MyNDTALK with Dr. Pamela Brewer

Making Peace with SuicideThis was a great interview with Dr. Pamela Brewer in which we discussed my book, Making Peace with Suicide: A Book of Hope, Understanding and Comfort. I told Dr. Brewer it felt like we were sitting in comfy chairs and sharing a cup of tea. This ranks as one of my favorite interviews.

Her show is called MyNDTALK with Dr Pamela Brewer. To listen to this broadcast, click on the link below. The show runs for about an hour. Enjoy!



Collateral damage

The 50 year-old American Association of Suicidology’s  (AAS) mission is, in brief, developing strategies to prevent suicide,  advancing education and scholarly work around suicide and, promoting research about and training in suicide. Edwin Schneidman, Ph.D., the founding President of AAS, said:

Survivors of suicide represent the largest mental health casualties related to suicide.

Of course, this is heartbreakingly true. Suicide leaves a wake of complicated grief and trauma. It is a hero’s journey to work through the emotional undertow and dig out of the dark hole to rebuild a shattered live.

The taboo has been broken. You are knee-deep in loss, shock and whirling feelings. It seems insurmountable. Your grief is debilitating; your pain is off-the-charts. It’s hard to breathe. You hold the thought of the very thing that has broken you as a possible way to end your own pain.

For your consideration, here is a link that you might find helpful about being a of a suicidal loss and another link about understanding the grief of suicide.

Go gently. It takes time. There will be a day when you can take a deep breath.


Thank you Step 12 Magazine for the great review!


This year, I have been talking about the interface of suicide, addiction and trauma. You can image my surprise and delight when those wonderful folks at Step 12 Magazine wrote a swell 4-star review of my book, Making Peace with Suicide: A Book of Hope, Understanding and Comfort. Thank you, Step 12 Magazine! I am over the moon and so grateful for both the good words and bringing this important topic forward.

Author Adele R. McDowell combines practical guidance with spirituality and a deep understanding of pain and grief, and trauma and its impact.

Adele has packed every aspect of losing a loved one to suicide into a single insightful, meaningful edition which should be read again and again.

Personal accounts of those who have attempted suicide, sometimes multiple times, from people who have leaned over the edge of the abyss but didn’t jump, show us how moving away from suicidal tendencies requires conscious choice and deliberate action.

Adele helps readers understand the complex factors involved when people choose to take their own lives, making it abundantly clear that society needs to find better ways to talk about and understand why people become so desperate to escape that they choose to end their own lives.

PS Click the Step 12 Magazine cover for more information on their wonderful publication.

Psychology Today: “When suicide hits home” by Susan McQuillan

BleedingHearts in Blue Free Creative CommonsThe following is an excellent Psychology Today blog post by Susan McQuillan looking at suicide and eating disorders:

The statistics are alarming. More than 40,000 Americans commit suicide every year. That averages out to about 110 people every day. Although it is the tenth leading cause of death overall, suicide is the second leading cause of death among those between the ages of 10 and 25 years old. Veterans make up 20 percent of all suicides.

Chronic physical and mental health problems underlie most attempts at suicide, although circumstantial and environmental factors can also contribute. As is true in the case of many psychiatric disorders, people with eating disorders are at higher-than-average risk of committing suicide, and those with anorexia nervosa have the highest risk of all.

Bonnie Brennan is the Senior Clinical Director of Adult Residential and Partial Hospital Services at Denver’s Eating Recovery Center (ERC), a national, vertically integrated, health-care system for eating disorders recovery. ERC provides comprehensive treatment for anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, and other unspecified eating disorders. Brennan points out that the more severe or long-term the condition, the more isolated and burdensome the patient may feel, and that is when there may be more concern about the potential for suicide. Because the eating disorder population is often competitive, she adds, caregivers and families must be careful not to glamorize another’s suicide in any way, and to watch out for “copycat” suicides. In her experience working with people who have eating disorders, suicide occurs in various age groups, and the longer the course of the illness, the more despair the person may have about their ability to actually recover, which can lead to an increase in suicidal thoughts,

The entire family is often affected when someone has an eating disorder. Brennan emphasizes that family members are an important part of the healing process. Often their loved ones aren’t mature enough, or are too compromised by their illness, to take responsibility for themselves, so family members must step in. Brennan advocates for the support of the caregivers as well, since an eating disorder affects the entire family support system. The treatment facility provides support, resources and services that include educational workshops, skill building, dietary instruction, and family therapy. It can become a full-time job for family members to try to help manage the recovery program, Brennan points out, and when it all ends in suicide, family members are often left with very mixed emotions.

