At some point in my first session with anyone, I ask, “Are you experiencing any thoughts of self-harm or suicide?” And sometimes the answer is yes.
Asking the question brings relief: they aren’t in it all alone anymore. I’ve said the word they have been holding all by themselves. They talk about the internal battle they have been experiencing, wanting so badly to tell someone to find relief, but are afraid to do so.
Fear can be a barrier that prevents you from reaching out to someone. That could be the fear of sharing with someone that you are having thoughts of suicide, or that you are feeling down/anxious, or that you are in an emotional crisis.
The source of the fear can come from a number of places, and I have mentioned many of them throughout this series. But there is another one that has to do with our “primary attachment figures” — our parents.
Many Parents Aren’t Trained to “Talk Mental Health”
For some of our parents, conversations about mental health and their emotional well-being wasn’t talked about much. They were brought up by parents that lived in the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” generation. That translates into, figure it out yourself, don’t ask for help. So they didn’t bring up uncomfy feelings with their parents. I personally recall hearing, “If it’s something I don’t want to hear, don’t tell me.” And, in retrospect, I think that was fear talking.
So you can guess: Most of our parents weren’t given the opportunity to outwardly use their emotional muscles very much. Teens and young adults today are more emotionally aware, and want to have conversations about what is going on for them emotionally. This creates a generational gap that is a barrier to opening up.
If parents aren’t openly talking about their own mental health or asking us about ours, it can be an unfamiliar and uncomfortable conversation creating fear around bringing up the subject on both sides. When the conversations around mental health aren’t happening, it can also cause us to feel like we shouldn’t be struggling–and there’s that feeling of shame again.
This combined with the human brain’s natural need to solve a problem when we see it and our parents’ love for us wanting to stop our suffering can cause them to skip over our feelings and jump to telling us how we can fix our pain. This disconnects us and we are likely not going to reach out the next time we aren’t doing well. But we can change this scenario!
Keeping Secrets Keeps us Stuck.
Keeping secrets can be stressful. And keeping a secret of being in emotional pain and or dealing with thoughts of self-harm or suicide can be unbearable. When we hold our feelings all by ourselves inside they can feel overwhelming, like there is no way out.
Verbalizing in itself can be healing. We can become emotionally stuck with those secrets. Talking about them brings movement to our stuck feelings. It can help organize thoughts and feelings, gaining clarity about your current situation. It can feel like a clearing of the mind and a release of the emotional baggage.
When you have physical pain, my guess is that you don’t keep it a secret. Telling someone of your ailment, followed by going to the doctor, is the usual way you manage your physical discomforts or injuries.
We then feel better because we received treatment. We also feel better because we were able to tell someone, they listened and responded with care and concern, and took action to get us the help we really needed.
It’s a fact of life, we all have physical ailments, but we all have emotional pain too. It is a part of life we ALL experience. We can apply the same strategy we use for physical illness to our emotional struggles. Reaching out to someone and sharing our suffering and asking them to help us IS what we need in times of distress. And when we are feeling suicidal, I am a firm believer that Connection is suicide prevention.
Sometimes when we are driving down the road, we encounter obstacles, construction, potholes, even bad weather causing us to lose visibility and veer off the road, getting us stuck in a ditch. And sometimes the car just breaks down for no apparent reason. Calling a friend, family member or even a tow service is the action we take in these stressful times. We will encounter obstacles, stormy moments or days where we can’t get ourselves out of a funk, and sometimes we just break down like the car. Calling a friend, family member, or a professional needs to be the automatic response when we are emotionally struggling too.
You will feel less alone and less isolated because someone else knows what is going on for you. There are benefits to the person on the receiving end of that conversation also. They can understand you and your situation. Telling someone how you are feeling can even bring you closer together.
How Can I Help Myself Talk About It?
After reading the articles about listening to your body, feelings and thoughts, you will have more language to use to describe what is happening inside of you. That language is a reasonable guide to initiate the conversation and seek help. Sometimes writing down what we want to say to someone else can be the first step. It’s like talking it out with ourselves before we share it with someone else. Write down what you want and need someone else to know so you don’t have to deal all by yourself.
How Can Others Support Me to Open Up?
Now that you have written what you want to share, find someone you trust who you know will listen and read it to them. That could be a parent, teacher, school counselor, professional counselor, friend, neighbor, aunt, uncle, grandparent, or sibling.
And it is ok to say, “I just need you to listen.”
Another idea to begin the conversation with your parents is being curious about their upbringing.
Ask your parents questions like these:
- What was growing up like for them?
- Did their parents talk with them about difficult topics and their mental health?
- How did their culture, race, or ethnicity influence discussions about mental health?
- What messages did they receive about struggling with mental health issues?
- Who did they talk to when they were struggling?
If there is no one in your life right now you feel you can share with, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1 (800) 273-8255 or text Crisis Text Line by texting “LIV” to 741-741. Someone is there waiting to listen.
Caring about YOU and your mental health,
Read the final blog in this series: You are Never Alone: Listen, Identify, Vocalize
– Written by Susan Caso, MA/LPC and Mental Health Director for the LIV Project