A Therapist's Thoughts on Suicide Prevention

Michael Driscoll, LPC














2020.  Ah, what a year.  It feels like Murphy’s Law has been in full force.  In the midst of a global pandemic of historical proportions, our nation has faced increasing political turmoil, competing ideologies locked in civil conflict, an economic downturn not seen since the Great Depression and, of course, murder hornets.  As we do our best to get through these societal and environmental challenges, we must not lose sight that suicide remains the tenth leading cause of death in the United States - seventh in Colorado.  Given the recent and long-term problems faced by our country, this issue may be more prevalent than ever. 

Suicide is a difficult topic to discuss and often related to a mental health issue such as Major Depressive Disorder, unbearable mental anguish and pain.  Depression is a disease like any other.  It can occur with sudden rapid shifts in a person’s life or with a prolonged chronic health condition lasting months or years.  No one chooses to develop a disease, but we attempt to deal with it in the best ways we can.  Depression is no different. People with depression respond well to social connectedness and conversations supported by empathetic understanding.  Loneliness and isolation are common precursors to depression symptoms. 

In an article “The Social Cure” published in Scientific American, one study of some 1400 people indicated that loneliness was often a big predictor of depression, occurring in about one in four older adults.  On the flip side however, depression and anxiety plummeted the more social connectedness the person felt, such as engaging in multiple group activities.  Even better, it didn’t matter what kind of groups the person was involved in … could be sports, birdwatching, painting, behavioral health groups, or just about anything.  The more groups and social connectedness, the better the participants felt.  This speaks strongly to the power of social connection and its healing impact on depression, loneliness, and suicidal thinking.

We need to talk

As friends, co-workers, family-members and as a community, we need to start having weekly, if not daily, conversations with each other about suicide if we are ever to move the needle on suicide prevention and intervention.  We must break through the stigma and discomfort of discussing this topic with others.  The journey out of suicidal thinking can be greatly assisted by a caring person or a group of acquaintances.  Offering a gentle, non-judgmental curiosity to the conversation, as well as just thirty minutes of empathetic listening, can go a long way.  It’s okay to ask even when there is no indication of suicidal thoughts, because contrary to common opinion, asking will not place the idea in their head and will open the door to future conversations.  Starting the conversation is easier than you think.

Try to remain relatively quiet, calm, and non-judgmental for approximately ten minutes, only repeating back what you heard them say in your own words.  Do this several times to help convey that you understand.  It’s critical for the person to feel heard, understood, and validated, as this provides a release for them.  Recommend contact with their therapist, family/friends, or crisis services if indicated, and identify two coping skills they can use to calm down and wait out the ideations, as suicidal thoughts are time limited and usually pass.  Help them to identify their reasons for living, and who would be impacted by their death.  Call 911 or drive them to your nearest behavioral health crisis location if they cannot be safe on their own.  You might not be able to change their mind, and remember the decision is ultimately not yours.  A person must decide to help themselves in a moment of crisis. 

We need to listen

As the listener, reactions to suicidal discussions can feel overwhelming, anxiety producing, and difficult to sit with.  The best advice that I can give is to remain calm and take deep breaths, signaling that it is okay to talk about this subject.  Becoming comfortable with this subject will take time and practice.  Understand there is a significant difference between suicidal thoughts and imminent risk.  If we can help them identify their coping skills for triggers and occurrences of suicidal thoughts, then they take a step toward early intervention, resiliency building and resources at their disposal as well as strengthen their crisis prevention skills for imminent risk.  Finally, as a helper, please do not make the mistake of taking responsibility for someone else’s decision.  Ultimately the individual must make a choice.  Outcomes will vary in all situations. 

Thankfully, around ninety-five percent of suicide survivors report later in life they are glad they lived and that someone was there to listen to them and provide support when it was needed.  They remembered they are never truly alone if they ask for help.  Most survivors have common themes in describing their experience, whether they were interrupted by other persons or lived through the experience, and that is they are incredibly grateful for their connection with another human being during their darkest moments.  Many in this state of mind wished that a stranger on the street had asked them how they were doing.  The innate human need and desire for social connection is powerful - equally incredibly healing and potentially very damaging.  One human connection at the right moment in space and time can alter the life path of an individual forever.  How will you choose to act in that moment?

Finally, many of the previously mentioned issues can generate huge disruptions to people’s lives, creating shifting circumstances suddenly and dramatically, so be on the lookout.  Sadly, suicide is never fully predictable, but the least we can do is ask and check in with our friends, family, and co-workers.  Hindsight provides us data regarding the precursors and indicators of suicidal behavior, so we know what to watch for in people.  Take a few moments right now to research the common symptoms of suicidal behavior, as it just might be that you are in the right place at the right time one day.  If someone you know has had a major life change recently, it doesn’t hurt to ask them how they are doing, and if recent changes have led to recent suicidal thoughts.  And plug 1-844-493-8255 (Colorado Crisis Services) into your phone.

