It has been about fifteen years since I came home from work one day to find the person, I was in a relationship with, in the bedroom with a loaded gun in her hand threatening to kill herself. Thankfully, this moment did not end in tragedy, but instead, it forced her into getting the help that she needed. Looking back now, the warning signs that this might happen were blinking red, but since I had no idea what to look for, I did not realize that she was having a suicidal crisis until this happened.
I know it seems naïve now to say that the thought that she might try to end her life by suicide was not on my radar, but in reality, no one wants to think that their loved one could consider ending their own life. I knew my partner was dealing with mental health challenges, such as PTSD, depression, and anxiety, but I also knew that she was getting help. She had an excellent team of doctors; a therapist that she saw weekly and a psychiatrist she saw once a month to adjust her medication. I had a good relationship with her doctors who knew that I was her primary caregiver, so with her permission, they often shared information with me about her condition. The possibility of suicide was never a topic of our discussions.
The subject of suicide is difficult to discuss and often avoided even by mental health professionals. Tragically, according to the Centers for Disease Control’s statistics, 46,000 lives were lost to suicide in 2020. Estimates are that for each person who dies by suicide, another twenty-five people attempt. As shocking as these statistics are, there is hope that through education these statistics can be lowered.
Recently, I began working with NAMI Miami as their Suicide Prevention Initiative Coordinator. It is a program designed to raise awareness of the crisis of suicide and offer hope that suicide may be prevented. The key to prevention is first, knowing the warning signs that someone may be considering suicide. Some of the warning signs are:
- Isolating from friends and family.
- Losing interest in favorite activities.
- Giving away cherished possessions.
- Worrying about being a burden to their family.
- Expressing hopelessness.
- Talking about wanting to die.
- Losing financial security or employment.
- Stockpiling medications or acquiring a firearm.
- Increased drug or alcohol use.
The presence of any one of these signs does not necessarily mean that a person is considering suicide. However, a person exhibiting any of these signs may be experiencing a suicidal crisis and you may be a person that can help them stay alive. Getting help can begin simply through a willingness to be open to talking to a person about what they are going through and asking them if they are considering suicide. Contrary to widely held belief, asking someone about suicide will not put the idea in their head. Instead, showing someone your concern and openness to talking about suicide may be just what they need to open the door to them getting help.
One of the best resources available for someone experiencing a suicidal crisis is the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, a national suicide prevention resource. Texting or calling 988 offers a connection to mental health professionals trained to deal with people experiencing suicidal crises. The Lifeline offers confidential support, counseling, and connection to local resources that can further assist the person.
Although I am no longer in touch with her, this experience with my ex-partner changed the way that I think and talk about suicide. I realize now that any one of us can be in the position to help someone else get through a suicidal crisis. It could be a family member, friend, co-worker, neighbor, student, or any other person you might encounter that feels that their life is no longer worth living. Any steps taken to try to convince them otherwise, offering them hope in any form, and guiding them to the help they need may save their life. Take the time to learn more ways that you can carry the light of hope for someone in crisis.
Rev. Lisa LeSueur
Rev. Lisa LeSueur is the Pastor of Congregational and Staff Care at Coral Gables United Church of Christ and a member of the Board of Directors of the UCC Mental Health Network. She serves as the UCC Florida Conference WISE Mental Health Coordinator and the Suicide Prevention Initiative Coordinator for Nami Miami. She lives in Coral Gables, Florida with her wife and their two children.