What to Do When You're a Parent Contemplating Suicide

Millions of Americans live with suicidal thoughts, with just over 1 million acting on said thoughts each year. Here, one parent shares her story.

Unrecognizable lonely woman grabbing her knees and lying in the sofa.

Lucas Ottone/Stocksy

Immediate Resources For Suicide Prevention

  • Dial 988 for the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.
  • Text "Home" to 741741 for the Crisis Text Line.

It's been one month since I wanted to kill myself. One month since I made a plan, wrote a note, and intended to die. 

I kissed my toddler on the lips, giving him a wet, sloppy "goodnight." A wet, sloppy "goodbye." I took my daughter to the movies. We ate popcorn slicked in butter until we were sick. Until our stomachs turned—and hurt—and the only relief for said pain was something sweet. We needed sugar to combat the weight of what turned out to be something too savory. And I spent the weekend making cherished memories, with a smile on my face and a (proverbial) knife in my heart. We went to the pool, the mall, and an amusement park. But in the back of my mind, I had already checked out.

This, I thought, was it.

No more hurt.

No more pain.

The end.

Of course, since I am writing this, and you are reading it, you already know the outcome: I did not die, nor did I "try." Rather, I ended up in the emergency room, afraid and alone. (Well, mostly alone. There was a nurse sitting in my room: a nurse who was there to watch me at all times.) And while you may be wondering why—I had and still have everything to live for: a good job, a beautiful home, and a loving family who is my rock and my world; they are my heart, soul, and life—they could not keep me from the darkness. Love could not save me from myself.

"Support from others can be critical to prevention efforts, but suicide and mental health crises are health issues first," says Doreen Marshall, Ph.D., vice president of mission engagement at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. "Just like we wouldn't say love is sufficient to treat high blood pressure or diabetes, having adequate treatment, a recovery plan, as well as support following an attempt, is necessary. We should also remember that in a moment of suicidal crisis where someone is feeling the urge to act on their thoughts, they are often in so much emotional pain that they cannot easily connect to the love or support of those around them. They are focused on ending the emotional pain they are experiencing."

Of course, I am not the first person or parent to contemplate suicide. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 12.2 million American adults seriously thought about suicide in 2020. 3.2 million made a plan, while 1.2 million acted on said thoughts. They made a suicide attempt. And while I could have easily been one of a million—while I was closer than I would like to admit—a few things saved me: excellent support, care, and an emergency plan.

How to Create a Suicide Safety Plan

"Creating a safety plan or a crisis response plan can help a person recognize their thoughts and what is activating them," says Dr. Marshall. "It also provides step-by-step instructions on what to do to keep themselves safe in that moment." This can include information about who to call and/or where the person in crisis can go. I have several names and numbers on my plan, for example. Both personal and professional.

What to Include In Your Safety Plan

  • Warning signs. A safety plan is a document or tool designed to help people in times of crisis. As such, it's important to note what the signs of a crisis are for you. Examples include triggering situations, negative thought patterns, isolation, etc. Be as thorough and specific as possible, letting you and others know what to look for.
  • Ways to comfort yourself. While self-care mechanisms vary from person to person, it's important for you to outline which strategies work for you. Some, for example, find meditation helpful while others call a friend or turn to physical activity. Brainstorm a few examples and include them in your safety plan. That way, in times of crisis, you have tangible steps to take.
  • Reasons to live. When you're feeling suicidal, it's easy to forget "the good." The reasons why you can (and should) stay alive. Make note of important people and things, like your work or faith—and don't forget to include yourself.
  • Professional resources. From your psychiatrist and psychologist's phone number to crisis hotlines, a solid safety plan will include a thorough list of resources.
  • A person to call. In addition to professional resources, your safety plan should include additional contacts and/or a trusted person you can call. This person can be a family member, colleague, religious leader, or friend.
  • A place to go. If you've followed all of the steps on your plan and are still feeling unsafe, it's important to know where to go. Being and/or sitting with a specific person may be enough; however, in some cases, calling 911 or visiting your ER may be necessary. If you are feeling out of control and/or the urge to act on your thoughts is intense, you should seek immediate help.

Barriers To Receiving Mental Health Care

That said, getting help is easier said than done. Fear and shame exist. Stigmas persist, and there are financial barriers, too. Most in- and outpatient mental health care programs are expensive. In my case, partial hospitalization would have cost $700 per week after insurance—and I have a robust health care plan. There are also logistical concerns, like child care and taking time off of work. 

"The barriers to receiving effective mental health treatment are nothing short of daunting," an article for the National Library of Medicine states. "The cost of care is among the most frequently cited barriers to mental health treatment. About 60–70% of respondents in large, community-based surveys say they are worried about cost." Lack of services is also a problem. Many providers are not seeing new patients. The system is overwhelmed.

How to Get The Care You Need

Support is available through 988, the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. Crisis Text Line also offers free, 24/7 services. Simply text "HOME" to 741741, and NAMI—or the National Alliance on Mental Illness—offers peer-to-peer counseling designed specifically for adults. 

"People who are struggling with suicidal thoughts need a strong support network," the JED Foundation says. "Ask for help from friends, adults you trust, and mental health professionals like a therapist, psychiatrist, or school counselor… be direct. Say things like, 'I am having suicidal thoughts' or 'I am feeling suicidal. I want to talk about it but I'm not sure how.'" And develop a plan. "Once you have professionals to help you, together you can assess your risks and develop a treatment plan," the foundation adds.

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