We all walk a very thin line in our lives—a line of normal feelings and behavior. At any moment we might fall off that line and descend into the darkness of mental illness. For people with mental illness, their families and loved ones, this concept is well known. Brain chemistry, genetics, or crises in our lives can throw us off that line and we can become seriously ill with depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or any number of other disorders.
This issue of Mental Health News looks at suicide. Suicide was seriously thought about by an estimated 8.3 million adults in the U.S. last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). For youth between the ages of 10 and 24, the CDC reports that suicide is the third leading cause of death—resulting in approximately 4,400 lives lost each year. There is no age, gender, or ethnic group that isn’t affected by suicide in a profound way.
Years ago, following college, I worked as mental health worker at an inpatient psychiatric hospital in New York. When a person was admitted into the hospital and was “suicidal,” they were automatically placed on “one-on-one” status. This meant that a member of the hospital staff had to be “within arm’s reach” of the patient at all times. Even at night when the patients were all asleep, a staff member sat in a chair in the open doorway of the suicidal patient’s room ensuring their safety throughout the night. What might seem like going to extreme measures were actually lifesaving in nature. Until the patient could be evaluated by the medical and support staff, and placed on a therapeutic regime of medication and daily activities, the safety-net that was placed around the suicidal patient allowed them to stay alive until enough time and the crisis they were in were able to pass.
Many years later, it turned out that I was the one in crisis. Through no fault of my own, I sank into the depths of a serious depression and even tried taking my own life on several occasions. I remember being so depressed and hopeless that my life lost all meaning and I believed that I was a horrible person who didn’t deserve to live. Thankfully for me I survived and eventually got the help I needed to recover. In the process I learned a great deal about mental health, recovery, and what is really important in life.
Probably the most troubling thing I learned was that anyone who is in the midst of a crisis of any nature can suddenly choose to harm themselves in some form or another—even fatally. Often there are early warning signs which must be acted upon immediately.
Knowing how dangerous an emotional crisis like depression can be for someone, I must tell you this: If you are feeling hopeless right now and are having thoughts of suicide, understand that these thoughts are your illness talking and are not your fault. They will eventually pass if you can get professional help. You need to pick up the phone and call your doctor, the National Suicide Hotline 1-800-273-TALK (8255), a close friend or relation, or 911. Tell them you are in serious trouble and for them to bring you to your doctor’s office or a hospital where you can receive the help you need. No one should be left alone while having thoughts of suicide. If you feel suicidal, be honest about it, because your life depends on it.
All things will pass in time and with the right treatment. You must never give up fighting to get better. There is a caring mental health community nearby which can help you recover. It may take many tries to find the right treatment for you, as it did for me.
* All Things Must Pass – George Harrison, 1970