Therapists Urge Seeking Help Immediately After Suicidal Thoughts

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suicide: Woman looks at webcam during psychological support session online counselling

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The best time to seek help for anyone who finds themselves contemplating suicide is now, according to mental health professionals.

Some advocates for those struggling with mental health say Alabama’s infrastructure needs improvement, but that doesn’t mean there’s no help available. Local therapists and counselors say anyone experiencing a mental health crisis should seek help immediately, whether it be by calling a loved one, a therapist or even 911. 

Often before someone takes their own life, the therapists and counselors said, there are warning signs that both they and the people around them can see. 

Mostly, they said, the act begins with a major life event or trauma and ends when that person goes too long without the help they need.

‘Get out of your head’

Joe Howell, a clinical psychologist in Anniston, said there are three people to call during a mental health crisis, depending on its gravity.

Those with suicidal thoughts need to immediately go to the emergency room.

“They will be able to get you the medicine that you need if you need a pharmaceutical intervention,” Howell said.

If the crisis is less severe, he said, the person should call their therapist or a physician for help. Many people just need someone to talk to. There are varying degrees of intensity of suicidal thoughts. It’s important to take into account whether a client has a plan to kill themself or has attempted suicide before when making that determination, he said.

Anjuli Thompson, owner and counselor at HOUSE Counseling in Oxford, Ala., said the easiest thing to do during a mental health crisis is to seek help immediately. 

She would typically clinically assess a patient to gauge the severity of any suicidal thoughts before calling a local emergency room for further instructions.

Keyanna Peters, counselor at Stepping Stones to Success Counseling in Anniston, said calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 is another resource for those facing “extreme sadness” or mild suicidal thoughts.

Thompson said going outside and moving around also helps. The simplest thing someone can do to calm down, she said, is to drink a big, cold glass of water and breathe.

“You have to get out of your head and back to the basics,” she said. 

[Related: Rural Residents Who Struggle With Mental Illness Are Isolated, Stigmatized, Not Near Help]

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Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Howell, Thompson and others have had to change their practices to online-only sessions, communicating with clients via webcam.

“I still have a full day of work,” Howell said.

Thompson said her practice is booked for the next few weeks, but she’ll refer anyone who needs help to another counselor or therapist.

‘Most at risk’

Suicide is a process for most people, according to Derek Smith, a counselor with New Days Counseling Services in Anniston.

“More often than not, suicide is a slow, downward spiral that happens over time,” he said.

It usually starts with a major event or problem, such as the loss of a job, a divorce or break-up, or debt, Smith said. Then come feelings like sadness, depression and loneliness.

The first suicidal thought someone has may be enough to startle them into getting help, he said. But for those who don’t, the results can be deadly.

“The ones who are the most at risk are the ones who have wrestled it long enough to develop a plan,” Smith said.

If a person has suicidal thoughts, they can call a loved one to stay with them or police to check on their welfare.

He can’t, however, force someone to go to the hospital, stay there or seek any treatment.

“If someone wants to take their life, they’re going to find a way to do it,” he said.

When people talk about those thoughts, Smith said, it’s usually a cry for help. Those who have made up their minds to go through with it are harder to spot.

“It’s the ones that don’t tell you that you have to worry about,” he said.

Once a person first reaches out, Smith said, he recommends they go to therapy for the next several months  to process their traumas and feelings. He said it’s also important for them to maintain their relationships and keep a strong support network outside of therapy.

“My job,” he said, “is to wean them to where they’re not dependent on me.”

If you or someone you know are in need of mental health assistance, contact the National Alliance for Mental Illness at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) or info@nami.org.

This story was produced in conjunction with The Anniston Star. It is part of the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange’s project on targeting gun violence. Support is provided by The Kendeda Fund. The JJIE is solely responsible for the content and maintains editorial independence.

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