“When a loved one dies after a long, distressful illness, there is a sense of anger, sadness, and guilt jumbled together with other emotions,” she says. “They too have suddenly been released from the hold of this disease, and must now move on to the process of grieving.”

One Family’s Story

April Garlick, who lost her teenage son Justin to suicide in 2015, experienced the protracted grip of his eating disorder. As he reached his teens, Justin became a bit pudgy and was openly unhappy about his body, but then he hit a growth spurt and his weight evened out. Still, he began cutting back on food and exercising to the point where April felt he had what seemed like an addiction to running. At first, Justin rejected her suggestion of therapy but soon after, at 5’8” and 117 pounds, and experiencing bradycardia (abnormally slow heartbeat), he asked for help. He began counseling and soon his weight was up to 125 pounds. April remembers that he seemed happy this point, though she sensed he still wasn’t 100 percent.

But over the next year, as his self-esteem plummeted and his behavior became more and more irrational, it was clear that Justin was heading downhill. He fought more and more with family members, changed high schools and attempted online studies to try to keep up, and lost weight again. He went in and out of various treatment programs and at one point was on suicide watch. It was a proverbial roller coaster, not only for Justin but also for April, as she tired not only to battle his illness but to also battle her insurance company to try to get him the type of care he needed.

Throughout that year, there were occasional moments of happiness, where Justin felt he had a breakthrough and could say he was happy, but those feelings didn’t last. In the last phone call April got from Justin, he asked her to call 911 because he had badly hurt himself. He was taken away in an ambulance and April was told to meet them at the hospital. Although the doctors worked hard to save him, Justin did not make it.

Picking Up the Pieces

Dr. Adele Ryan McDowell, author of Making Peace with Suicide, describes the aftermath of suicide as “a complicated loss” for those who are left behind, especially for those who have lost a child. In addition to the trauma of what is often a sudden and unexpected death, and perhaps the burden of a broken taboo, friends and family members may experience deep feelings of anger. On top of the anger, there is often a layer of guilt. Though you did the best you could, you may judge yourself too harshly for your all-too-human responses and behavior toward the person you lost. The trauma of a loved one’s suicide may also trigger memories of other traumas, just as the loss of a human life triggers memories of other losses, resulting in a cascade of emotions flowing over grief.

“You must accept all of your feelings, and give yourself time to move on from anger, guilt and grief to a place of acceptance, forgiveness and compassion for both your loved one and yourself,” Dr. McDowell says.

As you move on, Dr. McDowell adds, you may be able to “illuminate the dark” for others who have experienced the same type of grief. Although April’s heart exploded with unimaginable grief when her son died last year, she is now trying to do just that. She is working on a book about Justin’s life and also trying to reach out in other ways, both to families who have lost a child and to the world at large, who may not realize that eating disorders, which are thought of mostly as issues affecting girls and women, not only affect, but also steal the lives of boys and men.

© Susan McQuillan


Eating Recovery Center.

Adele Ryan McDowell, Ph.D.

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Understanding Suicide.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. NCHS Brief No. 168: Mortality in the United States.

Chesney E, Goodwin GM, Fazel S. Risks of all-cause and suicide mortality in mental disorders: a meta-review. World Psychiatry. 2014;13:153-160.

13 everyday ways to prevent suicide

images-26Today is World Prevention Suicide Day

It makes me sad that we have such a day, but it is necessary. Suicide must surely be out of the closet by now. It happens. It happens every 40 seconds, on average, around the globe per the World Health Organization, and in the United States there is one suicide, on average, every 13 minutes.

