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Coping with Suicidality

Natalie Staats Reiss, Ph.D., and Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

First Things First: Get Effective Help RIGHT NOW If You're Suicidal

Our coverage of suicide, the taking of one's own life, is divided into three articles. The first article is intended to educate readers about the nature of suicide, the number of people who commit suicide each year, their typical characteristics and issues, and some societal recommendations for the prevention of suicide (if this is the type of information you are looking for please click here). The third article is designed for friends and family members who are interested in helping someone that they love (if you are interested in reading this information now, please click here). The article you are reading now is designed for people who are currently dealing with their own suicidal feelings and thoughts or who have done so in the past. While this article contains a number of tips and strategies for dealing with suicidal thoughts and feelings, it is NOT a substitute for the caring, compassionate, assistance you can get from talking to a live person who is trained to help you. Right now, if you are seriously suicidal - if you know that you will harm yourself unless something happens very shortly to stop you from doing so - PLEASE:

  • Go to the nearest emergency room and tell the admitting staff there that you are "acutely suicidal". Your use of the term "acute" tells the people you're speaking with that you are in danger of committing suicide right now, and that they need to act immediately to help keep you safe.
  • If you cannot get yourself safely to the emergency room by any other method, call the emergency operator (911 in the United States) and ask for assistance. Again, tell the operator that you are acutely suicidal and require immediate help. Stay on the phone with the operator, no matter how long it takes, until help arrives.
  • Please get help right now. Even though suicide may seem like an option to deal with your pain or cope with whatever is going on that is stressful, it's actually a terrible idea. You are not thinking clearly right now. Suicide is not an effective way to reduce pain or cope with issues that are stressful. Killing yourself is not simply ending your pain or ending stress...it's ending your life. It is debatable whether ending your life will end your personal pain. However, it is not debatable that your suicide will have a negative effect on those you leave behind. Your family and friends will almost certainly suffer your loss, and the closer and more dependent they are upon you, the more deeply and permanently will be their suffering. Why not give yourself the chance to try some ways that we know can help to decrease pain and stress and stick around to see what that feels like?

    A likely outcome of reaching out for help is that you will be brought into the hospital as a psychiatric patient for a few days, until your immediate crisis passes. Few people find the idea of going into the hospital to be an entirely pleasant prospect, but that is always the case for whatever condition you might find yourself with, isn't it? You go to the hospital when you are sick - at risk of dying. If you are really acutely suicidal and have no other reliable means of keeping yourself safe, getting yourself to the hospital before you act can mean the difference between living and dying.

    Remember, mental health professionals are specifically trained to help keep suicidal people safe. They will not think you are weird for having these types of thoughts and feelings. With their help, finding ways to live a satisfying life and avoiding the tragedy of suicide can become real posibilities for you again - even if you can't see how this can be possible right now.

    If you are still reading (and not on the phone with an emergency operator), we'll take it as a sign that you are not acutely suicidal right now. Though you may not be in crisis this moment, you may be in significant emotional pain nevertheless, and seeking information about how to best deal with that pain. Please continue reading; we hope that the strategies we describe are helpful to you.

    This article may bring up additional concerns and questions for you. If you are not acutely suicidal, but still need and want someone to discuss your feelings and thoughts with, please call 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) or 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255). If, while reading this article, you notice that your suicidal feelings and thoughts become more intense, and that you are no longer able to keep yourself safe, please (as we discussed above) go the nearest emergency room or call 911 immediately.