February 4, 2022
The recent tragic news of former Miss USA Cheslie Kryst’s death by suicide reminds us suicide doesn’t discriminate. People of any age, gender, race, religion, socioeconomic status, ability, or success are susceptible to suicidal thoughts. We can never truly know what someone else is going through.
Suicidal thoughts are complex, but the two most common feelings a person struggling with suicidal thoughts feels is helpless and hopeless. The specifics vary from person to person. It could be because of money problems, abuse, long-term physical illness or pain, negative self-talk, isolation, end of a relationship, or constantly feeling the weight of the world.
Jeremy Richardson, LPC, a colleague here at The Northwest Catholic Counseling Center, recently told me about the importance of a verbal “yes” agreement in working with someone experiencing suicidal thoughts. We in the counseling world utilize this tool with a client as an agreement that “Yes” they will ask for help or support, “Yes” they will show up to their next appointment, “Yes” they will follow their safety plan, or whatever else that “Yes” needs to validate.
But counselors aren’t the only ones who can use this tool. You can also use it with family, friends, peers, neighbors, or whomever. For instance, say you work with a colleague who lately seems different: withdrawn, down/depressed, upset, not caring about their appearance, or life in general. Take a moment to stop and check in. Perhaps you are leaving after a long work shift on Friday and you say to this colleague, “Have a good weekend! See you Monday, right?” If their reply is anything other than “Yes,” such as “Yeah, maybe,” “Yeah, probably,” “Perhaps,” follow up by asking how they are doing and ask for a more definitive yes.
People often think if we talk about suicide with someone, we will “plant the seed” in their head. But that’s not true. In all honesty, the more we talk about suicide, the more we are able to help prevent it! Author Kevin Briggs says, “Suicide is not a ripple effect, but a tsunami. We all have a part to play in suicide prevention to keep these tragedies from occurring.” When you ask someone who is struggling out of genuine care and concern, you create an emotional bond and an opportunity to be connected. The National Alliance on Mental Health explains how to both ask and listen here.
So let’s start checking in on the people in our lives. Take a moment and ask how they are doing. And, more importantly, truly listen! Trust your gut instincts if you hear anything about shame, guilt, or hopelessness and reach out for help.
– Marchelle Carl, MA