The recent tragedies of Kate Spade's and Anthony Bourdain's suicides—and the ensuing media storm—raised awareness of suicide as a mental health issue, but also generated a lot of misinformation. This week, the Savvy Psychologist cleans up after the headlines.
Myth #7: Suicidal Thoughts are Rare
Fact: Not so. In my office this week, many people who have sat in the chair across from me have said, “I totally get it. I’ve been there.” And it’s not just folks in treatment who get it.
Suicidal thoughts run on a spectrum. Fleeting thoughts--“How nice would it be to end it all,” or “I wish I could just disappear and be gone forever"--are fairly common. A single thought popping into your head generally isn’t a cause for alarm. (See also: I’m Thinking Crazy Thoughts!) If it happens frequently, however--particularly if you’re struggling through a hard time--your brain may be asking you to seek some help.
Moving up the spectrum of concern, passive suicidal thoughts are wishes to die without a deliberate attempt. These include hoping to get hit by a bus, or thinking, “If I went to sleep and didn’t wake up, that would be OK.” One step higher are active suicidal thoughts, like thinking about jumping in front of a bus, or actively thinking about committing suicide. The last, most worrisome level includes making a specific plan, like when, where, and how to kill yourself.
If someone confesses suicidal thoughts to you, however, don’t try to evaluate where they fall on the spectrum: it’s wiser and safer to always take them seriously.
To wrap up, calls to crisis hotlines have surged since Kate Spade’s and Anthony Bourdain’s deaths. It demonstrates how many people are hurting, but also how many are feeling empowered, reaching out, and finding a listening ear.
And if you’re moved to help, consider volunteering or donating. You’ll find a link to mental health charities with the greatest impact in the show notes at quickanddirtytips.com/savvy-psychologist..
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