Tag Archives: suicide

Suicide prevention month

September is suicide prevention month.

That doesn’t just mean check on your friends. Although that is important.
It means:
promote universal healthcare. Because most people cannot afford mental health.

  • it means understanding that suicide is the third most likely cause of death, for ages 15 to 45, universally.
  • it means understanding that the pandemic has caused depression and despair to grow exponentially, combined with financial hardship, lack of mental health and medical care, and social isolation.
  • It means destigmatizing mental disorders.
  • It requires an active stance. Because it’s not going away, and eventually it will be in your face, from friends, family, colleagues, and loved ones. Even people who attempt suicide and survive, often have residual grave harm to their psyche and body. This is a public health issue.

Suicide Prevention Hotline
Additional Resources from the CDC

Depression and Suicide Awareness

A few years ago, the gifted Vermont artist Stephen Huneck, who suffered from chronic pain, died by suicide. He was soon thereafter followed by his wife, Gwen.

He ran a beautiful chapel near the Canadian border in Vermont, called Dog Mountain, in honor of dogs and love. His artwork graces my office. In 2015, my English Lab, Asia, and I hiked the mountain to pay homage. It was a moving experience.

In 2019, there were 1.5 million suicide attempts in the United States, that were documented. On average, there are 132 suicide attempts per day, with notably numerous ones listed as ideation and undoubtedly more that are not documented at all.

Please visit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention for more info and suicide statistics.

  

On Grief and Grieving

Loss is a universal experience. Grieving takes many forms.

Many people truly want to help a friend or family member who is experiencing a severe loss. Words often fail us at times like these, leaving us stammering for the right thing to say. Some people are so afraid to say or do the wrong thing, they choose to do nothing at all. Doing nothing at all is certainly an option, but it’s not often a good one.  While there is no one perfect way to respond or to support someone you care about, here are some good ground rules.

Grief belongs to the griever.
Grief is personal.  You have a supporting role, not the central role, in your friend’s grief. This may seem like a strange thing to say. So many of the suggestions, advice and “help” given to the griever tells them they should be doing this differently, or feeling differently than they do. Grief is a very personal experience, and belongs entirely to the person experiencing it. You may believe you would do things differently if it had happened to you. We hope you do not get the chance to find out. This grief belongs to your friend: follow their lead.

There is no timeline.  And grief is not linear.
Everybody has their own time frame for grief. There are no rules and there is no need for them.  Some people describe waves of pain. Some people don’t think about it until there is a reminder. Often, there are anniversary reactions on important dates that elicit memories.  As a therapist I have found that many people have a deep fear of forgetting.  When they want to speak about their loss or their relationship with a loved one, give them the space to do so.

There is culture, and there is personal culture
From wanting to be quietly alone, to craving the presence of loved ones. Wanting to talk. And not.  Crying, or not.  Wanting to talk about spirituality and loss is also personal.  There is no formula.

Stay present and state the truth.
It’s tempting to make statements about the past or the future when your friend’s present life holds so much pain. You cannot know what the future will be, for yourself or your friend — it may or may not be better “later.” That your friend’s life was good in the past is not a fair trade for the pain of now. Stay present with your friend, even when the present is full of pain.

It’s also tempting to make generalized statements about the situation in an attempt to soothe your friend. You cannot know that your friend’s loved one “finished their work here,” or that they are in a “better place.” These future-based, omniscient, generalized platitudes aren’t helpful. Stick with the truth:  this hurts. I love you. I’m here.

Do not try to fix the unfixable.
Your friend’s loss cannot be fixed or repaired or solved. The pain itself cannot be made better.  Do not say anything that tries to fix the unfixable, and you will do just fine. It is an unfathomable relief to have a friend who does not try to take the pain away.

Be willing to witness searing, unbearable pain. 
To do so, while also practicing  the above is very, very hard.

This is not about you.
Being with someone in pain is not easy. You will have things come up — stresses, questions, anger, fear, guilt. Your feelings will likely be hurt. You may feel ignored and unappreciated. Your friend cannot show up for their part of the relationship very well. Please don’t take it personally, and please don’t take it out on them. Please find your own people to lean on at this time — it’s important that you be supported while you support your friend. When in doubt, refer to #1.

Do not impose your personal spirituality or religious beliefs on another.
I believe in prayer and spirituality.  My beliefs are highly personal. Telling somebody that you will be reunited in a better place and how a loved one is in a better place may not be helpful. Let them guide you.

Anticipate, don’t ask.
Do not say “Call me if you need anything,” because your friend will not call. Not because they do not need, but because identifying a need, figuring out who might fill that need, and then making a phone call to ask is light years beyond their energy levels, capacity or interest. Instead, make concrete offers: “I will be there at 4 p.m. on Thursday to bring your recycling to the curb,” or “I will stop by each morning on my way to work and give the dog a quick walk.” Be reliable.

Do the recurring things.
The actual, heavy, real work of grieving is not something you can do (see #1), but you can lessen the burden of “normal” life requirements for your friend. Are there recurring tasks or chores that you might do? Things like walking the dog, refilling prescriptions, shoveling snow and bringing in the mail are all good choices. Support your friend in small, ordinary ways — these things are tangible evidence of love.

