The Therapy for Black Girls Podcast is a weekly conversation with Dr. Joy Harden Bradford, a Licensed Psychologist in Atlanta, Georgia, about all things mental health, personal development, and all the small decisions we can make to become the best possible version of ourselves.
We started this conversation last week when I shared a few questions for you to check in with yourself about your mental health. Given that September is National Suicide Prevention Month, I thought it was important to continue the conversation by discussing how you can cope and manage if you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts.
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Session 171: Managing Suicidal Thoughts
Dr. Joy: Hey, y'all. Thanks so much for joining me for session 171 of the Therapy for Black Girls podcast. We started this conversation last week when I shared a few questions for you to check in with yourself about your mental health. Given that September is National Suicide Prevention Month, I thought it was important today to continue the conversation by discussing how you can cope and manage if you're experiencing suicidal thoughts.
Suicidal thoughts, or suicidal ideation as it's sometimes called, often occurs when people are in unbelievable amounts of pain and feel like there's nothing that will make them better. It's often a sign that people want to escape their lives for one reason or another. It's important to note that simply having thoughts of suicide does not necessarily mean you will hurt yourself but it does mean that something's going on that needs some attention and support.
There are lots of risk factors or things that might make it more likely that someone might think about suicide, including several things we discussed last week: like unemployment, isolation, feelings of hopelessness and a history of trauma. Suicide risk also increases if someone in your family has died by suicide or if you've attempted suicide before. So if you've been experiencing suicidal thoughts, here are a few things I want to offer you that might help in those moments.
Number one: tell someone and get support. I know that this may be incredibly difficult, especially if this is a new feeling for you or mental health is not something you typically share a lot about. But one of the things that can take some of the intensity out of these thoughts is to share with a trusted person, someone you know will listen and be there to support you. People with suicidal thoughts often feel like they'll be a burden to loved ones by sharing their thoughts, but many loved ones are happy to show up for someone in their time of need.
You can talk to a loved one but also consider meeting with a therapist who might be able to help you sort through how you're feeling, offer some support, and maybe offer some suggestions you might not have considered. Also, remember that in the US, you can text the word TRIBE to 741-741 and text with a trained listener 24/7 at the Crisis Text Line.
Number two: remove the means. Something else to consider if you've thought about suicide and have thought about how you might hurt yourself is to remove the means you’d use. This might mean allowing a trusted family member or friend to temporarily take possession of any firearms, knives, medication or anything else you've considered using to hurt yourself.
Number three: utilize your coping kit. In Session 152 of the podcast, I discussed making a collection of pleasurable activities, calming scents, puzzles and other things that can be useful to engage in when feelings start to become overwhelming and you need to take the steam out of them. When you're experiencing suicidal thoughts, using your coping kit may be a good way to distract yourself and allow the intensity of your feelings to pass–day by day and maybe even hour by hour if necessary.
As one of my favorite authors, Bassey Ikpi says, “Allow yourself morning.” If you can distract yourself, reach out for help, fall asleep, etc., in the morning, you have another opportunity for things to change, for things to be different. So allow yourself morning.
Number four: be mindful of your drug and alcohol use as these things can increase impulsivity. We know that many times when people do die by suicide, it's an impulsive act, even if they’ve thought about it before. So if you're feeling suicidal, be mindful of your substance use.
And number five: be gentle with yourself. Having suicidal thoughts is not a personal failure, it does not mean that you've done anything wrong, that you're weak or broken. It likely means that you're in a considerable amount of pain. Work hard on silencing those negative voices and treat yourself with radical kindness.
I also think it's important to spend some time talking about how we can help loved ones who might be experiencing suicidal thoughts. Here are a few things for you to consider.
Number one: get comfortable directly asking loved ones if they're thinking about suicide and then be ready to respond. Often, we're uncomfortable asking this question because we worry that we'll plant an idea that wasn't already there–this is not true. This is one of the largest misconceptions about suicide. When we ask this question, we make the unspeakable speakable and allow for the beginning of the conversation.
Another concern is that we don't know exactly what to say but you don't have to be perfect; you just have to be present, even virtually. Be careful not to get into offering any platitudes like “everything will be fine” or “you have so much to live for,” because those kinds of comments can invoke shame or invalidate the pain that your loved one is feeling.
Number two: gather resources that you think would be helpful before you need them. Does your area have a crisis response team made up of social workers and others trained to respond in a mental health crisis? Get that information and have it on hand. If your loved one doesn't currently have a therapist, can you offer to help them search and maybe even schedule their first appointment?
Number three: check in often and try to anticipate what they may need. If they're struggling with cooking, see if it'd be okay for you to drop off a dish or have some food delivered to them. That may be more helpful than saying, “hey, just let me know if you need anything.” Because oftentimes when people are struggling with things like depression or suicidal thoughts, it's really hard for them to anticipate what they'll need, so if you can do some of that legwork for them, that can be incredibly helpful.
Number four: try not to make them staying alive about other people. Saying things like “so many people will be hurt if you die” or comments about how suicide is selfish, can leave people feeling even worse.
And number five: ask if you can remove any medications, firearms or other things they may have been thinking about using to hurt themselves.
I hope that you'll join me this month in bringing awareness to this topic by sharing resources, starting conversations in your circles and being intentional about showing up for others who might be in need. Make sure to visit TherapyForBlackGirls.com/session171 for the show notes to check out some of the resources that I discussed in this episode, and don't forget to text two of your girls right now and tell them to check out the episode. Be sure to share your takeaways with us on social media using the hashtag #TBGinSession.
If you're looking for a therapist in your area, be sure to check out our therapist directory at TherapyForBlackGirls.com/directory. And if you want to continue digging into this topic and connect with some other sisters, come on over and join us in the Yellow Couch Collective where we take a deeper dive into the topics from the podcast and just about everything else. You can join us at TherapyForBlackGirls.com/YCC.