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  • Writer's pictureMonique Johnson

Dark Spaces: Suicide & Self-Harm

May is mental health awareness month. It has been my mission to spread awareness surrounding mental health all month long. Mental health is integral to living a healthy and balanced life. Research states that 1 in 5 adults are diagnosed with a mental health disorder. If these disorders (depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and more) are not treated, then they can potentially lead to serious symptoms like suicide or self-harm. Suicide and self-harm are prevalent in our communities. People are suffering and don’t know where to turn. Talking about suicide and self-harm can increase awareness and provide information.

What is suicide?

Did you know that suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States? Did you know that suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among individuals aged 10-34? According to the National Institute of Mental Health, suicide is defined as death caused by self-directed injurious behavior with intent to die as a result of the behavior. Individuals can have suicidal ideation, but never make an actual attempt or complete suicide. Suicidal ideation indicates that a person has either thoughts about suicide, considering it, or planning it. A suicide attempt is a non-fatal, self-directed, potentially injurious behavior with intent to die as a result of the behavior, but it might not result in injury (National Institute of Mental Health).

When a person is struggling, they may have passive thoughts of suicide that turn into active thoughts of suicide. There is a difference between active thoughts and passive thoughts of suicide. Active thoughts are when an individual has intention to act on a specific plan of suicide. Passive thoughts are when an individual is just thinking about suicide but has no intentions of acting on it.

Suicide is a major public health concern. On average, there are about 130 suicides per day. According to the CDC, there is one death by suicide in the Unites States every 11 minutes. These are not just numbers, but people in the community that are suffering.

What is self-harm?

Roughly about 4% of adults and 15% of adolescents in the United States struggle with self-harm. Self-harm is when a person damages a part of their body by cutting, scratching, burning, or participating in any other behavior that causes pain or injury. According to the statistics, about 45% of people use cutting as their form of self-harm. Although self-harm is not an actual mental health disorder, it is used frequently by individuals that have mental illnesses.

Self-harm is very prevalent amongst adolescents. On average, the first incident of self-harm is at the age of 13. This age is very transformational for adolescents because there is so much change that is happening physically and emotionally during this time. Self-harm is a tool that people who are suffering from emotional pain use to cope with difficult feelings. Even though self-harm is not the same as attempting suicide, it should be taken very seriously. If it is ignored, then it can become a very dangerous cycle.

Self-harm and suicide are different, but they have a strong association with one another. The more a person uses self-harming behaviors, the more likely they are to attempt suicide. So, it is very important to be aware of the warning signs of self-harm and suicide.

The Warning Signs

There are many warning signs for suicide and self-harm. If someone is struggling and are considering suicide, they might have a change in pattern of behavior for two weeks or longer, withdraw from previously enjoyed activities, experience hopelessness, or there might be a change in their eating or sleeping habits. You might notice that they are writing, talking, or posting on social media about death. Another major warning sign is giving away prized possessions.

The warning signs for self-harm, may look a little different. A person might have unexplained frequent injuries, low self-esteem, or present as low functioning at work or school. If you notice that they are dressing unusual for the season, like wearing long sleeves during the summer, then that could be a warning sign. People that use self-harming behaviors try their best to cover up the injuries because they don’t want others to see it. So, it is critical to pay attention to your loved ones.

Getting Support

To those that are struggling, I want you to know that you are not alone. The strong emotions that you are having and experiencing can be managed. There are treatment options, resources, support, and tools that are available to you. It is important to explore and address the underlying emotions and reasons for harming yourself. If you try self-care strategies like journaling, exercising, drawing, coloring, painting, using an ice cube or a rubber band, and none of those work, then I encourage you to ask for help. Reach out to a friend, family member, therapist, or the crisis hotline to get additional support and assistance. Your life is more important than the pain that you are experiencing, so let’s find ways to process and alleviate that pain that you are feeling inside.

If you or a loved one is struggling, please reach out to a therapist for additional support. There are resources available like the Crisis Text Line where you can text anything to 741-741 and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 to speak with a support person. If it is an emergency, then please visit your local emergency room.

Your life has VALUE and it is meaningful to the world around you!

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Suicide. National Institute of Mental Health.

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