Hopelessness vs. Suicide – What’s the Difference?
When someone feels like giving up on themselves, when is it a time to listen or a time to call emergency services?
In my work as a therapist, some people feel the need to say, “I’m not suicidal. I just didn’t have a purpose to live.” Another statement I hear is, “I’m not sure why I’m still here. Don’t worry I’m not suicidal, I’m just having a hard time finding my way in life.” Even though people are seeking mental health services and are cooperative, there is a fear or hesitation of being seen as suicidal. It might be the fear that they are crazy and have to go to a hospital for weeks and be away from their lives. It could be the fear that their employer can find out and use it against them at work. The fear is real since the labels of crazy or insane are negative ones. Our society also has a long way to go in providing the necessary support, acceptance, and services for those with mental illness.
Suicide ideations become a concern when a person has a plan to end their lives. At this point, emergency mental health services are called in to take the person to the hospital. This is to ensure the safety and well-being of the person. Hospitalization seems extreme, but it usually means a person needs some intense help and then can be released to community-based mental health services. You can have a thought of suicide and not have a plan to end your life. At this point, a person can be calmed down and then be referred for services if they choose to.
When reflecting on suicide, we need to look at something else – the feeling of hopelessness. A person might say, “I feel like my life is over” or “I can’t take this anymore. I want out of this life.” These phrases come out of a place of hopelessness, or not seeing your way out of a dark or traumatic situation. Hopelessness can be a sign of depression, anxiety, or low self-esteem. In this case, a person still needs to find their way back to their spiritual center and purpose. It is important that when we hear a person say any phrase similar to the previously mentioned ones, we allow them to have their feelings. Ask what is wrong and do not deny their feelings. Denying one’s feelings can lead to despair, depression, or suicide ideations and feeling that no one understands them.
Acknowledgement of a person’s emotions is so important in keeping a person hopeful. Acknowledging pain is something we need to improve on. It can hurt a person when we say, “There’s nothing to be upset about,” “You sound ungrateful,” or “Don’t you know how blessed you are?” At this point, a person feels hopeless and is looking to be heard and listened to and not fixed. This time of year, meaning the holiday season, deaths and layoffs take place at a high rate and these two events can create a sense of hopelessness. Most of all any other stressful event or situation creates hopelessness.
We need to allow people to have their own individual experience in life. Just because you have had the same situation happen to you does not mean it was identical to your situation. Let people have their own experience and be willing to be a witness to their story and not write their story for them. It’s not helpful to say "I know how you feel." What is helpful is to ask how you can help or what do I need to understand to help you.