Recently, the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why” has sparked conversations about mental illness and suicide. For those unfamiliar with the plot of the series, a teenager named Hannah Baker, after taking her own life, leaves behind thirteen cassette tapes detailing why she made that decision. The tapes are delivered into the hands of Clay Jensen, a boy with a flirtatious crush on Hannah. Each tape is dedicated to a different person who Hannah believes has contributed to her decision to take her life. The series is based on Jay Asher’s 2007 New York Times best-seller and graphically depicts suicide, sexual assault, and bullying.
One of the conversations brought up by series is the autonomy of an individual with suicidal tendencies and mental illnesses. Many times, people suffering from major clinical depression feel trapped by their circumstances. Like Hannah, they hope someone will save them. Someone will give them a reason to keep living.
A support system is essential to overcoming mental illness. People thinking about suicide need help. There are cases when the damage caused by another person’s choices is so intense to a person’s emotional and mental psyche that their ability to make decisions is severely altered. However, one of the most powerful realizations most person with depression can have is the realization that they still have power. Though everything may seem helpless and hopeless, there are things they can do to reclaim their lives. That doesn’t make it easy. Life still isn’t fair. Atrocities and tragedies still happen.
Still, it can be extremely empowering to learn self-care practices and understand how you can, often literally, take your life into your own hands. Here are thirteen ways people with depression can be their own greatest ally in the fight against mental illness and suicide.
1. Contact a Suicide Prevention Lifeline
If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide or have intentions to harm yourself, make the promise to yourself that you’ll reach out to a hotline before you act. There are numerous organizations you can call, text, or chat with. There are also special hotlines for people who speak different languages, are deaf, who have faced natural disasters, or who are veterans. One of the most extensive resources comes from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can begin your conversation by calling 1-800-799-4889 or by visiting their website.
These hotlines are available to anyone who needs emotional support. You do not have to have thoughts of suicide to call. You can discuss substance abuse, economic struggles, relationship problems, mental illnesses, trauma, loneliness, and more. You will never be judged by those you talk to. It is a completely safe space to share your thoughts and feelings.
Starting conversations can be scary, however. Here are a few phrases you can use to start the chat or call if you’re struggling with how to reach out:
- Hey. I really need to talk with someone about _____________.
- This is my first time calling the hotline. I’m really anxious right now.
- Hello. My name is _______. I’m struggling with _______.
2. Follow Support Accounts on Social Media
While social media can definitely make people feel lonely when used improperly, it can be a great tool for connecting with people who similar similar struggles with suicide and mental illness. Some of these are sponsored by professional organizations; others are regular people wanting to share their stories. Following such accounts can give you access to a stream of support, positivity, and resources. We’ve compiled a list of some accounts you may want to consider following:
- @twloha (To Write Love on Her Arms)
- @afspnational (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention)
- @namicommunicate (National Alliance on Mental Illness)
- @projsemicolon (Project Semicolon)
You can also use hashtags to find people to connect with. Some popular ones include #suicideprevention, #selfcare, #selfhelp, and #mentalhealthmonday.
3. Learn About Depression and Suicide
The more you understand about your own mental illness and struggles, the more empowered you will be to fight it. Learn about depression. Review scientific studies and the stories of those who have struggled. Learn the warning signs of suicide. As you become more educated, you will be able to more clearly distinguish how your mental illness is affecting you. Depression and other mental illnesses lie. They tell you that you are worthless and unloved. You may feel you are simply a burden or ruin the lives of others simply by existing. Understanding depression and suicide as the very real conditions they are can help you find moments of clarity and truth, even as you suffer.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has an extensive set of articles to help people learn about suicide. The National Alliance on Mental Illness has great resources specifically about mental health.
4. Use Clear Language
Depression and suicide are real. If you take a look at the links above, you’ll learn that depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide and that suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. Yet, somehow, we have an extremely difficult time talking about these subjects. You can help end the stigma by clearly discussing your struggles as you feel comfortable and able to do so. Using clear language also helps others truly understand your situation. Do what you can to build the courage to say, “I am living with depression” or “I am struggling with suicidal thoughts.”
Often times, we veil our true feelings behind phrases like, “I’m tired” or “I’m having a hard time right now.” While these are great places to start, you will be able to get the specific help you need by honestly and clearly letting your parents, your therapist, or another trusted individual know exactly what you’re feeling.
5. Identify Triggers
There are many things that can trigger your mental illness or thoughts of suicide. Try to identify what these triggers are and do your best to avoid them. Are there places you need to avoid? Are there certain subjects that make you uncomfortable? Do certain people support old habits that help you fall into a dark place? Some things may be unavoidable; create a specific plan of how you hope to react in that situation and practices you can use to calm yourself, relieve anxiety, and minimize the agitation to your mental health and well-being.
