“Sometimes Even to Live is An Act of Courage.”- Time to Talk About Suicide

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The quote above is from the philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca.

Most of the patients I encounter on any given workday come in with suicidal thoughts. Yet, no matter how many times I hear that as a reason for the visit, it affects me. It affects because of the totality of taking ones life. It affects me because I can see how that could be a person’s resolve. It affects me because people I’ve cared about have expressed suicidal thoughts to me and I know people that have taken their own lives. Just like the patients in the emergency room, the people I know didn’t show all the signs, or belong to a specific demographic, or any of the above. Their thoughts and actions didn’t just happen, but they nevertheless suffered silently without anyone knowing. I will throw out a lot in this post, but I hope that by the end of it, someone will get the help they need to survive or someone will be able to help another person in crisis.


The statistics around suicide are nothing less than alarming. The last statistics were for the year 2020. COVID-19 likely highly distorted these numbers, so I would be intrigued to see what the numbers for 2021 look like. Regardless, the numbers are still alarming:

45,979 Americans died by suicide in 2020.

Suicide is the 12th leading cause of death amongst all Americans.

Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death amongst ages 10-14 and 25-34; second to unintentional injuries.

1 person is estimated to die from suicide every 11 minutes.

What exactly are suicidal thoughts?

Someone read the heading and answered, “Duh Claudine… suicidal thoughts are thoughts about a person killing themself. ” That person would be partially correct, but not completely correct because suicidal thoughts occur on a spectrum. The different types of thoughts include passive suicidal thoughts, suicidal thoughts, suicidal thoughts with a plan, and suicidal thoughts with plan and intent. Passive thoughts are thoughts about wanting to die. These aren’t suicidal in the sense that the person is thinking about committing suicide, but sometimes the thoughts of death can become so intense that the line becomes blurred. Suicidal thoughts are thoughts that a person wants to kill themself. Suicidal thoughts with a plan are thoughts where a person has thoughts of ways to kill themself. Moreover, suicidal thoughts with plan and intent occur when a person has decided that they want to kill themself or have a set plan to kill themself. Most people have passive thoughts. I need to briefly mention that thoughts about a person wanting to harm themselves ( cutting, burning, hitting)  are not necessarily suicidal. However, I believe those thoughts signal towards a higher risk for suicide than the general public.

Getting Help

I listed some statistics above, but the most interesting statistics to me are that 12.2 million people seriously thought about suicide, 3.2 million people made a plan, and 1.2 million people attempted suicide. These stats emphasize the importance of getting help. In my mind, we can make all of those numbers lower and the difference between those numbers higher if people know where to get help and how to help others. I believe that any form of suicidal thought is a sign that a person should seek help. As I mentioned in a prior post, When to Seek Help, there are 2 main places where people get help initially. Those two places are the emergency room and their primary care provider’s office. If you have thoughts of hurting yourself or others or if your quality of life has decreased because of a mental health issue, go to the emergency department. If your condition is less urgent, tell your primary care doctor. They can start treatment for some conditions and refer to a specialist for the others. Aside from professional help, it’s good to seek out support from loved ones and community supports like churches. If you already have a therapist or psychiatrist, ask them to make a safety plan with you. These plans are helpful to have when in a crisis

Helping Others

Something that I don’t think we talk about enough is the toll helping others can take on us. For some reason, we have the inclination to take on another person’s troubles or blame ourselves for their conditions.  Caregivers and those helping others have to take care of themselves as well. The first step is letting go of those thoughts of responsibility. The best next step might be seeking help yourself. There’s no shame in seeking out your own treatment or joining a support group. We often say, “Hurt people, hurt people,” but I want to put a spin on that. “Helped people, help people.”

Links to Resources

NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness)

CDC ( Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Suicide Prevention Lifeline

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