I have danced with depression and the horrifying thoughts that come with it. I have prayed for death more times than I can count. I have struggled with opening up about my mental health to the people closest to me because I am afraid of making them uncomfortable. Sometimes I’ll gather up the courage to tell a friend, a relative, or a colleague about days when I just don’t want to exist or get out of bed and I can always see them visibly cringe before they proceed to tell me to “just be happy” or that I “think too much”. I make them uncomfortable.
So most days I just sit in that comfortable corner in my room, cry my eyes out, pray for death and then feel guilty about “not choosing happiness” and “thinking too much”. I don’t tell anyone lest they think I’m “attention-seeking”, “ungrateful” for everything I have in my life or I simply ‘don’t have enough faith in God’. How do I explain that my mind is a warzone? How do I explain that I don’t really want to die but I just don’t want to feel the pain anymore?
What is Suicidal Ideation?
Suicidal Ideation is the thinking that haunts people and pushes them to commit suicide. According to Marcia Purse in her article What Is Suicidal Ideation?: A Look at Dangerous Thought Patterns, Passive suicidal ideation is when you wish you were dead or that you could die but actually don’t have any plans to commit suicide. Active suicidal ideation is not only thinking about it but having the intent to commit suicide including planning how to do it.
During my second semester in university, I met a brilliant young man through a friend of mine. He was a wonderful guy despite being a bit socially awkward and geeky. I never knew he struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts. Before we met he had actually attempted suicide a few times but I had no idea. He showed no signs of being depressed or I just didn’t want to notice.
To me, he was just your average nerdy varsity student. One beautiful afternoon my friend and I got the horrifying call that this young man was in the ICU fighting for his life after drinking poison. We lost him a few days later. I was devastated. His death was a trigger for me and I got into toxic patterns of behavior that continued showing up into the following semester and facilitated a mental breakdown.
Symptoms of suicidal ideation include:
- Isolating from loved ones
- Feeling hopeless or trapped
- Giving away possessions
- An increase in substance use or misuse
- Increased mood swings, anger, rage and/or irritability
- Engage in risk-taking behavior like using drugs or having unprotected sex
- Acting as if you are saying goodbye to people
- Feeling extremely anxious
How do you cope?
Look for triggers or circumstances that lead to feelings of hopelessness and despair. Identifying the root is half the war. Eliminate and address what you can and talk about the others with a trusted friend, a peer counselor, or a therapist.
Have a support group
Having a supportive community goes a long way when you are dealing with mental health. Surround yourself with people who truly care about you and are good for your mental health. Also, reach out to people you know are battling depression, suicidal ideation, anxiety, etc. . Helping others and giving back is a great way to get out of your head and find meaning.
I have this unhealthy pattern of behavior where I flood my mind with other people’s needs and bury my own needs six feet under. I have in the past justified this pattern as a desire to fill needed and helpful. But I have also realized that you can’t give what you don’t have or colloquially speaking, pour from an empty cup. Self-care is not selfish. Take care of yourself. You deserve to be a priority in your own life. Do what you love. Dance, even if people have to move out of the way. Sing in your dying walrus voice and deafen your neighbor’s ears. Write, even though it scares you. If it makes you happy, do it!
Old habits have to die in order for you to let go of suicidal ideation, replace them with new and positive habits. Do things that are fulfilling and fun for you such as volunteering, dancing, exercising, and work that gives you a sense of purpose.
This has really helped me when I don’t want to “talk it out”. There’s something therapeutic about writing your unfiltered thoughts and feelings down. It also helps you identify triggers and patterns and can help you come up with healthy coping strategies.
Let’s normalize conversations about mental health and suicide. The more we openly talk about it, the less the stigma and discrimination. If we have honest discussions about how we are feeling with our loved ones, we make it easier for them to open up about their struggles. We need to remove the discomfort and awkwardness surrounding mental illnesses and we can do that by being vulnerable about our own struggles and letting someone know that they are not the only ones. Then and only then can people feel comfortable about asking for and seeking help. We need to really pay attention to the people around us, the 16-year-old who jokes about dying, the confident 25-year old who is always smiling, and the introvert who locks themself in their bedroom all the time. And then maybe the 19-year-old university student crying himself to sleep every night, cutting himself to release the pain and praying for death, won’t end his life.
By: Soleil Levant Foundation, is an organization dedicated to providing mental health services and psychosocial support for young Zimbabweans.