Compassion, Tough Conversations and Suicide Prevention
Preventing suicide by reaching in and speaking out.
Posted Jun 18, 2020
When I was initially asked to write about suicide prevention, I figured I would provide facts, statistics, and resources to help others however my train of thought quickly morphed into talking about compassion and sharing our truths.
The truth is, I struggle with anxious and depressive thoughts every month or so. Sometimes I work them through on my own and other times I reach out to others.
I am currently in escrow, in the middle of landing a big dream job, and have been hit very hard by this COVID-19 pandemic. In other words, I am stressed and anxious. I reached out to a friend last week about what I am going through and my current internal struggles. I was told to "change my perspective, stop being so negative, and just believe that everything is going to work out." I was then told that I have control issues. I was dismissed and unimportant.
I quickly exited this toxic conversation as I was very shaken and internally bruised. I make mistakes. I reach out to people looking for hope, to only soon realize they are also troubled. Then I allow this dialogue to internally affect me. I am also an empath, meaning I am sensitive to words and abrasive personalities, and I feel so many people's pain.
This is unacceptable. When others reach out to us seeking help or advice, we must show up for them. We must learn to empathize and be compassionate. We must stop being dismissive, using harsh language, and telling them that their struggles are not important.
We as a society must do better. We must make time for each other. We must show compassion to others. We must apologize. We must become better.
Now we can talk about suicide prevention
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States for individuals of all ages, and every day, approximately 12 Americans die by suicide. Taking your life is often perceived by many as a selfish way to leave this world. However, most individuals who commit suicide are in so much mental and emotional pain that they feel suicide is the only way to end their suffering.
Individuals who are contemplating or planning suicide are not exactly looking up suicide hotline numbers or searching social media for posts to help them cope with their thoughts and feelings. Most people who are contemplating suicide, unfortunately, are doing so in hopes of ending their internal pain. As a result, family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, doctors, and therapists need to be aware of warnings associated with suicidal behaviors. We all must come together as a community to educate and support each other about suicide and suicide prevention.
"Did you really want to die? No one commits suicide because they want to die. Then why do they do it? Because they want to stop the pain." — Tiffanie DeBartolo
Getting uncomfortable: Talking about suicide
Suicide is a scary topic to talk about. Individuals who attempt or commit suicide are often terrified as well. It is uncomfortable to have open conversations about this topic, but we have to make ourselves uncomfortable. We must educate each other on the warning signs associated with suicide and how we much reach out to those who are hurting, as often they are unable to reach in and ask for help. Sometimes, when these individuals do reach in and ask for help, they are shunned, dismissed, and told to “change their perspective” or “replace their negative mindsets with positive actions.” These words can be incredibly hurtful and can catapult individuals into the final decision to end their life.
The first step to preventing suicide is to talk about it.
Talk about the cold hard facts. Talk about what you know and don’t know. Ask questions. Share your story. Share stories of others.
Recognize the signs and symptoms associated with suicide
Often many of us hear “I had no idea he was struggling or was in so much pain.”
We must educate each other about these warning signs, and we must encourage each other to speak up when we recognize these warning signs:
- Increased alcohol and drug use
- Aggressive behavior
- Talking about feeling empty, hopeless, or having no way out of problems
- Withdrawal from friends, family, and community
- Dramatic mood swings
- Mentioning strong feelings of guilt and shame
- Impulsive or reckless behavior
- Emotional distance/withdrawal
- Changes in sleeping patterns
- Physical pain such as muscle aches, stomach pain, and headaches
Suicidal behaviors are a psychiatric emergency. If you or a loved one starts to take any of these steps, seek immediate help from a health care provider or call 911:
- Collecting and saving pills or buying a weapon
- Giving away possessions
- Tying up loose ends, like organizing personal papers or paying off debts
- Saying goodbye to friends and family
Reaching in: The impact of compassion
Dr. Jerry Motto, a UC San Francisco trained psychiatrist and a veteran of World War II, theorized that sending “care letters” to individuals discharged from psychiatric hospitals would decrease suicide rates in this population. Individuals who receive treatment for a mental health or substance use disorder are most at risk of relapse or suicide days after they are released from their treatment program.
Dr. Motto devised a follow-up psychiatric care kindness approach, where he would consistently write letters to a group of patients after discharge, and the control group of patients did not receive these letters. This research over the first two years revealed a dramatic drop in suicide rates among those individuals who received the letters compared to the control group.
Today’s suicide rates are the highest they have ever been since World War II, despite the millions of dollars we are spending on research and treatment. We are more engaged with our electronic devices rather than with each other. As a result, we are more out of touch with humanity. Whether it is a handwritten care letter, kind text messages, a cup of coffee, a home-cooked meal, a flower bouquet, or quality time with each other, our community needs to work together to practice kindness and to “reach in." Even the simplest acts of kindness can save a life.
At the end of the day, we are each responsible for our well-being. Sometimes we need help from others as we cannot go through dark times alone, but we must be able to reach out and ask for help. We also must understand who we ask for help from is a big deal. If we ask for help from someone who is apathetic, selfish, or not mentally healthy, then we may be doing ourselves a disservice. Be cautious who you confide in, make sure you can trust that person and that person will do everything they can to support you and always reach out to a professional in the meantime.
Below are additional articles on suicide prevention: