Starting conversations about mental health with family members can be difficult. This rings even truer for people in the BIPOC community. Now, try having a conversation about the forbidden “S” word, and that conversation starts to feel like a losing battle and one not worth having.
September is Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month, but I believe that prevention is bigger than a month. Prevention needs to be an everyday practice of two important elements – recognizing warning signs and getting comfortable engaging in hard conversations.
Recognizing warning signs
Signs that someone is thinking of ending their life may come in many forms. While this list is not exhaustive, these are a few changes that should be taken seriously:
• Changes in conversation– You may hear someone mention or start to talk about having no reason to live. There can be assumptions someone is just saying it for attention, but this kind of comment always deserves our attention and shouldn’t be taken lightly. Reassure them of how important they are to you and reaffirm their purpose. It might not seem like much, but in very dark moments for someone who is struggling, these words can make all the difference.
In some instances, conversations might need to be more direct. If you hear a loved one talking about ending their life, don’t be afraid to ask the question, “Are you considering suicide?” Many people feel like they should avoid using the word “suicide” so they don’t trigger someone. However, mental health professionals encourage people to be direct. Getting straight to the point could save a life.
• Changes in behavior– Nonverbal forms of communication can also tell you a lot. Studies have shown that individuals who struggle with suicidal thoughts tend to either sleep too much or too little. Others may withdraw, let their personal hygiene suffer, or start to engage in risky behavior. If you notice someone’s usual patterns are different, don’t be afraid to ask them if something has changed and they need support.
• Changes in social interactions– Similar to sleep patterns, changes in social interactions can swing between two extremes. People pulling back from social situations or even physical touch could be an early sign of isolation. If someone suddenly throws themselves into more social situations than ever, it could be a sign of avoidance and not wanting to be alone for too long. If you notice someone’s usual patterns are different, don’t be afraid to mention you’ve noticed the change and offer support them support in trying to find balance.
These are just a few of the warning signs we can look for in our loved ones who might be dealing with thoughts of suicide. I discuss more of these in my latest book, “The 31 Days of Power: A Simplified Approach to Everyday Mental Health”. It’s important to remember to be intentional about leaning in with your loved ones. It’s easy to miss signs, so always try to be conscious of and present with your family and friends.
Engaging in hard conversations
When it comes to having hard conversations, again, it’s OK to be direct. It might feel weird to do, but it can help cut out unnecessary wasted time. Focus on listening during these tough conversations. Try not to interrupt or judge. If someone feels they can open up, this means you have their ear, which is an important form of trust. Exercise that trust when it comes to things like encouraging therapy or seeking out counseling. And if for nothing else, this means you can be a safe space for them to continue the conversation.
Suicide prevention starts with us in our daily relationships and conversations. Consider every day how you will choose to show up and be available for those that you love. The topic of suicide has been taboo in BIPOC communities for a long time, but it doesn’t have to remain this way. We have to continue to learn to challenge the misinformation we grew up with and create a new path for generations behind us to follow as we help prevent lives lost by suicide.
If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, call or text 988 to reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.