Do We Talk about Suicide?

The world breaks everyone, and afterward, many are strong at the broken places

The Call You Don’t Want to Make

I pulled over to the side of the road. I would rather have waited another 45 minutes to make the call. I wanted to arrive at my destination first, unload my suitcase, gather my thoughts. Then make the call.

But life and death won’t wait.

We all have a few stories that we hold close. We only talk about them with those who are nearest to us.

The stories can be both sacred and scary. They sometimes need time as a buffer before they’re retold.

This is one of those stories for me. It happened awhile back.

That day in my car, temporarily halting my drive to Auburn to visit my teenage daughter, I nervously looked up the number for the Suicide Hotline (1-800-273-TALK). I saved it in my contacts.

One phone call earlier, I’d been listening to my daughter tell me about her friend who had been threatening suicide. Serious threats.

As the responsible adult now in-the-know, I felt like a little child myself. I didn’t know what to do either. Pray, pray, pray. But what did God want me to actually do?

Ask Someone Else

The good news is often when we don’t know what to do, someone else does.

I called the university’s counseling office for advice. They were caring and informative. They recommended actions we could take to help. I finished my drive.

After a harrowing few days and weeks, this crisis passed.

The story still lingers in my soul though.

Combined with other stories surrounding suicidal thoughts and events from those close to me, these subjects are often taboo for general conversation.

Suicide is a subject we’d rather avoid.

And understandably so.

But can we afford to avoid it?

Talk about Suicide

I finished a novel last Saturday. I wasn’t going to put it on my “Books I Recommend” list that I share on Tuesday. There were parts of the book I did not like. Parts that made me uncomfortable. Sad. Dark.

Yet by the time I reached the end, I knew I had to share it (although it’s still not a book for everybody).

Talking about suicide shouldn’t be avoided just because it’s distressing.

The book was All the Bright Places, a young adult novel from 2015 by Jennifer Niven. And it did include bright things. Happy scenes. Fun adventures.


But it also included hard narratives about teens who suffer from mental/emotional disturbances, whether from life events or a mental illness.

After the story ends, the Author’s Note says:

Every forty seconds, someone in the world dies by suicide. Every forty seconds, someone is left behind to cope with the loss.”

Whether we choose to think about it or not.
It happens.

And this:

“Often, mental and emotional illnesses go undiagnosed because the person suffering symptoms is too ashamed to speak up, or because their loved ones either fail to or choose not to recognize the signs.”

May we each be brave enough to see, to hear, to talk.

And when we don’t know what to do next, to get help. Either for ourselves or for others. Help is out there.

God doesn’t intend us to walk this alone.

Scrolling through the contacts on my phone last week, I noticed the Suicide Hotline number is still there.

Even though the situation with my daughter’s friend has passed, I think I’ll leave the number there anyway. . . .

* * *

My condolences to the many of you who have lost loved ones to suicide. What resources would you recommend to further understand suicide and/or mental illness? Please share any thoughts in the comments.

See the book trailer here to All the Bright Places (it’s also being made into a movie?).


38 thoughts on “Do We Talk about Suicide?

  1. Bill (cycleguy)

    I am seeing this thought crop up more and more, Lisa, as I try to help people. It seems the majority (least in my world) has come from the desire to escape the past demons and ugliness they are feeling. For sure the church needs to talk about it. We, after all, are the ones who are supposed to have the hope to offer.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I agree, Bill. We have hope to offer and need to be engaged in these conversations. I heard a statistic this weekend that by 2030 the largest disability in our country will be depression. Sobering.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      The percentage of suicide among our veterans is indeed significant. 🙁 In the book Tribe that I read recently, it shared how soldiers often feel depressed when they return home apart from their close-knit comrades, and are often emotionally ill-equipped to deal with the memories of what happened while they were deployed. I don’t know the answers but I know we do need to have the conversations more often.

      1. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser

        One thing that contributes to PTSD, I think, is the realization that one will never be so awesome again. Iknow it sounds flippant, and many will dismiss the concept, but an overarching part of combat is an almost sublime sense of mission.

        Coming home, one is pulled from an environment in which life and death were handled with aplomb, and thrust into a world in which chicken ‘droppings’, for the most part, rules.

        This isn’t by any means the only or even dominant factor (or so I believe) but I think it’s significant.

        1. LisaNotes Post author

          No, that doesn’t sound flippant, Andrew. I think losing a sense of grand purpose is a legitimate source for emotional disturbance. Even with something as small as a week’s mission trip abroad, I would come home feeling like “ordinary” things were just so trivial now. (I’d lose that feeling soon, though, and pop back into thinking my little world as again the center of everything, unfortunately.) So I can’t even imagine how soldiers must feel returning home after facing life/death scenarios for extended periods of time.

