Living with Suicidal Ideation
Suicidal ideation refers to any thoughts, passive or active, of wanting to die by suicide. The Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network supports Suicide Anonymous (SA), a self-help program for mutual support based on the model of Alcoholics Anonymous. The purpose of this program is to provide safe environments for people to share their struggles with suicide and to develop strategies for support and healing from the devastating effects of suicidal preoccupation and behavior.
The need for such a program arises from the awareness that suicidal people generally do not have safe places to talk honestly about their own struggles with suicide. The stigma of suicide is enormous, both for surviving family members and for surviving attempters. This stigma pervades every segment of our society, including religious organizations and even the mental health field.
The church usually is not perceived as a safe place by people who struggle with suicidal thoughts, behaviors, and/or attempts. The legacy that suicide is an unforgivable sin is still learned by our children, whether or not the church actively teaches such a doctrine, making it unlikely that teens or adults struggling with the possibility of their own suicide will feel free to turn to the church to share their struggle.
Partially by default, the mental health field inherited the problem of suicide as the concept of suicide evolved from a “sin” into a “product of mental illness” over the last century in the United States. Yet the mental health field is not always perceived as a safe place by people who struggle with suicide. Mental health professionals are bound by law to intervene with suicidal patients, usually forcing appropriate psychiatric hospitalization. This can create what is perceived as an unsafe environment for people to share the full truth about their struggle. Faced with the threat of hospitalization, suicidal patients clam up about their struggles with suicide.
Suicide Anonymous groups exist to offer a support system for people who are preoccupied with suicide and/or have survived suicide attempts, to make a distinction between the suicide attempt and the person involved, to cast off the societal stigma that too often plagues the survivor, and to develop strategies for mutual support and healing. Among these strategies are:
Experience has shown that talking openly about suicide with people who understand the problem lessens the shame and stigma, combats isolation, and teaches the suicidal person that it is safe to reach out for support in a crisis.
Exchanging phone numbers with other group members provides a valuable resource for crises between meetings, especially late at night. At first reluctant to bother others, most members learn to reach out to fellow members for support in a suicidal crisis. Members receiving calls feel useful and experience the other end of a suicidal crisis.
New members pick more experienced members to guide them through the Twelve Steps model used by both groups. Both people benefit enormously from the experience and learn that they are not alone in their struggle with suicide.
At regular intervals, a member shares his or her life story and experience with suicide at a meeting open to members and the public. In sharing their stories, members overcome the shame and stigma of a life of struggle with suicide. Meanwhile, listeners identify with the story or break through denial of the full extent of their own struggles.
Members select bottom line behaviors for themselves. Bottom line behaviors are component behaviors of suicide such as hoarding pills for overdose, suicidal fantasies, compulsively driving through cemeteries, etc. Members commit to stop bottom line behaviors one day at a time. These behaviors may change with progress in recovery.
These groups are fellowships in which members from a variety of backgrounds share their experiences, strengths, and hopes with each other, that they may solve their common problems. Membership is open to all who want it; the only requirement is a desire to stop living out a pattern of suicidal ideation and behavior. There are no dues or fees for membership; each group is self-supporting through its own contributions.
If you are concerned about yourself or a loved one and would like to learn more about suicidal ideation, click here.
If you or a loved one is experiencing any suicidal thoughts, plans, or behaviors, call for 24/7 access to free, confidential, caring, and trained staff: