Understanding and Addressing Suicide: A Compassionate Approach

Daniel Carlin, LCSW, CSAC

Lead Adult and In-School Counselor

Disclaimer: If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please seek help by calling 911, 988 (mentioned later in this article) or going to your nearest emergency room.

Suicide. It is one of those words that we feel a visceral reaction to when we hear it. It is also one of those words that feels heavy, taboo and rarely discussed. There is also a belief, that if we say it out loud, something bad will happen. So, what do we do? We may keep it inside, but keeping it inside doesn’t reduce its influence, only masks it. Research shows that suicide is one of the leading causes of death in the US, and the stigma around mental health conditions and suicide, means many people thinking about suicide do not seek help. At Lutheran Counseling and Family Services of WI (LCFS), we say, ‘let’s talk about it.’

As a clinician, we know talking about suicide is not something to shy away from as it may be an obstacle that one may face along their mental health recovery journey and we also recognize that people are in really tough places in their lives. Perhaps they have had the thought pop into their head about hurting themselves or ending their lives. Perhaps they feel guilty because the thought crossed their mind. Perhaps they have had an attempt in the past. As clinicians, we are trained and prepared to have these conversations with our clients and focus on their safety.

A common myth is that if I tell my therapist that I have thoughts about suicide, they are going to make me go to the hospital. While conversations about suicide between therapists and clients may end with a therapist recommending a client seek additional support such as the hospital, it does not mean that it will happen. We are trained to support people in their current environments and focus on creating plans so that they are safe. We do not judge people for having these thoughts. To think is human. We do it all the time. I have seen articles and research stating that we have somewhere between 6,000 to 60,000 thoughts a day. That is a lot of thinking! Undesirable thoughts happen all the time. We are prepared to help people work through those thoughts and live a value-driven life.

In October 2020, The National Suicide Hotline Designation Act of 2020 was signed into law, meaning that 988 was born. 988 is the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, a number that anyone in the country can text or call if they or a loved one are struggling with mental health issues. We were all taught to call 911 as kids if we or someone else was in trouble physically. Now we have a number when someone we love or ourselves is needing support emotionally and mentally. 988 has received nearly 30,000 calls since July 2022 in just Milwaukee county alone.

While the journey to address suicide is challenging, progress is possible through collective effort and compassion. By educating ourselves, supporting those in need, promoting open dialogue around suicide and advocating for better mental health care, we can create a society where everyone feels valued and understood.

There is hope. There are resources. 988 and LCFS are just two of them. Please know that if you or a loved one needs support, please reach out to 988 – you can call or text this number. LCFS is here to support you and your loved ones as well. We are all in this together.

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