  2. Anita Ojeda

    I credit the YA book ‘Thirteen Reasons Why’ with my awareness of the pain behind other people’s decisions and the empathy to handle my own daughters suicidal ideation when she suffered from an undiagnosed mental illness a few years later (she and I wrote about her experience for #write31days in 2015). Hard questions aren’t easy to ask–but they are so important! I encourage everyone to find out as much as they can about the mental anguish that accompanies different mental illnesses. Keep your eyes and your ears open and be willing to be the one who offers hope.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Thanks for sharing that resource, Anita! We all need to be more aware of the helps available from those who have been through this so we can stay educated. Depression runs in my family and I’ve seen it affect all of us, not only those who suffer with it but those of us who watch and feel helpless about it. I know I’ve mishandled situations in the past with my loved ones due to my own ignorance. Education, empathy, and the right resources can make a difference. Lord, have mercy to speed up the learning curve.

  3. jodie filogomo

    What a great post, Lisa. I think society is finally opening up to talking about the “bad” things like suicide and depression more and more. As an older adult, I remember when these things were “taboo” kinda like divorce.
    But there’s such an advantage of having the knowledge of what to do or how to help in these situations!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      You’re right, Jodie: we definitely are more open to talking through the hard subjects than we used to be, thank God. When we lost our newborn 23 years ago, people were just beginning to talk about such things. But when I would talk to women a generation ahead of me, they had carried such grief alone, not sharing it with people back in their day.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I still remember your post, Linda, how brave it was, how encouraging that you told the story. Thanks for setting the example and for being a wonderful listener to the women you help both online and in person. You make a difference.

  4. Trudy

    Thank you so much for your open heart towards others’ pain, Lisa. Yes, this definitely is something that needs to be more openly talked about, not hidden like a “shame” topic. There are so many people who are feeling hopeless and desperate and feel there is nowhere to go. Depression runs in my family, too. As a child I have seen my mom trying to take a bottle of pills or wanting to end her life. In those days they just loaded her with pills and gave her shock treatments instead of counseling her over the deep pains she hid in her heart. I’m so glad that in her latter years, she was able to work with a counselor and she learned God is a God of love, not of condemnation. I, too, have been so very close to suicide some years ago during and after a time of spiritual and sexual abuse from a pastor. Anyway, sorry for babbling on here, but your post moves me in a big way. Suicide is a thought in many more hearts than we know. Thank you, Lisa, for your loving heart to take your daughter’s friend seriously. Love and hugs!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I’m so sorry you had to experience that with your mom, Trudy, and then the horrible experience you had with abuse from your pastor. Things like that just take my breath away and leave me speechless. 🙁 I’m SO thankful that you (and your mom) have stepped away from the edge. My grandmother, mother, sibling, child, have all suffered with depression, but thankfully none so close that they totally ran out of hope. By the grace of God we hold each other here. Thank you for sharing this piece of your story! I feel so privileged to be able to listen to it and hold it close. Yes, our God is one of LOVE, not condemnation. That’s such a message of hope.

  5. Beverley

    A number of years ago and for many years from then to recent years, I wanted to die. I did not see any point in living, in breathing, in being – i was invisible to everyone – i wasn’t but i felt it. My daughter saw it on me and grabbed me in my free-fall and sat me in front of a stranger, a counselor – the most amazing man i have ever met – i talked and talked and he listened and listened and listened some more and bit my bit me picked out the sign posts to the rest of my life’s journey. I know what it takes to step off into free-fall, but you are right, i am not allowed to speak about it, but sometimes i do – to my daughter, who grabbed me when i couldn’t stop the free-fall. Two years ago my mother was so seriously ill she should have died, but she didn’t and during her recovery we had many hours to talk and i did not know she knew i wanted to die, she asked me to promised her to not do so – i made the promise with my words, but it as taken time for those words to fill my heart and each day i fight to live. We should talk about suicide – but when someone takes their own life, we need to realise that it is not our fault, that we did not do it and in the end we probably wouldn’t have been able to stop them either. Life is hard, find a stranger, even at the end of a phone line they are listening as you talk and some times that is all you need.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Thank you for sharing your story, Beverley. It endears me to you even more. And to your daughter who was very brave, both to open her eyes to what she did not want to see (none of us want to see our mothers sad) and then to get you to a counselor. I understand your mom wanting to hear those words from you to do no harm to yourself; I wanted to hear the same words from my daughter during her depressions. I hope you continue to fight to live every day; your life is so valuable not only to your daughters and granddaughters and other family, but to those of us who only know you from a photo and words on a screen. Your faith bolsters mine.

      1. Beverley

        As you know, this year my word is Surrender, because i have nothing left to lose and so i surrender to God. But, along with the word surrender as come the word Receive – receive all that God can give me and he can give me all that i need, every moment of every day and night. He is my ‘keeper’ and my ‘shade.’ (Protection)

        1. LisaNotes Post author

          Oh, I love that you have “received” Receive along with Surrender. What a beautiful pairing; that is just like God. I also love your Psalm 121 use—when we can incorporate God’s truth into our everyday lives, how much more meaningful it is! Thanks, Beverley.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      It is nice to know that we have those helplines available. I should never take for granted that we have access to so many resources, so many people who sincerely want to help, whether to a total stranger or a friend. Their availability is a blessing, whether we have to use them or not.

