By Jenny Thrasher
It was 2004, and I was a new mom. Even though I was a trained crisis counselor and public educator on suicide prevention, I missed all the signs that I was going through postpartum depression. Within a few months, I became suicidal.
I have always felt grateful that I was married to someone who had been with me when I lost my dad to suicide in 1999. My husband understood what I was going through when I told him I was scared I would die. He stepped in and got me the help I needed to not only manage my symptoms but to truly heal.
Little did I know how different my life would be seventeen years later. I was newly divorced and recently diagnosed with Covid when I found myself once again suicidal. This time I was alone, not just as a result of quarantine but as a result of starting an entirely new life.
No one knew the pain I was in. No one was there to step in and pull me out of it. No one could help me except for me.
This is where I can thank every past experience, every heartache, every loss, and every near loss that helped me develop a deep understanding of suicide, an understanding that empowered me to recognize what I was experiencing and to have the awareness that I had within me the knowledge and tools to move through it without fear.
For years I had blamed my compromised mental state as the reason why I’d been unable to recognize the signs when I went through postpartum depression. It wasn’t until recently that I realized that my inability to recognize the signs had little to do with my mental state and everything to do with inadequate and ineffective training.
Rather than trying to identify a multitude of warning signs taught through mainstream suicide prevention tactics, I will share with you the three factors that put someone at the greatest risk for suicide.
Three factors that anyone can experience.
Three factors that, when understood, can empower us to intervene … On behalf of others and ourselves.
Suicide Risk Factor #1: Extreme distress
Extreme distress isn’t just due to job loss, divorce, or a death in the family. Extreme distress can be the result of a heated conversation, showing up late, or even getting a bad haircut. For our children, it could be getting a B instead of an A.
So how do you know when someone is experiencing extreme distress?
When a person becomes fixated on a problem or believes everything is a problem, especially if it is unusual for this person to be bothered by such problems.
Suicide Risk Factor #2: Isolation
Isolation isn’t just about spending time alone. Many people need alone time to recharge. When thinking of isolation as a risk factor, consider if there has been a shift in a person’s usual way of interacting with others.
Are they withdrawing from regular activities and pulling away from close relationships?
An aspect of isolation that is often overlooked is the individual who is surrounded by people and yet feels completely alone. Whether at school, work, or at home, being surrounded by others and not feeling connected is the most dangerous form of isolation, and yet it is extremely common, especially among youth. It results from feeling incapable of expressing thoughts, feelings, and beliefs for fear of being judged, shamed, or rejected.
Suicide Risk Factor #3: Shift in belief
We are born believing that this world is good and that we are perfectly made and worthy of love. As we move through life, challenges cause us to question these beliefs. This becomes dangerous when we experience a shift in our beliefs that is so profound that we believe there is nothing good in the world, that those around us would be better off without us, and that we are unworthy of love.
Utilizing these three risk factors can save a life.
Knowing these three factors not only makes it easier to identify if someone may be in need of support, but it also makes it easier to start the conversation. In February of 2021, I received a phone call from a close friend.
He said, “Hey Jenny, you taught me the three factors that put someone at the greatest risk for suicide, and I’m worried about you. I know you’re going through extreme distress because of your divorce. I haven’t heard from you in nearly two weeks, making me think you’re isolating yourself. Tell me, what do you believe right now?”
Now as much as I love this friend, I would not have thought to reach out to him for help, but in that moment, I knew I was safe. I knew I could be honest and that he understood. The words that came out of my mouth as the tears streamed down my face were, “I don’t even think Kaeli and Grace need me at this point.”
What he did for me next was what I needed more than anything … to know that I was worthy of love.
Because it was late at night and he didn’t live close, he stayed on the phone with me rather than coming over, giving me a safe space to share about all the things that were causing me to feel distressed. In doing so, he pulled me out of my isolation. He alleviated my distress and helped me remember that my girls do need me.
He created stability for me to determine what additional help I needed to maintain my wellness. Less than four months later, I was diagnosed with covid and became suicidal, but this time I had enough practice and awareness that I created stability for myself.
It isn’t enough to simply be aware of these three factors. For them to be effective, we must develop an understanding of each one. We also must talk about them in safe and healthy ways to comfortably approach others when offering or asking for help.
If you truly want to be in a position to help yourself or others, I invite you to join me for any of my free monthly workshops or do a deep dive with me by attending my signature course, From Suicidal to Thriving.
With love, Jenny
All That We Are® (ATWA) is changing how society responds to mental health, emotional crises, and suicide. By challenging the traditional path of health and wellness, we're making it possible for everyone to live a life they love.
Founder, Jenny Thrasher, has a B.A. in Psychology, extensive training as a crisis counselor, and is a public educator on crisis and suicide prevention. With the knowledge she'd gained over her career and her own firsthand experiences, she founded ATWA with an inspiring vision: to help people heal by living a life they love — something traditional suicide prevention practices have failed to do.
Jenny has successfully implemented her approach in communities and organizations across the U.S. and Canada, Costa Rica, Colombia, Panama, Sudan, Italy, Dubai, the U.K., Australia, and Ireland.