CJL Blog: Staying Aware

The Insider to Trauma, Substance and Relationships


Trauma and Suicide: How to Help a Loved One? 


To have this conversation, we must identify the definition of trauma.  Originally, it was believed that trauma included physical, emotional, and sexual abuse from childhood and experiences of sexual assault. However, as we’ve progressed in our understanding of what trauma is, we now know that trauma should be considered as an individual response to some single or multiple incidents. For example, trauma cannot be automatically labeled because a person witnesses a horrific event. Trauma can only be identified based on the response from the individual.  No one person can decide whether an event is traumatic; that is up to the survivor. Each person will have a different emotional and mental response to an event.  Yet, there is a significant concern for those who have a trauma history, as experiences of trauma evoke different emotional responses, based on the individual. For this article, suicide is the concern.  

Suicide continues to be a hidden killer within our community. Based on the information provided by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (2016):  

  • an American die by suicide every 12.3 minutes.  

  • 1.1 Million people will attempt suicide. 1.6 million lives will be lost to suicide.   

  • 90% of those who die by suicide had a mental health diagnosis 

The number presented could be misleading because suicide is not always reported. Where is the connection between suicide and trauma?  

Many suffering from traumatic experiences will have thoughts of suicide and/or make several attempts to take the physical, emotional, and mental anguish away. In most cases, individuals who are trying or have committed suicide have a history of trauma. Due to the stigmas surrounding seeking help from a professional, a person may use negative coping skills to manage the multiple stressors in his or her life. In some cases, many begin to believe nothing good will ever happen to them. No longer seeing hope. Internalizing thoughts and emotions cause a person to resort within themselves for answers. Additional factor increasing the possibility of attempting/committing suicide includes having a serious mental health illness, substance use, a childhood history of abuse, a family history of suicide, or just knowing someone who has committed suicide.  

To understand a quarter of what a person with a trauma history and suicidal history feels and thinks, take a moment and think about that moment your car stopped on the side of the road without gas. You are upset with yourself.  So, you call a friend to help you.  After texting five people to help you. No one is responding. You wait and try again. NO response. So, you go to Facebook asking for help. No response. All the same time, you could have contacted the AAA and have them come out to help. Yet, the thought of a stranger helping you is unsettling.  Your only choice is to walk to the nearest gas station. So, you take the walk- alone in the dark and not certain which direction to go.  Constantly, reminding yourself... You can do it.  You have walked so far that you can longer see your car in the dark.  Nothing’s familiar to you and you’re feeling alone. You feel like a failure and there is no one to help.  People are driving by and do not see you. As if you do not exist. 

Running out of gas could never equate to taking your life. Metaphorically, the feeling of being alone and helpless is real. Those who are at risk of suicide are angry, feeling trapped, alone, isolated themselves from family and friends, and making statement of what others’ lives will be like without them.  Those who have a difficult history have made several attempts to reach out to family and friends. Only to not receive the response he or she needs. Then, look for help on social media. Trying to find another way to get help from those close to them. All the time, the fear of seeing a professional is difficult.  

If you know someone that needs help, please   Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255.