6. Make a Safety Plan
A safety plan is a specific plan to help you through crisis moments. It includes where you will go, who you will contact, and coping mechanisms. Your safety plan should also include how you can make your environment safe, such as removing potentially dangerous objects or limiting your access to anything you might use to harm yourself. You can even make multiple safety plans for different situations. You can have a safety plan for home, school, and/or work. Once you’ve come up with your safety plan, consider sharing it with someone else or reviewing it with a mental health professional.
7. Avoid Alcohol and Drugs
Depression and mental illness already take a toll on your mental, emotionally, and physical energy. Substances such as alcohol and drugs can impact your mental clarity in a negative way. To stay diligent, avoid any substance that clouds your judgment and increases your likelihood to engage in a risky or dangerous behavior. Carefully manage any medication you take and have frank conversations with your doctor about how your medication may or may not be affecting you.
8. Pick One Self-Care Goal to Work Towards
The little things can make a big difference. Large goals and changes can definitely be overwhelming, so find a single self-care goal that feels manageable. It can be a physical goal, such as working out, showering, or eating healthy. It can be a mental goal, such as learning something new or using positive affirmations. It can be emotional, such as journaling your feelings, talking with a trusted friend, or just taking the time to treat yourself. Whatever it is, focus on a goal that makes you feel good and will help improve your overall state of well-being. Share this goal with a friend or even have them join you.
9. Create Positive Truth Statements
One of the worst things you can say to someone with depression is to just be more positive. So when you hear the phrase “positive truth statements,” you may be a bit wary. However, these statements and affirmations are a simple way to discover truth and small bits of light into your life. How does it work? Come up with truthful statements about your life or your belief system. Examples could be:
- I’ve survived all of my worst days.
- I should be my own cheerleader.
- I choose to do my best today.
- God loves me.
- Tomorrow is a new day.
Whatever you come up with, your affirmations need to be based in your own truth. Once you have a list, write them down. Repeat them in your mind. Have them available at a moment’s notice. Using these truth statements can help keep you grounded in moments of crisis.
10. Write Your Feelings Down
When you have depression or another mental illness, the sheer amount of emotional weight can crush you. There is so much you feel and experience. It can be overwhelming. Writing down your feelings is a good way to help alleviate some of that weight. You can use a journal, a private blog, or even a notepad on your phone. As you write, you may find that you can put previously indescribable feelings into words. You may also begin to notice patterns, triggers, and connections.
It can also be useful to try and write down positive things. Though it may feel impossible to see, writing down at least one thing you can be grateful for every day may help you notice things depression normally clouds. It can something as simple as enjoying the rain or getting to go to bed at the end of a long day.
11. Prepare to Share Your Feelings
Open communication is essential for overcoming depression and combating suicidal thoughts. However, this is also one of the hardest things to accomplish. Many people who struggle feel they sending out signals loud and clear that are never picked up on. When you have the strength, it is vital to do everything withing your power to communicate as clearly as possible. This can be with a parent, a school counselor, a trusted ecclesiastical leader, or a mental health professional. How can you share your feelings more openly? Here are some ideas to help you get started.
- Read sections of your journal that you feel capture what you’re going through.
- Study feeling words and find ones that match you and your experience.
- Make a list of how your life is being affected or how you feel you are affecting others.
- Start with small moments of vulnerability and work your way towards deeper conversations.
- Practice saying the words aloud when you are alone.
12. Fight Against Shame
Shame is a painful emotion that stems from the comparison of how we view ourselves and what we believe we should be. People who experience shame generally don’t just think they have done or do bad things; they believe they are bad or worthless. Shame often causes a desire to figuratively cover oneself up or withdraw. We try to hide our perceived inadequacies or failures. Shame can create such strong feelings of imperfection that it prevents people from moving forward in any direction.
Do all you can to disassociate your mental illness with shame. Recognize many struggle. Many have survived an attempt to take their own life. Many have thought about it. Many have felt utterly alone. You are not alone. Having such problems does not make you a bad person or your existence invalid. Promise to try and be a little kinder and gentler with yourself.
13. Don’t Dismiss Your Agency
Never let go of your power to choose. While there are some situations where your agency is compromised, we often have more power to make choices that we understand or believe. Make choices every day in bold and confident ways. Serve yourself. Advocate for yourself. At the end of the day, you can become your greatest ally and friend. You can make a choice to keep going when everything is telling you otherwise. You can make promises to yourself to avoid self-harm and to always wait before taking drastic measures against your own life. Your power to choose may feel small and insignificant, but don’t let it go. Hold onto it. Use it. Grow it.
Remember, if you feel you are in a crisis moment and need someone to talk to, click here. We’re so proud of you for staying in this fight, for seeking help. Most of all, we’re glad you’re still here.