Navigating Suicidal Ideation

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This article discusses what to do about suicidal ideation and being suicidal from an experienced perspective and not from a licensed clinician. If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide or needs help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 (TALK) or skip to the resources below now.

More Than Awareness

Today is more than awareness. It’s about action. We talk about PTSD a lot here at First Responder Coaching, and about suicide being a bigger killer of first responders than line-of-duty deaths. We’re working hard to raise awareness, smash the stigma, and relay resources for those in need. Today, we’re going to focus on suicidal ideation and being suicidal. This is focused for first responders but can be applied to anyone.

This article is co-authored with Keith Hanks, Director of Business Development with FRC, who has years of experience with both the Fire and EMS side of first responders and this specific topic. If you haven’t, you need to check out his YouTube channel and hear what he has to say. He’s raw, he’s real, and he pulls no punches.

First Steps

We shouldn’t wait for things to get ugly or to the point of someone thinking about suicide before we take the first steps of prevention. We need to start conversations now, right now, so that everyone is aware of what to do. Here, we will list a few things so readers have something concrete to understand, but talking is the most important step to preventing suicide. Every situation is different and every situation has a chance to be better. Building that understanding is the number one prevention method and could save lives. Let’s talk and let’s get support in place; let’s get plans in place to avoid what could be a disastrous outcome. We want to stop the spiral before it starts.

Suicidal Ideation and Being Suicidal

There is a difference between suicidal ideation and being suicidal and it’s important to know the difference.

  • Suicidal Ideation means you don’t care about existing. It’s a state of being in a dark place. This person would live in this place.
  • Being suicidal means you have a plan or are forming a plan to carry it out.

A person can live with suicidal ideation for years with or without signs. Once a person starts to be fully suicidal, the signs which at first may have been subtle are more prominent. Depending on how successful that person is at masking determines how aware those around them may be.

Signs for the Outsiders

If you notice or have concerns about someone in your life, work or home, who may have suicidal ideation or be contemplating suicidal, here’s some signs to watch for.

  • Quiet: Those who truly are in that place of crisis are quiet. Especially for men, most who are suffering will not talk about it.
  • Withdrawal: A person suffering will start to separate from people and activities, even those they once really enjoyed.
  • Behavior Change: It would be nice if the behavior change was obvious, but it’s not always. Watch for shorter conversations, texts instead of calls, short answers, or dismissive answers. 

Signs for Insiders

If you have suffered PTSD or depression or other mental health issues and start to go down that spiral to that dark place you’ll have a few telltale signs to notice.

  • Withdrawal: Are you not doing things you once enjoyed? Are you cutting off communication with certain people or all people? Have you cut ties? Do you speak up less and feel yourself starting to become (or trying to become) invisible? Essentially are you starting to remove your attachments because you’re starting to remove yourself?
  • Dark Mindset: Are you perpetuating a thought process where you don’t matter or you’re not wanted or don’t matter?
  • Behavior change: Do you act differently lately? Are you more quiet than usual? 

What To Do for Outsiders

Here’s a few things to guide you if you feel a person in your life is experiencing suicide ideation or may be suicidal now.

  • Be blunt and ask, “Are you going to hurt yourself? Are you safe?” If they are, they will stumble or they look left before answering. They’re trying to find a way to lie or they will be quiet about it as they don’t want attention.
  • Don’t get upset. That betrays the person going through this.
  • Body language is vital. Be smaller. If they’re standing, sit down. Don’t cross your arms or seem inconvenienced. Suicide is all about guilt and shame so don’t perpetuate that.
  • Be genuine and supportive. Don’t even try to help if you don’t mean it 100% because that can hurt.
  • Don’t shy away from helping out of a false sense of respect. Just because we’re first responders doesn’t mean we can’t be sectioned like everyone else. We deserve and need the same care as everyone else.
  • Realize you can’t save everyone. That’s a hard pill to swallow but it needs to be said. Do what you can and reach out, but ultimately you cannot control the actions of others.
  • Call a resource listed below for more specific help for the person you care about.

What To Do for Insiders

If you’re thinking about suicide or feeling that spiral, don’t let it go. Here’s a few things to help you get yourself the help you need. And yes, you are worthy of help!

  • Have a foundation now, not later. You need to have a village of support from the start. It’s much harder to build it once things get ugly so don’t wait to build it. Parts of that plan include:
    • I will listen when someone tells me I’m not acting myself or I’m acting differently somehow.
    • I will be honest with those who are concerned about me.
    • I will self-check and check-in when things get tough or dark.
    • I have a list of people or places to call for help when needed.
  • Self check, especially if you have depression or PTSD. Self checking is important for everyone.
    • What’s causing me to feel this way? Anger is a secondary emotion often from fear or sadness.
    • Be self-aware. What are your normal limits? Are you usually happy, quiet, etc. Are you outside of your norm?
    • Are you distancing or changing your behavior? Are you stopping or doing less of the things you enjoy? Are you talking to certain people less? If so, why?
  • Ground yourself.
  • Reach out! See below for resources or talk to someone you know for help.
    • Just like ICE in our phones, we need a list of resources, a village of support, to pull from in an emergency. If you’re feeling this way, it’s an emergency. You don’t deserve to feel this way. Let’s get you to a better place.

More Resources

If you or someone you know is suicidal or experiencing suicidal ideation, it’s never too late to ask for help. We want to prevent the situation but we can’t prevent everything. These channels are in place to stop a crisis from happening and to prevent them from getting worse. Don’t wait and don’t hesitate. You are worthy of saving. You are worth listening to. Reach out. We’re here for you.

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or…
  • 988: Starting on July 16th, 2022 call the Lifeline at 988 across the US (like 911 for suicide prevention)
  • Local PD business line: For those trying to help from out of state, call the business line to the local police station, check the website for multiple numbers as some may have limited hours but there will be a 24 hour line. Be sure you know the person’s address and any other pertinent information you need to relay.
  • 911 is always an option in any emergency as well if needed
  • Peer support systems are in place for many departments and unions so be sure you have that information. Don’t wait for a crisis. Have their number now!

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