#JamesDonaldson On #MentalHealth – Sometimes I Just Feel Empty: #Suicidal Thinking And Risk


Helping #teens, and their #parents, when #suicide is raised

Elana Premack Sandler L.C.S.W., M.P.H

Reviewed by Ray Parker


  • #Suicidalideation is common.
  • We can support #teens with #suicidalideation by creating a safe space to talk.
  • Supporting #parents of #teens presents unique challenges.
Heather_Ann/ Pixabay

When I ask someone if they’ve ever thought about #suicide, I hold my breath as I wait for the answer. I know that they are likely to say yes. I know that as a #therapist, who has heard #suicidalideation “endorsed” regularly, I also know that #suicidalideation is much more common than we may wish to believe.

The #CentersforDiseaseControl (#CDC) acknowledged an ongoing #mentalhealth and #suicidecrisis among #adolescents and young #adults. In a 2021 survey, 3.3 million #adolescents had serious thoughts of #suicide. In the same year, 12.3 million #adults had serious thoughts of #suicide.

Those thoughts don’t always show up in the ways we might think. Sometimes they show up like this:

  • “Sometimes I just feel empty.”
  • “I just want to disappear.”
  • “I wish I could run away.”

As someone who spends time playing with words and metaphors as a writer, I am so moved by how people describe their #suicidalideation. Don’t get me wrong, it absolutely scares me.

But #suicidalideation is not suicidal intent. It is thinking about the idea of not being alive, thinking about the idea of disappearing, thinking about the idea that the people who love you might be better without you. Yes, it is painful to think those thoughts. Incredibly painful. And it is painful to hear and hold space for people to articulate those thoughts.

Yet to be effective as a #suicideprevention professional, as a #therapist willing to work with people who have experienced #suicidalideation, it also has to feel okay to hear those things.

So when a 15-year-old says that sometimes he feels empty, I listen. I make space for it. I make it okay to say it out loud.

What is much harder is thinking about what needs to be said to a #teen’s #parents.

Unlike just about everything else a young person shares with me, #suicidalthinking is something I will need to share with a teen’s #parents, if the young person tells me they are actively thinking about #suicide right now. So, hearing what that teen has to say is a tremendous moment of living faith and fear.

#James Donaldson notes:
Welcome to the “next chapter” of my life… being a voice and an advocate for #mentalhealthawarenessandsuicideprevention, especially pertaining to our younger generation of students and student-athletes.
Getting men to speak up and reach out for help and assistance is one of my passions. Us men need to not suffer in silence or drown our sorrows in alcohol, hang out at bars and strip joints, or get involved with drug use.
Having gone through a recent bout of #depression and #suicidalthoughts myself, I realize now, that I can make a huge difference in the lives of so many by sharing my story, and by sharing various resources I come across as I work in this space.
Find out more about the work I do on my 501c3 non-profit foundation
website www.yourgiftoflife.org Order your copy of James Donaldson’s latest book,
#CelebratingYourGiftofLife: From The Verge of Suicide to a Life of Purpose and Joy

Link for 40 Habits Signup



In the New York Times Magazine issue on therapy, Maggie Jones goes in-depth on #teenagers thinking about taking their own lives, beautifully weaving together the stories of professionals working at Services for #Teens at Risk (STAR) at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

Jones touches on the very real questions that parents wrestle with once they know their #child is actively suicidal.

Suicidal #children are caught in a vortex of pain, and those around them are often unsure how to respond.

At what point do you take your #child to the hospital? What if they refuse to go? If they have attempted #suicide, do you consider residential care in a facility? What else can you do to protect them? How do you know they won’t die the next time?

I can tell you it is different as a #therapist and a #parent. As a #therapist, like Daniel Bender, a #psychiatrist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, my goal is to “understand how it feels to be them, not to tell them what they need to do.”

But, as a #parent, it is much more complicated.

Bender shares about “the #parents who are so anxious and desperate for someone to alleviate their child’s pain that they blame the #therapist when she can’t pull it off.” This can happen when #therapists recommend more treatment than just one-on-one therapy, something like hospitalization or an intensive outpatient program.

Bender’s new goal is not to “fix” young people. In the article, he shares that he “shifted his views about the work and his impulse to safeguard #suicidal #children at all costs. He began focusing on making them feel “‘seen and human’… If I can help a #kid feel understood and help #parents understand their kids… that is treatment.”

Sitting across from that 15-year-old and seeing him look right at me (not an easy thing for a #teenager) as I saw him, made space for his pain, and let him know that I could handle his hard thoughts: This is why people become #therapists, for these moments of connection, truth, and intimacy. To be able to help someone feel seen and human. That is treatment.

If you or someone you love is contemplating #suicide, seek help immediately. For help 24/7 dial 988 for the #NationalSuicidePreventionLifeline, or reach out to the #CrisisTextLine by texting TALK to 741741. To find a #therapist near you, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.


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