  6. Betty Draper

    Lisa, I will read this book because we have faced this before even in the missionary circle. Just recently one of our bible teachers son committed suicide. In face we know several missionary families who children did the same. One thing that comes back to me is what ever demon they are struggling with causes them to lose hope. And hope deferred makes the heart sick. Through the years there have been times we have ask that hard question, have you had thoughts of suicide? If we don’t did not have a relationship with that person before they usually shy away from the question but if there is even an ounce of trust there sometimes they open up. I have been working with a young women with two children whose husband is for a better choice of words a skum…who manipulates her and makes her feel lower then dirt. She use to cut herself and that took a whole year of building trust for her to tell me that. At that point she confessed her suicidal thoughts. What hold the demon at bay, her two sweet daughters and her knowledge God loves her. We have been friend almost three years now, praise God she is doing better or so I think. Yet I know she is could cross the other side even with a smile on her face. The few I have known that committed suicide you would have never thought it was on their minds a day or an hour
    before they did it. The more we stop being afraid of addressing this the better equipped to maybe stand in the gap for at least one who has it on their mind. Bless you sister for attacking this issue, bless you.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      You’ve obviously seen way too much of this, Betty. 🙁 I’m sorry; such pain each time, I’m certain. But it’s a blessing that you know the hard question needs to be asked and that you’re willing to ask it. I’m grateful for women of God who are so patient to befriend other women who need that love, who may have never had it before. I pray that your young friend will continue to keep hope in the God who loves her.

      I’m still somewhat reluctant to share “All the Bright Places” because of other objectionable content, but I’m sure you’re aware of other important resources that are helpful. I appreciate that Anita shared about “Thirteen Reasons Why” as a book that helped her. I’m going to look that one up myself.

  7. Barbie

    This is such an important topic to talk about. So many people have lost loved ones due to suicide. There was a time in my life where i was so distraught I feared I may harm myself. So thankful for a God who reached out and took hold of me and reminded me of His love. Thank you for sharing!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      It is sad to know how many people have lost friends and family to suicide. Oftentimes we aren’t even aware. I had a friend several years back whose brother committed suicide. We were all young at the time and weren’t sure what to say or how to talk about it. I’m sure we failed him on many levels during his time of grief. I’m grateful that you are still here to share your piece of this story, Barbie! We often never know the intense distress that others have survived through….Thank you, God, for grace during those times and all times.

  8. TC Avey

    Thank you for addressing such a distressing topic…and thank you for the book recommendation.

    I used to work as an ER RN and I cannot tell you the number of patients I had that tried to commit suicide…most unsuccessfully (Thank God!).
    There is so much hurt in this world. And so many ways we can be a blessing to others if we would only move out of our comfort zones and/or make the time.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Oh, TC. I can’t imagine how it would be seeing so many patients who felt enough despair to attempt suicide. Yes, it definitely is an important kick in the pants to get out there more often and do what we can to bless others. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  9. Lesley

    Thank you for sharing this, Lisa. I have a friend who attempted suicide more than once a few years ago. At one point I was the only one she would talk to and, while I wanted to be there to support her and I did all I could, the feeling of helplessness and the burden of responsibility were overwhelming. Fortunately she is okay but I think it’s so important that we can talk about this subject and for people to know they’re not alone.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Oh, how heart-wrenching that must have been for you, Lesley. And such a burden of responsibility as well. Suicide has to be one of the very hardest things in the human experience, on any side of it. God bless you for being there for your friend! I’m glad to hear she is okay now.

  10. Dawn Boyer

    Such a thoughtful and insightful post,Lisa. You were able to share with such an empathetic and gentle heart about something so deeply difficult to discuss.
    Thank you for being an example of brave grace.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Thank you, Dawn. Suicide is something I’d rather not talk about at all because I’d rather it not exist at all. 🙁 But as long as it does, we can’t ignore it. I appreciate your encouragement.

  11. Michele Morin

    I think you are wise to share resources like this with the goal in mind of helping those in tough situations (like the one you were in) be equipped to think things through and take correct action. I often think of fiction in that way. Sometimes it’s a dress rehearsal for real life.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      It’s only been in the past few years that I’ve truly learned to embrace fiction as just as informative as non-fiction. I learn so much through novels about other people’s perspectives and situations that I will never live through on my own. Oh, we book lovers understand each other. 🙂 Thanks, Michele.

  12. Kathleen

    Excellent post! I understand why people consider suicide. They look at the world around them and they see no hope. Often they search for answers in the wrong places and only gain temporary satisfaction. People need the Lord! It’s only when they surrender their lives to Christ to they find true and permanent peace.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Thanks for sharing, Kathleen. There is definitely a lot of hopelessness in the world around us. May we continue to spread the love of Jesus to all those around us.

      But I know we all also have friends and family who are in the Lord but who still struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts for various reasons. May the Lord grant mercy and help in just the right ways!

  13. Etta

    I just finished this novel, Lisa. How sad to feel this deep struggle in the mind. My take away from it, watch my words. I can’t possibly know what others are really struggling with, and since most hold those hurts inside, I could really push someone too far. I want my words to give life.

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