Please try not to do anything that is irreversible — like doing laundry or cleaning up the house — unless you check with your friend first. That empty soda bottle beside the couch may look like trash, but may have been left there by their husband just the other day. The dirty laundry may be the last thing that smells like her.  I have a strand of hair from a loved one from years ago, carefully wrapped.   Do you see where I’m going here? Tiny little things become precious. Ask first.

Tackle projects together.
Depending on the circumstance, there may be difficult tasks that need tending — things like casket shopping, mortuary visits, the packing and sorting of rooms or houses. Offer your assistance and follow through with your offers. Follow your friend’s lead in these tasks. Your presence alongside them is powerful and important; words are often unnecessary. Remember to bear witness and be present.

Run interference.
To the new griever, the influx of people who want to show their support can be seriously overwhelming. What is an intensely personal and private time can begin to feel like living in a fish bowl. There might be ways you can shield and shelter your friend by setting yourself up as the designated point person — the one who relays information to the outside world, or organizes well-wishers. Gatekeepers are really helpful.

Respect privacy and boundaries.
In the event of loss, and faced with our own mortality, one of the first questions we ask is: what happened?  We have a need to search for and find meaning. Again, this is not about us. What someone chooses to tell us, or others, is up to them.

Educate and advocate.
You may find that other friends, family members and casual acquaintances ask for information about your friend. You can, in this capacity, be a great educator, albeit subtly. You can normalize grief with responses like, “She has better moments and worse moments and will for quite some time. An intense loss changes every detail of your life.” If someone asks you about your friend a little further down the road, you might say things like, “Grief never really stops. It is something you carry with you in different ways.”

Love.
Above all, show your love. Show up. Say something. Do something. Be willing to stand beside the gaping hole that has opened in your friend’s life, without flinching or turning away. Be willing to not have any answers. Listen. Be there. Be present. Be a friend. Be love. Love is the thing that lasts.

Sources and resources:
https://www.refugeingrief.com/blog/
https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org

Scattering CJ: A New Documentary on Mental Health Awareness

This weekend is the world premiere of Scattering CJ, an important new documentary on mental health and suicide awareness, scheduled to coincide with National Suicide Prevention Week and Suicide Awareness Month.

It’s heartwarming to see this important topic get a bit more attention. Speaking of which,  The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention did a feature on the film and the filmmakers Andrea Kalin and David Lobatto,

Could you tell us about your documentary “Scattering CJ”? What is it about, and what initially interested you in telling this story?

“Scattering CJ” follows the amazing story of Hallie Twomey, a heartbroken mom from Maine who lost her elder son CJ to suicide in 2010. To honor CJ’s memory and his love of travel, Hallie put a request out on social media for help in scattering his ashes in as many places of beauty and meaning as possible.

Hallie’s request resonated beyond her wildest dreams, fostering a worldwide community across social media that was galvanized to scatter CJ’s ashes in a thousand different locations, and accompanied by a vast array of stunning imagery and moving testimony. The “Scattering CJ” initiative raised awareness about suicide, and encouraged support among the many people following the project, many of whom had been affected by suicide or struggled themselves.

The overwhelming response Hallie received from strangers from around the globe has been a massive part of her family’s healing journey.

Our belief in this inspiring, profoundly moving story’s capacity for positive social change — and its need to be seen by the widest audience possible — is what has driven us in making this film.

In what ways has your understanding of mental health and suicide changed or been impacted by your working on the film? Did anything surprise you?

We went into this with some intellectual understanding of suicide, and we’d seen the statistics. What those numbers don’t reveal, and what making the film has laid bare to us, is that for every one person who takes their own life there are countless others who are seismically affected by that action and the subsequent absence of that person in their lives. This effect needs a spotlight as much as the death itself, because loss is often a trauma with lifelong repercussions. An unpleasant but eye-opening surprise for us was the number of people involved in the making of the film and its outreach who have lost someone close to them to suicide. It seems that everyone knows someone affected.

Read more here

Scattering CJ (Extended Trailer) from Spark Media on Vimeo.

Can We Talk About Suicide?

I really struggled with this blog post. I first sat down to write it weeks ago, in anticipation of Mental Health Awareness Month. But it was hard and I was busy with so many other things, and so I kept putting it off.

Suicide is something that’s so hard to talk about, often even for mental health professionals. But it is absolutely essential to have the conversation.

And so, if we’re going to talk about suicide, let’s start with some stark facts.

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States across all ages.

There is one death by suicide in the US every 12 minutes.

An estimated quarter million people every year are suicide survivors.

There is one suicide for every 25 estimated attempts.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death in the world for those aged 15 through 25.

Lesbian gay and bisexual kids are three times more likely than straight kids to attempt suicide at some point in their lives.

Females are more likely than males to have suicidal thoughts.

African-American, Latino,  Asian-American, and Native American individuals who are lesbian, gay, transgendered, or bisexual have the highest rates of suicide.

Suicide rates among the elderly are highest for those who are divorced or widowed.

Males over 50 have the biggest increase in suicide rates in recent years.

*****

If you, or someone that you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, please contact National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-799-4889 or 1-800 Suicide. Another great resource is 211 for essential community services,  including disaster assistance, utilities jobs and support for veterans, housing, meal plans.

Sources: Center for Disease Control (CDC); National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH); National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

 

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