Some resources:

www.NAMI.org  National Alliance on Mental Illness

https://coloradocrisisservices.org/   Colorado Crisis Services

https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/    Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Denver based therapist Michael Driscoll is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Supervisor of Staff for the Thornton Outpatient Therapy team of Community Reach Center.  He has been working in the field of mental health for over 16 years, has been an outpatient therapist for more than 10 years and specializes in the treatment of PTSD, Major Depression, Bipolar and Schizophrenia disorders.  Michael is a certified EMDR therapist, a facilitator for Assessing and Managing Suicide Risk (AMSR) trainings and is the lead for Community Reach Center’s Suicide Prevention Committee. 


September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month

While suicide may seem like the act of a person who simply no longer cares about life and doesn’t want to be helped, the truth is quite the opposite. People who attempt or complete suicide tend to care very deeply and desperately want to be helped.

September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. It’s a time of education and awareness, and an important reminder that we can support our loved ones by watching for signs that they are feeling suicidal and take action if we see them.

Understanding the Signs

In some cases, people kill themselves without conveying any observable indicators that they are planning to do so. However, in most cases, there are signs that someone is at risk of suicide. They include:

  • Lack of hope. Expressing feelings of helplessness and hopelessness about life circumstances.
  • Talking about suicide. Talking or writing about self-harm or suicide—especially if it is frequent. 
  • Self-hatred. Expressing feelings of guilt, shame or worthlessness.
  • Withdrawal. Pulling away from family and friends, and isolating themselves.
  • Seeking the means of suicide. Looking to obtain a weapon, drugs or other things that could be used to kill themselves.
  • Reckless behavior. Abusing drugs or alcohol, driving carelessly, taking unnecessary risks.
  • Preparing for the end. Actions like selling or giving away personal possessions and making out a will.
  • Saying goodbye. An increase in calls or visits to loved ones, and parting as if they won’t be seen again.
  • A sudden sense of calm. Unexpectedly being “at peace” when they had previously been anxious or depressed.

If you observe one or more of these behaviors, it should be cause for concern.

If You Are Worried, Speak Up

Talking with a person who you think may be suicidal can be difficult. However, it’s best to express your genuine concern. Here are some keys to having that conversation:

  • Be sympathetic. It’s easy to react in fear or anger when you think a loved one is suicidal, but it’s important to express yourself in a way that is as understanding and helpful as possible.
  • Ask the question. Ask the person directly if they are planning to kill themselves.  Not, “Are you thinking of hurting yourself” or any other non-specific question.
  • Listen more than talk. Allow the person to express whatever it is they’re feeling. Wait through pauses to allow them time to collect their thoughts.
  • Avoid the urge to “solve” the problem on the spot. Issues that lead to a person feeling suicidal are rarely the kind of thing that can be resolved quickly.
  • Offer hope. Depression, anxiety and other conditions that may lead to suicidal thoughts are treatable.
  • Provide consistent support. Knowing that they can count on you to help them as best you can will be a source of comfort to someone who is considering suicide.

Patience and understanding are key to helping a person who is considering suicide. However, if you feel a suicide attempt is imminent, take action. If the person will allow you to transport them to a hospital or mental health center, do so immediately. If they refuse, call 911, do your best to prevent access to any means of suicide, and stay with the person until help arrives.

Be Informed and Be Available
The best things you can do for a loved one you think may be considering suicide are to learn about the issue and let them know you are there for them. Contact us online at communityreachcenter.org or by phone at 303-853-3500 Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. to learn about our services. We have centers in the northside Denver metro area of Adams County including the cities of Thornton, Westminster, Northglenn, Commerce City and Brighton. And for immediate assistance for you or someone you know, please call Colorado Crisis Services at 1-844-493-TALK(8255)

Tips for Overcoming Isolation Which Can Increase the Risk of Suicide


One of the behaviors of people with depression is that as the condition intensifies, they tend to isolate themselves. It can be difficult to be around people who are enjoying life when the ability to do so has been lost. While the desire to isolate is understandable, shunning contact with family, friends and the world, in general, can make a person more at risk for committing suicide.

This is especially true for seniors. Those who cut ties with loved ones are more prone to self-harm either through suicidal actions or inaction—such as discontinuing medication, foregoing food or hydration, etc. Loved ones should be especially proactive when a senior show signs of isolating. (Learn about our Senior Reach program.)

Ways to Overcome the Urge to Isolate

If you are depressed and find yourself wanting to pull away from the people who care about you, try these strategies:

Acknowledge that you are hurting. In our culture, there is a bias toward hiding our pain. Consequently, people with depression often want to spend more time alone where they can suffer without being noticed. When you are honest with yourself and your loved ones about your pain, it becomes easier to spend time with others since you are no longer hiding your condition.

