suicide prevention

I See You. I Care.

I find it interesting that after high profile suicides my newsfeed is often filled with posts from well meaning individuals with blanket statements along the lines of “If you need to talk, I’m here.”  It makes sense.  We want people to know they aren’t alone and that we are there for them.  Unfortunately, putting that invitation out there may be futile when it comes to our friends who are suffering.  These people may not be able to reach out and ask for help.  One of the features of depression is isolation.  That person may not have the strength to reach out in response to that post.  They might not see that post. 

What makes someone think about suicide?  Imagine being physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted all the time. You feel alone.  You just want the pain to end.  It doesn’t feel like there is any other way to end it. You have lost hope.  

It isn’t uncommon to think about suicide.  It may start as a fleeting thought.  Then that thought gets louder and more frequent.  It gets so strong that the person starts to think of how to do it and maybe starts to prepare to act on those thoughts.  Then maybe something happens that makes them want to carry that plan through.  There are different risk levels of suicide ranging from passive thoughts to having a plan and intent.  It doesn’t have to be a linear progression either.  

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US.

Every 12 minutes someone in the US takes their life.

On average there are 123 suicides per day.

For every completed suicide there are 25 attempts. 

- AFSP.ORG data from 2016 

Suicide is the most preventable cause of death.  If it is known that someone is struggling and they are able to connect with support.  

What can we do to stop this epidemic? 

We need to not be afraid to have uncomfortable conversations.  We need to make it ok to talk about mental health struggles and we need to make it ok to talk about suicide.  Talking about it can be a protective factor.  There can be relief in giving voice to the thoughts someone has been holding inside.  Then, they don’t feel alone with the dark thoughts.  If someone is struggling ask them -  How are you? How dark does it get? Are you thinking about suicide?

We need to show up for each other and show that we care.  If we know someone is struggling we need to be the ones to reach out to them.  Send a text just to say you’re thinking about them.  Make plans.  Invite them to talk about what they’re going through if they want.  Invite them to do something fun together to get their mind off things.  Ask them how you can help support them. Tell them you think they’re awesome and that you care about them.

We need to give people hope.  When someone is struggling they may not see an end to the darkness.  Let them know that it will get better.  It may not feel like it now, but it will get better.  The only way to know that for sure is to stay around to see that sunrise.  If you’ve struggled and came through to the other side (or know someone that has) share those stories of hope.  Sometimes someone may struggle to believe in that hope.  Let them know that’s ok if they aren’t there yet.  Let them know you’ll believe for the both of you until they find their hope.  Let them know you’ll be with them throughout their journey.

We need to connect people to support.  Everyone deserves support.  It may come in the form of therapy, support groups, online forums, spiritual guidance, and doctors, just to name a few.  I believe everyone deserves therapy.  Offer to go with them to their first appointment, if it will make them more comfortable.  If they don’t connect immediately to the person they meet with, let them know it may take time to build a relationship.  If it’s not a good fit, let them know it’s ok to try someone or something else.  It’s important for people to feel comfortable with their support.  Get support for yourself while you are supporting them.  Get support for yourself anyways.  Again, everyone deserves therapy.

What can you do when there is a high profile suicide instead of making a post inviting people to call you if they need anything?  Make a post about hope. Send a message to your loved ones just to say hi, to let them know that you are thinking of them, and to let them know you care.  Check in with loved ones that you know have been struggling to ask how they are doing, offer support, and let them know you care.  Engage in dialogue about mental health to help decrease the stigma.  Spread awareness about resources.  Connect to resources.  Go to therapy yourself. You deserve it! Let people know about your experiences and invite them to share about theirs.  

What if we made it a point to do all of these things regularly?  Why wait?  There are many stories about people who were struggling that describe how on a dark day a smile or kind word from a friend or even a stranger made a difference.  We don’t know what is going on in another person’s world.  What if we made it a point to smile and be kind to each person we interact with?

I see you. I care. 

According to the World Health Organization, 800,000 people die by suicide each year. That's one person every 40 seconds. World Suicide Prevention Day is Monday, September 10. Today, this week, and well into the future, we're asking you to fight with us. - TWLOHA

If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide, know that there is hope. Reach out for 24/7 Support. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 800-273-TALK, San Diego Access & Crisis Line 888-724-7240, and the Crisis Text Line - Text CONNECT to 741741.

Survivors of Suicide Loss offers support to those who have lost loved ones to suicide.

You are not alone.

Reaction to 13 Reasons Why Season 1

13 Reasons Why does not glamorize suicide.  It illustrates the pain and struggles that teenagers may face.  These are challenges that many of us may have faced in our lifetimes.  These important topics include: friendship, suicide, sexual assault, substance use, stalking, sexuality, and bullying. 

I was hesitant to watch this series.  I knew I could have a strong reaction. I had talked with friends about it and got fired up enough just hearing their reactions.  I want to make it clear that my reactions here are my own. They are based on my personal and professional experiences.  That’s how we all make meaning of things including television shows.  I haven’t yet read any of the articles by other professionals because I wanted to form my own opinion first. 

