5 Things Suicide Prevention Month Taught Me About Caring for Myself
September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. It’s a powerful time to connect about a topic that continues to affect so many and face so much stigma. It can also be a trigger.
As someone who’s eagerly participated in discussions about suicide and depression in the past, I find enormous comfort and healing in being open about my personal recovery.
I also love hearing other people’s stories of struggle, because seeing them now in a place of recovery and strength continues to give me so much hope.
While connecting with people who have faced similar struggles helps tremendously, the frequency and time spent conversing on the dark times in our lives can inadvertently cause harm.
A vital skill I’ve learned in recovery is self care. While partaking in this discussion of suicide prevention — which I am deeply passionate about — helps me continue to heal, understanding my limits and taking care of myself when things feel too much, is key.
If you are struggling this month, please know you are never alone. There is help out there. There is hope for you.
1. Set limits with how much time you spend talking about this topic on social media and/or in you every day life.
Know that it is ok to limit the time you spend online and/or in person, talking about these heavy discussions.
What has personally helped me in taking breaks in online discussions is turning off all social media notifications. Sometimes, I have even deleted apps if I feel tempted to check in when I’m in a vulnerable mindset. Temptation is very valid; it is especially difficult to navigate when we aren’t feeling well emotionally and mentally.
In every day life, sometimes difficult topics can come up, whether it be at work, school, home, in public, etc. We can’t always effectively avoid triggers in the same way social media allows us to mute and delete.
If you find yourself in an social situation that is becoming too triggering, you are allowed to excuse yourself from a conversation if it becomes too much. You are also allowed to advocate yourself to change the topic if you are in a situation you cannot up and leave.
2. Ask a friend or loved one to hold you accountable.
If you are unable to stay off social media even when discussions regarding suicide are upsetting you, ask a friend to check in with you. Lean on a reliable and understanding friend if you have an urge to put yourself into conversations you may not be able to cope with well in the moment.
3. Reach out for support.
It can be easier said than done, but reaching out to someone you trust — a friend, a family member, a teacher, a coach, a professional — can help calm the distress and initiate the healing.
Please know that your feelings are valid. Oftentimes, our triggers are based upon our very real element such as genetic makeup, emotion regulation, past experiences, ability to cope, access to coping skills in the moment. Not everyone recognizes these factual pieces of mental health, but know that there are people who do.
Focus on the people who get it. Triggers, especially in terms of trauma responses, are valid.
4. Self care isn’t selfish.
Sometimes, even when we can effectively remove ourselves from a triggering conversation, our emotion intensity can still be very high. This makes sense. To bring down the intensity of distress, you could use some coping skills.
To alleviate high levels of distress, I often use skills that work to change my body’s chemistry in that moment.
For instance, if I feel panicky, maybe my heart is racing. To slow down my heart rate, I could practice paced breathing, drink cold water and grab an ice pack to place on my chest or arms. If I feel sad and tearful, I could allow myself to cry and feel everything for a set amount of time (maybe 5-10 minutes) and then I could take a hot, mindful shower. When showering, I could notice the nice smells of shampoo and soap, and I could notice how good it feels to massage my head or feel the hot water on my skin.
5. Treat yourself as you would treat a friend.
Think about if a close friend was struggling with triggers right now. What would you tell them? How would you talk to them?
If my best friend was tempted to join in on conversations they knew could trigger them, I would tell them that it’s ok to take a break. I would also tell them that this topic is not that urgent; the discussion will be there tomorrow, or when they’re able to effectively navigate the conversation without spiraling. I would also be gentle and kind to my friend if they’re struggling especially. They deserve to feel better.
If your best friend deserves to feel better, maybe turning some of that kindness on yourself is ok, too.
You’re allowed to treat yourself with the same kindness, understanding and support you would meet your best friend with.
You are not weak to struggle. Ultimately, you are stronger to recognize, validate and soothe yourself when you feel triggered.
As someone strong in my mental illness recoveries, I personally struggle with triggers still. What matters though is that I know how to cope more effectively when they arise.
Triggers may always arise. So we must remember we have the strength within to ride the wave of emotions and take good care of ourselves.