What To Do When You Don’t Know What To Do; Advocating for Suicide Prevention Month

Words by Abigail Vela

Content Warning: This article contains topics about self-harm, suicide, and mental health that may be distressing to readers. 


Note from the Editor: This article is written from personal experiences, so to protect the privacy of individuals mentioned, they are referred to by pronouns rather than their names.

A half purple and half turquoise ribbon that represents awareness for suicide prevention.

It’s a known fact that Latino men are at a higher risk of suicide in our culture. Little did I know that I would be in a position to research ways to get help for him. I called the National Crisis and Suicide Hotline and every local behavioral health center— all to make a Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C. All to make sure he stays alive. 

 

It’s a strange feeling researching all the ways to help someone while feeling so helpless yourself. My post-traumatic stress disorder has kicked in full force each day, anticipating the worst. There are days when I don’t feel like I can breathe— times when all I can do is break down or spend time researching and trying to find a solution for a problem that I’m not dealing with myself directly (but have dealt with before personally and survived).

The Suicide Prevention Resource Center reported from 2015 to 2020, “suicide rates increased [overall] for [ages 15 to 44].” In 2020, suicide was “the second leading cause of death for those ages 10 to 14 and 25 to 34, [and] the third leading cause of death for ages 15 to 24.” Data gathered in 2021 by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention states that, on average, 132 people commit suicide every day, and 48,183 people die by suicide yearly in the United States. That’s 48,183 people with hopes, dreams, family, and friends… 48,183 people with lives lost too soon…

 

I write this to help a loved one who believes his life does not matter. I write this to advocate for him and others this month (and beyond) and let them know that their lives matter; they matter so much.

: A black silhouette outlined in white of a side profile in a black hole. Within the profile is warped teal text with suicidal thoughts. The hole has dark red and dark blue scribbles representing hopelessness. The background is a mixture of deep purple and turquoise textures.
Illustration by Avi

Learning What To Do

My family and I are still struggling to ensure he gets the help he needs. He was admitted to a behavioral health center last month. He walked out, thinking that he didn’t get any help. Now it’s September, and we are back to square one, wondering what’s next. After a few rounds of therapy, we remain hopeful that he will get better.

 

The other night, I listened as he told us, “I don’t know who I am anymore. Life is not worth it. I’m scared of life.” We listened and kept reminding him, repeating the phrases, “You are worth it,” “You mean so much to us,” “Don’t give up,” and “We love you.” What he is currently going through is suicidal ideation

 

The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline outlines steps to help a loved one at risk of suicide. Various signs to determine if a loved one is contemplating suicide are if they speak about wishing to end their lives, feel hopeless and express no purpose to live, are behaving recklessly, are withdrawing and isolating themselves, and more.  

 

If your loved one is showing signs, you can take action by contacting a local lifeline center or dialing 988, using the do’s and don’ts, practicing active listening, and contacting local resources for help (listed at the bottom of the article).

Screenshot of a graphic of the do’s and don’ts that people should be aware of when speaking to a loved one at risk of suicide.
Do’s and Don’ts courtesy of 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline website.
Screenshot of active listening steps that people should do when speaking to a loved one at risk of suicide.
Steps for active listening outlined and courtesy of 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline website.

Understanding Despite Generational Differences

One thing I’ve observed from my family is that each individual will be impacted differently when they try to help one of their own who is experiencing suicidal ideation. Family members from older generations cannot fathom the thought of suicide, whereas members from younger generations tend to approach the situation with more understanding and knowledge.

 

I’ve heard the words “I come from a different generation” uttered from their lips. The older generations (Gen X, Baby Boomers, etc.) grew up during a time and culture that believed seeking therapy made you weak. They believe they should just “toughen up,” “men need to be stronger,” and “it’s in God’s hands.” I write this not to blame their responses to mental health crises but to help educate and inform people who may still believe or find themselves saying this.

 

As time has passed, so has the normalcy and advocacy for mental health education and resources. According to a study done by mental health professionals, published by Indian Journal of Psychiatry, “The idea that you can just ‘switch off’ or ‘stop over-thinking’ about your psychological state still exists within the Generation X […] The generation gap actually consists of a gap of misinformation and archaic solutions that need unlearning to understand the evolving mental health disorders of a digitally advanced world where scientific knowledge is easily accessible.”

How To Advocate For Suicide Prevention

YOU ARE NOT ALONE. YOU ARE WORTHY. YOU ARE LOVED.

A white silhouette outlined in black of a side profile in a purple hole. Within the profile is warped teal text with suicidal thoughts scratched out to reveal positive messages. The background is a mixture of deep purple and turquoise textures.
Illustration by Avi

It’s strange how all the worries in the world tend to melt away when someone you love is in danger. Nothing else really matters. We all have the capacity to focus on one individual, one life, one person. To help them in any way we can. 

 

One way we can help is by staying informed to understand the warning signs better when they present themselves and help advocate for suicide prevention on a local, national, and global level.

 

Here are a few resources to consider:

 

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