I invite all of you who have either already watched this show or who are thinking about watching it to take a moment and reflect on what it may bring up for you.  There’s a chance that a character may remind you of someone you know or a situation may remind you of something that has happened in your own life.  How will that impact the conclusions you draw about these characters?

One comment that I have heard some say is that Hannah put herself in a lot of bad situations.  I don’t agree.  Hannah was a teenage girl trying to navigate the challenges of adolescents in high school.  There is no guidebook for this.  We all do the best we can and if we are lucky we make it through relatively unscathed.  Hannah was not able to do that.  One thing after another happened.  How much can a person take?  Hannah shares her 13 reasons why she died by suicide so that we can better understand her story. 

I’ve heard some people say that suicide is a selfish act.  Is it really though?  Someone is in so much pain and they just want it to stop.  Hannah mentioned feeling like she was a burden on others.  Maybe in her mind she thought she was doing people a favor.  People in pain may not see things clearly.  Everything is taken over by the darkness or the numbness.  It feels like suicide is the only choice.  It isn’t, but it feels that way.

Several years ago, I was at a suicide prevention summit in Colorado.  One of the talks included video interviews with individuals who survived suicide attempts.  They each shared how after they attempted, they realized they actually did want to live.  Some shared how if one thing had gone different that day, maybe they wouldn’t have attempted.  I’ll never forget those stories.  Kevin’s was one of them.

Suicide is one of the most preventable causes of death.  IF we know the person is struggling AND we connect them to support.  If you have lost someone to suicide, I don’t want you to think I’m blaming you or saying that you should have done something.  You didn’t know what you didn’t know. 

While watching 13 Reasons Why, I had a whole range of reactions and emotions.  There were moments I was yelling at the TV, moments I cringed at statements made or questions asked, moments I hid my eyes and couldn’t watch, and moments I was in tears.  There were so many opportunities for Hannah’s story to change, for the story of all of these teenagers and adults to change.  They didn’t know what they didn’t know. 

Where does the responsibility lie? We need to be changing the conversations that we are having with our youth.  We need to be having the important conversations.  It is our responsibility.  The conversations may be scary or uncomfortable at times but these conversations will save lives. 

While working at WPI, I had the privilege to be part of two grants that helped to support these conversations.  The first was a suicide prevention grant.  This grant helped the Director of the SDCC, Charlie Morse, to develop the Student Support Network.  This six week training program teaches students about mental health struggles, how to support a friend, and how to connect them to resources.  The second grant was to reduce dating and sexual violence on campus.  Both of these grants provided information, led to important conversation, discussed bystander intervention, and helped make resources available (and known about). In my High School, we had the Yellow Ribbon Project for suicide prevention and the Yellow Dress to discuss dating violence.  What is it about the color yellow?  These are just some examples of how to start conversations.  We need to have these and many more (we needed even more back then, but it was a start).  Social media and cell phones have increased the pressure on teens.  When I was in school, when we went home for the night we got a reprieve from these pressures, but kids today don’t. 

High School can be a challenging time.  I think many of us can identify with one if not more of the characters in 13 Reasons Why.  Maybe we also struggled to find our place socially.  Maybe we felt pressure to be the star athlete.  Maybe we were labeled the school slut or a loser.  Maybe we were bullied.  Maybe we were the bully.  Maybe we were all of these and more at different points or maybe just one for a small time.  The fact of the matter is that we can relate.  That’s likely why this show has become so popular.  It speaks about things we don’t always know how to speak about. 

No, 13 Reasons Why does not glamorize suicide.  It holds up a mirror for us to see all the ugly painful challenges that face youth.  We have a choice.  Do we continue to hold secrets and avoid important conversations?  Do we take this opportunity to stop and have some potentially hard conversations?  If you have a young person in your life that has watched this show, I encourage you to sit down and dialogue about it.  Even as adults there are things to be gained by talking to each other about the different issues that this show addresses.  If we don’t, this is a missed opportunity. It’s time to acknowledge our own fears and pain, to acknowledge the pain and struggles of others, to support one another, and to talk about what we can do to change.  Things can get better.  They do get better.  We know this when we live long enough to see it.

Step one, you say we need to talk
He walks, you say sit down, it’s just a talk
He smiles politely back at you
You stare politely right on through
Some sort of window to your right
As he goes left, and you stay right
Between the lines of fear and blame
You begin to wonder why you came
Where did I go wrong?
I lost a friend
Somewhere along in the bitterness
And I would have stayed up with you all night
Had I known how to save a life
— How To Save A Life, The Fray

If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide, know that there is hope. Reach out for 24/7 Support. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 800-273-TALK, San Diego Access & Crisis Line 888-724-7240, and the Crisis Text Line - Text CONNECT to 741741

For additional resources on how to talk about 13 Reasons Why, see the Suicide Prevention Resource Center.

This blog reflects just some of my reactions to Season 1. There is much much more I could say. I invite you to respond with your reactions in the comments. Let's continue this important dialogue. Next, I'm off to start Season 2. More reflections to come after.