Understanding Thoughts of Suicide and Self-Harm

By Ralph P. Plumley

People of all ages, professions, and socio-economic backgrounds may have thoughts of suicide or participate in some kind of self-harm. If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide or is involved in self-injury behavior, you certainly are not alone.

Self-injury and suicidal thoughts are attempts to cope with emotional and psychological distress. However, they are not the same thing. Those who have self-harm behaviors like cutting and burning usually do not want to die. Those who have thoughts of suicide do, or they believe they do, because they don’t see another option. In both cases, they only want their pain to stop.

Thoughts of suicide  Many who have thoughts of suicide never tell anyone. They fear the stigma of suicide: being labeled crazy, mentally or emotionally unstable, and being institutionalized. Many feel shame, thinking they can’t handle life’s stressors as “normal” people do. Fear of not being understood or being rejected is also common. Many feel if people knew about these suicidal thoughts, they would never be treated the same way again.

There are as many reasons for thinking about suicide as there are people. Everyone has his or her own set of circumstances, heartaches, and struggles. There are, however, some common factors:

• The experience of a significant personal loss. This could include the death of a loved one, the loss of a relationship through divorce or breakup, the loss of a job or income, the loss of health, and the loss of self-esteem or sense of purpose.

• Deep physical, emotional, psychological, or spiritual pain. When humans experience deep pain and distress, we develop tunnel vision. We can lose perspective and our ability to problem-solve.

• Feelings of despair, helplessness, hopelessness, depression, isolation, and desperation. These and other feelings can intensify and become overwhelming to the point where death seems like the only escape.

• Undiagnosed or untreated mental illness. Fighting distressing thoughts and emotions without dealing with the underlying issue is like trying to renovate a house built on a foundation of sand. It’s easy to slip into exhaustion and despair.

If you don’t want to talk with someone you know, call and make an appointment with a counselor. There are professionals who understand what it’s like and know how to listen. A counselor can provide confidential support and make you aware of available resources that can help with the core issues causing you distress.

In the meantime, CALL or TEXT: 988 for the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. This resource is available to you anytime, day or night. You can talk confidentially with a trained person who knows how to listen and how to help. If you would prefer an online support group, try

Excerpt taken from Understanding Thoughts of Suicide and Self-Harm CareNote.

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