose you too.
If you think you might be suicidal but you’re not sure, please consider reading this page on MIND and reaching out for help.
Feeling overwhelmed but don’t know who to talk to? Text SHOUT to 85258
For a comprehensive list of UK suicide/mental health hotlines, check out this site page.
About the Author: Emma Hinds
Emma is a writer living and working in Manchester. She is a mental health advocate and has been blogging about mental health for the last ten years. Emma has a history of eating disorders and is currently living with a diagnosis of OCD and chronic depression. She has been working specifically with young people struggling with their mental health for the last four years and is now supporting the Lily Jo Project’s On Track follow up schools programs. You can see Emma’s work and follow her mental health blog here. You can also follow her on socials here: twitter@EmmaLouisePH and instagram@elphreads.