Trigger warning: Discussions of suicide and suicidal ideation
This week (Sept. 4–10) is National Suicide Prevention Week, which is intended to illuminate this leading cause of death—and inspire individuals to learn more about suicide prevention and how they can help to save lives.
In 2020, suicide was among the top nine leading causes of death for people ages 10-64 (cdc.gov), equaling about one death every 11 minutes.
The number of people who think about or attempt suicide is even higher. In 2020, an estimated 12.2 million American adults seriously thought about suicide and 1.2 million attempted suicide (samhsa.gov).
And although suicide and thoughts of suicide affect many individuals, they are rarely discussed in open, safe and normalized ways. The good news, though, is that suicidal thoughts and behaviors are not weaknesses or flaws and can actually be reduced with support and treatment. Creating spaces for discussion, and equipping folks with tools and resources, is effective—suicide prevention does work.
To better equip the Case Western Reserve University community with these tools and resources, like University Health and Counseling Services’ (UHCS) suicide prevention THINK Trainings, and to promote more informed conversation on the topic, The Daily sat down with two experts from UHCS—Naomi Drakeford, PhD, associate director for diversity, equity and inclusion, and Hillary Jones, associate director of counseling services and a licensed professional clinical counselor with supervision—to get answers to questions community members may have (but may not be comfortable asking).
Do suicidal thoughts and ideation always involve the desire to take one’s life?
Yes and no. As far as intensity, suicidal thoughts exist on a spectrum. On one end, you can experience more passive thoughts. For example, an individual might think, “I’m not going to do anything, but it wouldn’t be the worst thing if I didn’t wake up.” This can be where ideation begins and, if left untreated, that’s when it can escalate to a plan, a method and an intent to follow through. It’s important to take any thoughts on this spectrum seriously.
I recently had some suicidal thoughts and it scared me because I’ve never experienced that before. Are they common?
When someone has a thought like this, it’s an indicator that something else is going on—stress, anxiety, depression, trauma—and there are many things that could be causing a person to have thoughts like this. Sometimes it does freak people out when they have suicidal thoughts, but we want to help folks understand that it really is not an uncommon experience. So often people don’t talk about it and that makes it seem uncommon.
What should I do if I am experiencing suicidal thoughts?
If you are a student, we have a number of different resources available. The first thing we would encourage you to do is reach out for help—UHCS would be at the top of the list. During business hours, give us a call (216.368.5872) or go online to myhealthconnect.case.edu and book a same-day appointment.
If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, we would definitely want to talk with you that same day to assess for safety and make sure that there is a plan in place for any additional safety steps, if those are needed. If you are experiencing these thoughts outside of business hours, you can still call our main office line (216.368.5872)—we have an on-call counselor available 24/7.
There is also the option to connect to CWRU Care, which offers 24/7/365 telehealth services.
If [you are] having thoughts of suicide and would prefer to not go through UHCS, we would then recommend the new national suicide prevention lifeline—anyone suffering from suicidal ideation can dial 988 (the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline) to receive support.
What if I am a faculty or staff member? Would my steps be similar?
UHCS doesn’t offer the same-day appointment opportunity to faculty or staff as we do with students, but you can still certainly call us—we always take any phone calls from faculty or staff members if they are in distress, or if they are concerned about a student.
We can help you determine what your current level of risk is at that moment and get you connected to someone who can help, whether through Impact Solutions or someone in the community. Plus, the 988 lifeline is also an option.
Say I’m having some suicidal thoughts, but I don’t want to scare my family or friends. I don’t think I’m going to do anything, but should I still talk to someone?
Any thoughts like this are still worth addressing, and are usually a sign that something deeper is going on—something in your life could be better and some support would be useful. Even if you think, “Well, I’m not going to do anything,” it’s still important to address, and we would encourage folks to let somebody know. We do hear from lots of students that they don’t want to ‘burden’ anyone in their lives, or cause any worry, which is why we are available—you can reach out to us for help without the fear of being a ‘burden.’
It’s important to realize that even if you don’t feel like you’re going to follow through on any thoughts today, this can fluctuate. We would hate for you to not get the support you need and then for the severity of your thoughts to change.
What should I do if my close friend or family member is having suicidal thoughts? I’m afraid to be too pushy—what if they shut me out?
If you’re a student, all the same options we previously discussed are available. We often have students give us a call to consult with a counselor on staff, and we really encourage students to do so, especially if they are concerned about another student. Our consultations are confidential.
A student can also anonymously submit a CARE Report through the Dean of Students’ office. Going through this process is not confidential, and the Dean of Students office can reach out to the student in distress.
If a student is concerned about a family member, they can call our office and we can recommend different community resources.
We also want to encourage folks to seek out support for themselves. The worry one can experience about someone else can take a toll on our mental health, and it can be pretty scary. We would recommend all those same resources.
I lost someone very close to me to suicide. What should I do to cope with grief?
There are different options for different people. We highly recommend therapy for processing that grief, and to try to make sense of it. Part of what makes losing someone to suicide so traumatic is that it doesn’t make sense—it’s very hard to wrap your head around. It’s also very common for folks to feel a sense of guilt after losing someone in this way. It’s important to connect with a professional who can help you process where those feelings of responsibility and guilt are coming from, and how to move through them.
There are a variety of different groups available for students—whether survivors of suicide support groups, grief support groups—depending on one’s individual experience of that grief.
Sometimes folks can even go through a period of depression following this kind of loss so speaking with a provider about medication can also be helpful. There are quite a few options and it’s really about what an individual needs and what will help them the most. If they aren’t sure, that’s where we come in—we can help someone identify what would be the most helpful for them.
We would also encourage you to recognize that grief is a process. You are probably going to experience a number of different emotions—including, sometimes, anger at the person you lost—so creating space to feel all those emotions is very important.
Need support now?
If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. Call University Health and Counseling Services at 216.368.5872, call or text 988 or chat 988lifeline.org.
We encourage all students, faculty, and staff to download the Reach Out app. CWRU’s Reach Out app (available for download on Google Play and in the Apple Store) provides quick access to support and resources such as crisis hotlines, guidance for helping a friend in need, coping skills and services offered on campus and in the community.