“I dealt with [the feelings] in a very unhealthy and secretive way.”
Content warning: This article and video feature mentions of suicidal ideation and suicide attempts.
“I've been depressed my entire adult life … since I hit puberty basically,” says Tim O’Brien, mental health advocate and suicide survivor. “I've always been someone who has suicidal ideation. I've spent a lot of my life thinking about killing myself, and spent too much of last year attempting to do that.” (Learn more about Tim’s mental health journey here.)
Suicidal ideation, or planning or considering suicide, doesn't always lead to a suicide attempt. However, certain risk factors can make someone more likely to attempt suicide, such as:
A family history of suicide
Access to firearms
Having a mental illness
A history of trauma or abuse
Experiencing a recent tragic event
For Tim, his worst year—during which he experienced nine suicide attempts—was a combination of both mental illness (depression) and a string of tragic events. “I had a really terrible breakup … and we had been living together, [so] I ended up losing my housing situation as a result of it,” says Tim. “I couldn't afford to live where I was living. I couldn't feed myself some days.”
Shawn O’Brien, Tim’s father, found out from Tim's friends that his son wasn’t coping with the challenges well. “When I would be in the City and meet with his friends, they were concerned about Tim and his drinking because he would drink until blackout level,” says Shawn.
Tim’s friends were right to be concerned: Increased alcohol use is one of the biggest warning signs of suicide, according to the National Allicance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Other warning signs include aggressiveness, impulsivity, recklessness, mood swings, and withdrawal from loved ones.
Tim explains two reasons why he turned to alcohol: Not only was he trying to self-medicate and suppress his painful thoughts, but also to make himself “physically incapable of attempting suicide.” (This was statistically a risky game to play, since a third of completed suicides are done under the influence of alcohol, according to NAMI.)
In other words, Tim was actively trying not to die, even if he was dealing with his feelings in a way that was not the most productive or helpful. “I thought I would just white-knuckle my way through these feelings,” he says. “That's a very unhealthy and unsustainable way of living.”
Today, he calls his depressive thoughts and suicidal ideations as “negative cognitive distortions,” which is a term from cognitive behavioral therapy that refers to the ways your mind can convince you of something that isn’t actually true. Cognitive distortions include mental habits like “black or white” thinking, overgeneralizing, catastrophizing, or jumping to conclusions.
Cognitive behavioral therapy doesn’t aim to “get rid of” negative thoughts, but to help you learn to respond to them in better ways. O’Brien admits he still has suicidal thoughts, but thanks to getting treatment for depression, he now has a better understanding of his cognitive distortions, which he says are not “normal or helpful or healthy or worth my time.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-TALK (8255).
00:00.500 --> 00:01.566
(somber piano music)
00:01.567 --> 00:04.932
I've been depressed my entire adult life,
00:04.933 --> 00:09.399
like since I hit puberty basically is when the sort of feelings
00:09.400 --> 00:11.766
and thoughts began to manifest themselves.
00:11.767 --> 00:15.999
I've always been someone who has suicidal ideation.
00:16.000 --> 00:19.032
So I've spent a lot of my life thinking about killing myself,
00:19.033 --> 00:23.999
and spent too much of last year attempting to do that.
00:24.000 --> 00:26.432
How many suicide attempts have you had?
00:26.433 --> 00:27.532
Nine last year.
00:27.533 --> 00:28.532
Nine last year?
00:28.533 --> 00:31.666
Yeah, and I had attempts before that, but yeah,
00:31.667 --> 00:39.199
last year was the kind of culmination of just, the having a rough time.
00:39.200 --> 00:44.832
(somber piano music)
00:44.833 --> 00:49.799
It was a, kind of an avalanche of things that everybody can go through.
00:49.800 --> 00:52.832
I had a really terrible breakup
00:52.833 --> 00:55.799
after, you know, it was a long-term relationship that ended
00:55.800 --> 00:59.799
in a really ugly way, and we had been living together
00:59.800 --> 01:04.332
and I ended up losing my housing situation as a result of it.
01:04.333 --> 01:06.832
I couldn't afford to live where I was living,
01:06.833 --> 01:10.399
I couldn't feed myself some days.
01:10.400 --> 01:12.699
We were trying to help him on the housing situation,
01:12.700 --> 01:14.832
get him sorted on that.
01:14.833 --> 01:18.166
He ended up having an accident in the summertime, broke his pelvis.
01:18.167 --> 01:19.466
01:19.467 --> 01:21.466
I broke my hip last year, I forgot about that.
01:21.467 --> 01:24.766
Broke his pelvis and that was devastating, and,
01:24.767 --> 01:29.032
but when I would be in the City and meet with his friends,
01:29.033 --> 01:32.032
they were concerned about Tim and his drinking
01:32.033 --> 01:35.666
because he would drink until blackout level.
01:35.667 --> 01:40.399
Yeah, those things over time led to me self-medicating
01:40.400 --> 01:44.799
to feel better, and to try to suppress the kind of urges
01:44.800 --> 01:49.332
and feelings that I had, and yeah, I did not, I dealt with them
01:49.333 --> 01:53.199
in like a very unhealthy and secretive way.
01:53.200 --> 01:56.766
I would drink myself to a point that I was
01:56.767 --> 02:00.599
physically incapable of attempting suicide, basically,
02:00.600 --> 02:02.599
and I didn't want to make it anybody else's problem.
02:02.600 --> 02:06.366
I didn't like that it could be someone else's problem,
02:06.367 --> 02:08.966
and yeah, to me, I thought I would just white-knuckle my way
02:08.967 --> 02:15.366
through these feelings, that I would stay alive,
02:15.367 --> 02:17.932
I don't know, long enough until my parents were dead
02:17.933 --> 02:19.232
and then maybe I could kill myself.
02:19.233 --> 02:22.732
Like I just constantly was trying to kick the can down the road.
02:22.733 --> 02:26.099
It was a very, that's a very unhealthy and unsustainable way of living.
02:26.100 --> 02:30.332
It's like, but that was the kind of mentality that I was trying to use
02:30.333 --> 02:34.766
to sustain myself when I wasn't going to therapy,
02:34.767 --> 02:37.632
and learning how to actually cope with these kind of thoughts
02:37.633 --> 02:40.699
and feelings, and understanding that the,
02:40.700 --> 02:46.332
you know, these negative cognitive distortions aren't normal
02:46.333 --> 02:52.732
or helpful or healthy or worth my time.
02:52.733 --> 03:04.100
(somber piano music)
5 common myths about suicide debunked. Arlington, VA: National Alliance on Mental Illness, 2018. (Accessed on April 3, 2020 at https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/September-2018/5-Common-Myths-About-Suicide-Debunked.)
Reducing suicide risk. Silver Spring, MD: Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 2019. (Accessed on April 2, 2020 at https://adaa.org/learn-from-us/from-the-experts/blog-posts/consumer/reducing-suicide-risk.)
Risk of suicide. Arlington, VA: National Alliance on Mental Illness. (Accessed on April 3, 2020 at https://www.nami.org/learn-more/mental-health-conditions/related-conditions/risk-of-suicide.)
Suicide. Bethesda, MD: National Institute of Mental Health, 2019. (Accessed on April 2, 2020 at https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/suicide.shtml.)