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Can Gratitude Protect Against Suicide?

Research studies support the role of gratitude in reducing the risk of suicide. Learn more about how gratitude can protect against suicide and maintain your mental health.

Risk factors for suicidal ideation include feelings of hopelessness, depressive symptoms, changes in appetite, social isolation, and sleep disturbances. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, four in ten adults have reported feeling anxious and depressed during COVID-19. Prior to the pandemic, these statistics were reporting one in ten adults feeling anxious and experiencing depressive symptoms. Young adults, ages 18 to 24, are more likely to report suicidal thoughts since traumatic events such as quarantine have taken place.

Initial studies observing gratitude and suicide protection discovered that adults practicing gratitude built up a buffer against the risks of suicidal ideations and symptoms, including hopelessness, depression, and lack of appetite, among other factors. In recent studies conducted in 2020, data examining the practice of gratitude among college students supported the hypothesis that gratitude is linked to a reduced risk of suicide. Gratitude has been found to produce more positive emotions and more rewarding social interactions that help to protect against suicide in adults of all ages. By generating meaning, belonging, hope, appreciation, and positivity, especially in young adults, the practice of gratitude plays a significant role in safeguarding individuals navigating their way through the world.

“In the current world we live in with COVID-19 and other challenges, gratitude is more important than ever,” says Kellie Helderman, Director of Crisis Services at Diversus Health. “Gratitude allows us to feel like we have a sense of control of our thought processes and being able to identify ways we can continue to achieve healthy mental awareness.

How to Practice Gratitude

Expressing gratitude regularly can be challenging without practice. Journaling in a gratitude diary has shown to reduce depression and anxiety, while increasing optimism among suicidal inpatients. Some researchers argue that gratitude is a low-cost, high-impact mental health tool with protective benefits against suicide. Start a gratitude practice that focuses on observing the small, obvious things that you notice throughout the day, such as a healthy meal, clean water, and sunshine. When our mind is rewired to notice things that we appreciate and feel grateful for, it helps us to practice mindfulness, be present, positive, and thankful for all we have.

Here is a gratitude prompt to consider when writing:

“Every evening, write down the things, people, and experiences you may be grateful for in your life and focus on the benefits or ‘gifts’ you received in your day, week, or existence. Consider how you perceive simple, everyday pleasures, individuals in your life, moments of beauty, nature, or acts of kindness towards or from others. Take a moment to savor these parts of your life and contemplate their value as you write them down in your gratitude journal.”

Some studies have demonstrated the effects of gratitude to be limited in protecting against anxiety and depression, with researchers arguing that gratitude cannot fix everything.

While gratitude may not be able to fix everything, the research supporting its mental health benefits far outweighs research that claims its limitations. It is important to learn more about gratitude as a potentially high-impact tool which can be critical in helping so many individuals reduce the risk factors associated with suicidal ideation.

“Gratitude is paramount to improved mental health and capturing the positive things in life,” says Helderman.

A practice repeated can increase satisfaction while supporting mental health, especially when we find ourselves in a negative state of mind. We all feel low every now and then. Gratitude can help to improve our mental health while protecting ourselves against suicide. To learn more about suicide prevention, check out our article, “How to Help Someone Who is Suicidal.”

*If you or someone you love is struggling with suicidal thoughts and ideations, contact us at Diversus Health to request an appointment with one of our professional mental health providers. If you need immediate assistance, call our crisis hotline at 844-493-8255, or text ‘TALK’ to 38255.

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