I was sitting in a classroom, taking a Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) course, when I heard something that made everything around me stop: “Contrary to popular belief, talking about suicide doesn’t encourage or lead someone to take action; rather, it reduces the risk.”
This lifesaving statement shifted both my perspective and way of approaching mental health challenges within myself and with others. I learned it in January 2019, when I took the first step in my mental health education journey by becoming a certified Mental Health First Aider.
I took the MHFA course after I lost a friend to suicide in 2018. I had also been dealing with suicidal thoughts of my own, and I was terrified to share this information with anyone. My experiences, in addition to my friend’s death, prompted me to seek information about mental health and suicide awareness. My friend and I both displayed warning signs of suicide, yet neither of us said a word about it, and no one approached me asking if I was okay or if I was thinking about suicide.
Talking about suicide was taboo to me. No one around me spoke about it, and I definitely wasn’t going to mention it myself. Not only would it have felt weird for me to talk about it, but I was afraid it would have made it more real, and that I would be more susceptible to taking my life.
In addition to learning that talking about suicide actually reduces the risk of taking action, the course taught me how to say to someone, “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” The words were so foreign to me, I could barely articulate them. They burned inside my chest and came out in a whisper.
Kickstarted by the events in my life, and paired with my new mental health education skills, I became an advocate and personal storyteller for mental health and suicide awareness. This includes becoming a volunteer crisis counselor with Crisis Text Line and combining my career and passions by working for MHFA at the National Council for Mental Wellbeing.
Last week, I was able to ask the question directly to a loved one who was experiencing a mental health challenge. After some silence, he shared his thoughts with me. Days later, he asked me if I had ever thought about killing myself. I was able to share my story and how I navigated through it. And by talking out loud about this shared experience, we made a powerful connection.
In closing, I want to share a few things to keep in mind:
We need more advocates in the world who can ask this question and listen, hold space for another during this challenging time, help them identify self-help strategies and connect them to professional services. Through talking and supporting one another, we can save lives.
MHFA provides a list of mental health organization websites to support those experiencing suicidal thoughts and for those supporting others with a mental health challenge. To further your own mental health education and become more comfortable with topics like suicide, I encourage you to take a MHFA course. And of course, if you or someone you know is in crisis, please call 911.