When life becomes overwhelming or stress levels start to increase, we usually resort to a routine or activity to distract ourselves until it blows over. Whether it’s going for a run, seeking support, solving the problem, or knitting; most people have a way to escape the rising tension or hunker down until it passes. These are labelled as, “coping mechanisms”. These mechanisms help people manage their feelings and adapt to the situation at hand.
Sometimes, coping mechanisms cease to provide relief or support, or we have routine mechanisms that are actually not helpful (maladaptive coping mechanisms such as drug use or self-harm). Without support or mental health intervention, people may begin to start to feel helpless and these feelings can lead to thoughts of suicide.
Suicidal thoughts are lonely and isolating; they take away the ability to keep our defenses up. When our defenses are down, we have no way to protect ourselves, and we can become our own worst enemies. The idea of reaching out to loved ones for help is so daunting that there is a voice that says “they don’t care”, or “you’re a burden”. This is when we need to connect to each other in the community the most. When our brain starts to become overtaken by this incorrect rationale that we should cease to exist, it is not a sign of weakness. It is not a sign of “not being enough,” it is a cry for help.
There is a fear that if you ask someone if they are contemplating suicide, that it will increase their urge or promote the thought. This is not true. One of the best ways to identify if someone is considering suicide is to ask them. They likely are scared to talk about it, they may be afraid that they will become ostracized. But by asking the question it opens up an opportunity and they may feel heard.
Some warning signs that someone is thinking about suicide are:
- Talking about having no reason to live, feeling trapped, experiencing unbearable pain, feeling hopeless, or like they are a burden to those around them.
- Increasing their use of alcohol or drugs
- Reckless behavior
- Sleeping too much or too little.
- Isolating themselves
- Displaying extreme mood swings
- Giving away possessions
- Saying goodbye to people
- No longer taking medication that is prescribed
- Talking about wanting to die/or kill themselves
- Looking online for ways to kill themselves
- Buying a gun
If they admit to thoughts of suicide, but are not planning to hurt themselves at this time encourage them to go to counseling. Their counselor will be able to sit with them and identify if they need to go to the hospital. Make sure they have made a safety plan if they are working towards wellness, but still experiencing thoughts of suicide. Look at creating a team that they can contact when these thoughts start to surge or gain traction. Everyone on that team needs to be informed and updated on their safety plan. People who can be included on that team are their mental health providers, medical providers, family members, friends, work colleagues.
If they are too overwhelmed to get in touch with a counselor, help them make an appointment or call Gateway Center for Human services at 907-225-4135 to become enrolled in services, and receive an assessment.
Community Connections offers services for children and youth, contact them at 907-225-7825. Emergency walk ins for Tribal members are available at Ketchikan Indian Community Behavioral Health at 201 Deermount St, on the 2nd floor on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays 8am-12pm, 1-5pm & Wednesdays 1pm-5pm.
Tribal members can also ask to be enrolled in counseling at KIC through this walk in process.
If anyone is in stages of planning, or expressing the intent to act on these thoughts, call 911, or escort them to straight the emergency room. If they are resistant to help, and you believe they are going to harm themselves, or they are stating they are going to do so, call 911 immediately. Whenever someone is at risk for hurting themselves, make sure that all weapons are out of reach, such as firearms, medication, and substances that could possibly cause an overdose.
Free online safety plans and resources, like videos with messages and guiding strategies, can be found at https://www.nowmattersnow.org/get-involved.
Phone numbers to call or text:
- Alaska CARELINE 1-877-266-HELP
- National Suicide Hotline Call 1-800-273-8255 available 24 hours everyday
- Crisis Text Line (all ages, 24/7, text MATTERS to 741741)
- Lifeline Crisis Chat (IM, also 1-800-273-TALK)
- Online PEER Support Chat (LGBTQ, IM, also 1-888-843-4564)
- 121Help.Me (child/teen, text ‘121HELP’ to 20121)
- RAINN Online Hotline (sexual assault, global access)
- Veteran’s Live Chat (global access for American vets, also text 838255 for help)
- Teen Line Online (teen)
- 866Teenlink (teen)
- Trevor (LGBTQ youth)
Remember that you are never alone, and that death is never the answer!
Healthy Minds is a monthly column coordinated by Ketchikan Wellness Coalition as a way to share positive stories from people living with mental illness, offer information from local mental health professionals about maintaining mental health in your life, and provide details on tangible activities or actions you can take to strengthen your mental wellness. If you would like to contribute to the column, please contact Romanda Simpson at firstname.lastname@example.org