Be kind to yourself. If admitting that you are in pain is the first step to overcoming an urge to isolate, the next is to go further and remind yourself that you are justified in feeling the way you do. Depression is an illness, not a choice. Give yourself credit for enduring all you have so far and resolve to stay connected with others.

Have reasonable expectations of yourself. People with depression sometimes set unachievable timelines for their recovery. “I need to be well enough to attend Sarah’s wedding.” Failing to meet these self-imposed deadlines is stressful, and that stress can make a person more likely to isolate and more prone to suicide. Consider gaining help from a clinician because they are skilled at identifying small achievable goals to make progress step by step.

Reach out to loved ones. In the same way that isolating is a decision, so is reaching out. It may be hard to do, but taking down the “Do Not Disturb” sign you’ve put up through your actions and asking to get together with the people who care about you can be a significant step in the right direction. 

Stick with these strategies. To be effective, all these strategies require persistence. For example, simply reaching out to a family member one time is not likely to send the message that you want and need ongoing connection. However, if you continue to show your interest in spending time with them, they’ll understand and start initiating the interactions.

The Power of Connection

If you have started to isolate but want to reverse that trend, it may be easiest to open up to a caring, compassionate person outside of your circle of family and friends first. And while these self-help strategies are helpful, a recent survey cited in our Mental Health First Aid manual notes that the top three measures rated most effective to address depression – antidepressant medications, CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) and interpersonal psychotherapy – require professional help. Do not hesitate to contact us for professional help or with any other questions if you or a loved one is grappling with these types of issues. Contact us by phone at 303-853-3500 Monday through Friday to learn about our services. We have centers in the north Denver metro area of Adams County including the cities of Thornton, Westminster, Northglenn, Commerce City and Brighton.

8 Ways You Can Raise Community Awareness during Mental Health Month

One of the reasons that May is recognized as Mental Health Month is that despite continuous advances in research, treatment and awareness efforts, there is still much work to be done. Many people aren’t exposed to mental health issues until they are directly impacted by a tragedy such as suicide. Mental Health Month is an effort to promote a more positive, proactive approach to addressing mental illnesses.

Getting the Word Out

In the same way we educate communities about physical health concerns such as heart disease, it’s critical that we start conversations about what mental illness is, how to recognize it and the fact that it is a treatable illness. Here are some simple steps you can take to help raise the collective consciousness about mental health where you live:

  1. Talk with everyone you know. Ask family, friends and coworkers how they’re doing and really listen to the answers. If they give any indication that they are depressed or stressed out, let them know that there are resources available to help them. - If you sense that they might be considering self-harm or suicide, encourage them to seek help immediately and assist them as appropriate.
  2. Open up about your experience. If you’ve struggled or are struggling with mental illness, share your story. Hearing another person is going through the same thing you are can be a relief. And, it can be the nudge a person needs to get help and look into treatment.
  3. Encourage kind language. When you hear people around you talk about mental illness in disparaging terms, politely ask them to consider the impact of their words. Any language that reinforces the stigma of mental illness is harmful and might keep someone from getting help. Further explore the importance of person-centered language, which respects the consumer by separating the symptoms from the person with thoughtful language.
  4. Educate yourself about mental illness. It’s not uncommon for people to misunderstand mental illness. Learn more about it and share what you learn. This includes talking with children about mental health in age-appropriate terms. Children are not immune to mental illness and can experience conditions like depression and anxiety as early as elementary school.
  5. Coordinate a mental health screening event. Promoting an event or asking that mental health screening be part of a community health fair can encourage people to take action regarding their mental health. You can learn more about screening at websites like www.mentalhealthscreening.org and www.helpyourselfhelpothers.org.
  6. Volunteer. Mental health organizations like Community Reach Center frequently need help with specific initiatives and ongoing efforts. Your phone call or email will be greeted with heartfelt appreciation.
  7. Leverage social media. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter can be great forums for inspiring people to be open-minded and inquisitive when it comes to mental illness.
  8. Encourage physical health that supports mental health. Help people understand that physical health can have a direct impact on mental health. Eating healthy and getting plenty of exercise and sleep all play a part in a person’s mental and emotional state.

The Power of One

Mental Health Month is the perfect time to start conversations in your community about mental health illnesses such as depression, anxiety and suicide. And if you’re wondering whether one person’s efforts can make a difference, the answer is “Absolutely!” Every conversation you have about the importance of recognizing and treating mental illness creates a ripple that reaches people in your circle and far beyond it.

If you or someone you know needs help with any mental or emotional issues, contact us online at communityreachcenter.org or by phone at 303-853-3500 Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. We have centers in the Northern Denver metro area of Adams County including the cities of Thornton, Westminster, Northglenn, Commerce City and Brighton.