If there are individuals who have never felt suicidal ideation, it is indeed happy news. However, the inability to relate and to see people who have suicidal ideation as “simply overthinking” could be extremely hurtful. Those who suffer from mental illnesses are often misunderstood due to the lack of information about the nature of such illnesses.
Emotional well-being in todays’ “hustle culture”, is many times neglected and is often seen as overrated when one talks about feelings of frustration, disappointment, and embarrassment. Therefore, communicating with people who are undergoing a mental illness and those who express feelings of suicidality could become the butt of inappropriate jokes. Yet, what happens as a consequence of such hurtful comments that trivialize one’s suicidal ideation is not discussed enough.
Many argue that we live in a world that insists on being “too politically correct”. However, it is important to understand that underestimating the severity of serious mental illnesses, and life-threatening situations through making fun of people who feel suicidal, needs to come to an end. With someone taking their life approximately every 12 minutes, this cannot be belittled. Mental illnesses are often ignored and the stigma around this makes this even harder to deal with. Mental illnesses are as “legitimate” as any other disease.
Suicidal Ideation and Stigma
Suicide, suicidal ideation, and self-harm, have attracted massive stigma and there prevail several myths around the motivation that goes on to demean those suffering through it. Such acts as a result of stigma, further feelings of shame and anxiety for those who are undergoing it. Those who have experienced suicidality are very vulnerable. It is insensitive to therefore refer to people who are feeling suicidal as being “manipulative” and “attention-seeking” (Psychiatrists, 2020). Stigma invites both negative and prejudicial attitudes that lead to discriminatory behavior towards people who have suicidal ideation. There is no question on the matter that people feeling suicidal need help, however, communicating that to them in a non-threatening manner is what is needed.
When the discourse around suicidal ideation is one that blames and guilts people into feeling worthless as they go through this painful phase, it is likely that one could further push people away from seeking help. This is why the language around suicide needs to be well thought off. Attitudes that dismiss suicidal intent could trigger those feeling suicidal to question themselves and their judgment. In an already difficult emotional state, having to doubt their feelings could discourage them from expressing themselves to loved ones and seeking professional help. Internalizing feelings of such shame and guilt is understood as self-stigma and this could inhibit people severely from coping with suicidality (Maple et al. 2010). Stigma should be considered as a life-limiting condition, as is the secrecy and shame it propagates. (Psychiatrists, 2020)
What can be done about this?
To begin with, the morbidity of suicidal ideation must not be played down. The proportion of people who experience serious suicidal thoughts represents the larger mass of the suicide iceberg below the surface of the water. Suicide deaths and attempts represent the tip of this iceberg, which is dwarfed by the much larger problem, at least with regard to numbers, of all the people beneath the surface who are experiencing suicidal misery, often in silence (Jobes & Thomas E. Joiner, 2019). Not joking about someone’s suicidal ideation and using suicide as a joke in our everyday life is the first step we can take. The vocabulary that individuals who feel suicidal have, is limited. Therefore, trivializing it by using it without intention and the lack of seriousness could be highly debilitating for those suffering from it. Be kind to those who express themselves with feelings of suicidality because they have come to you with some hope for empathy. You could appropriately redirect them according to your capacity to people who could be of help.
You could also take the QPR suicide Gatekeeper training to understand ways to be available for people who are going through such a crisis situation.