I think a lot about suicide, but not always in the “I want to kill myself” way. Having been suicidal for more than a literal decade, I feel as if I have some authority on the matter. 

According to the CDC, 1.3 million American adults attempted suicide in 2016, and 9.8 million seriously considered suicide. 

In 2013, 17.9 percent of students seriously considered suicide, according to a 2015 CDC report. There are approximately 1,100 suicides on college campuses each year. 

It is obvious there is a problem here, an epidemic that could be solved, noticed, taken care of. There are holes in the mental health care system, insurance coverage of therapy and medication, stigmas against mental illnesses. But there are also less visible signs that can be caught before it’s too late. 

I’ve noticed a lot about the process of suicidal thoughts — suicidal ideation — morphing into planning and even attempting or completing a suicide. A lot of the time, people won’t notice the beginning signs of suicidal ideation, signs that could lead to a completed suicide if left unchecked. So, in light of my new findings, I have created a tier system of suicidal ideation that might apply to people other than me. 

The first level is the lightest. You want to be gone. Not dead, but gone. A coma, maybe. A simple nonexistence. I assume it varies with everyone, but I like a solid, “Wish I’d never been born.” 

Second gets a little more serious. You explicitly want to be dead. Not just gone, but actively dead. For me, this normally leads straight into the third tier: Imagining your own death. Not necessarily a suicide, it could be a car accident or if you’re imaginative enough, an apocalyptic situation. It could be any way of dying, but a big warning sign of suicide is a preoccupation with death. It’s usually triggered by something, some sort of stress. “If I weren’t alive, I wouldn’t have to deal with this.”

Four: Imagining a suicide. Not planning it, but seeing it. I tend to imagine the aftershock of my suicide. Sometimes it helps; I’m seeing people care about me and miss me. Sometimes I feel worse. When it’s worse, it’s bad. It’s not a great sign. And it’s normally number five. 

I haven’t experienced number five in a long time. I’ve thought about planning a suicide, but haven’t actually planned the suicide in years. It’s dangerous, though. Anytime you’re feeling unsafe, you can go to the hospital. 

The last two tiers are dangerous, but the three before it are also dangerous. Even the lowest form of suicidal ideation is a warning sign, and one feeds into the next. So it’s okay to ask for help at any point. You’re allowed to ask for help, even if you feel like what you’re feeling is trivial. Because you know what you’re planning, and you know what comes next. People care, and people want you alive.