Even more startling are the numbers of those who have attempted suicide. The National Suicide Research Foundation reports that suicide attempts are 20 times greater than a suicide. US statistics allow there are 5 million living Americans – the population of Norway — who have attempted suicide.

And let us not forget the surviving loved ones of those who have died by suicide. The estimates start at five people being impacted per suicide and have risen to 32 or more people who are directly in the wake of a single suicide. Given my experience, I would most certainly go with the larger number. Not only is there family, but there are friends, co-workers and others who are part of the individual’s orbit of connection. And these survivors of suicide can be so traumatized by the sudden loss of their loved one that they, too, are at risk for suicide themselves.

Why does suicide happen?

Generally speaking, suicide happens because at that moment in time — and with the likely impact of extreme emotional pain, haywire neurochemistry, constricted thinking, trauma, dire circumstances, and/or the influence of substances — it felt like the only response to end the agony of their life.

We are talking about a great deal of pain – be it the person who died by suicide, attempted suicide, considered suicide and/or is surviving the loss of a loved by suicide.

What can we do to help make a difference?

Here are 13 small steps that we can all take to help tip the balance in favor of life. We never know the impact we make on one another:

  1. Be neighborly.

Reach out to decrease loneliness and isolation. I love the story of the woman who would occasionally leave freshly baked pies for her very lonely, dismissive and cantankerous neighbor. After almost 16 months, the wall finally came down and a connection was made.


  1. Become the anti-bully.

Become tolerant of others. Don’t punish differences. Be it hair color, body size, sexual preferences, clothing choices, religion, culture, race, socioeconomic status, level of education, kind of work, appearance or any other something that is different from you, learn to accept.

Making someone feel small, belittled and terrified does not serve any of us. And that kind of terror begets terror. Let’s stop the cycle and increase the cognitive dissonance around bullying.


  1. Seek help.

Check out your local resources and find help for your depression, addiction, run-away anxiety, PTSD and other mental health concerns. You don’t have to do it alone. There’s no shame in getting help. Ever. We all need a helping hand from time to time.


  1. Be kind.

Give others the benefit of the doubt. Lend a helping hand. Proffer a smile. Or simple be present and acknowledge. Kindness is never wasted. It positively shifts energies and impacts the neuroplasticity of our brains. Not only does kindness makes us feel good, it’s good prophylactic medicine.


  1. Be proactive.

Write a check, volunteer or take steps to help those of in need of a job, a bed, a meal or how to read a book. Advocate for mental health resources. Support our veterans. Every little bit does count.


  1. Work on your emotional intelligence (EQ).

Fluency in expressing our feelings in a direct, non-threatening way we can make a huge difference in our personal interactions. It helps us feel connected and understood. After all, we are social beings.


  1. Make peace with yourself.

No more cursing at your inner demons. No more emotionally leaking or ranting and raving due to your unhealed childhood wounds. If needed, get help. And learn to accept – and, even, love – your very humanness.


  1. No more bad-mouthing.

Put an end to the snarky comments, gossiping and mean-spirited character attacks. Put judgment and criticism in the deep freeze. We never know someone’s situation, particular context or backstory. As the saying goes, everyone is struggling and fighting their own battles, a running, pejorative commentary of another only causes more pain.


  1. Develop your cultural IQ (CQ).

We all share one blue-green marble. Let’s respect our wealth of cultures and learn to understand one another. The more we learn, the greater are our experiences as we expand our respective comfort zones. Crickets may not be my go-to food, but I am happy you are enjoying your crunchy meal. There is room and space for each of us.


  1. Practice compassion.

Who needs judgment? Practice compassion. Compassion asks us to walk in one another’s shoes. Compassion asks us to treat others the way we would wish to be treated. Compassion asks us to lead from the heart.


  1. Practice Latitude.

Everyone has a bad day, a bad season or, even, a bad couple of years. Sometimes, we just need to let it go, let it slide and give the other person (or ourselves) a break. Sometimes, what we don’t say can be the greatest gift of all. Latitude allows us to take a breath and re-center.


In the behavioral sciences, we know that accentuating the positive goes much farther than harping on the negative. With discernment, you will know where to practice latitude.


  1. Talk and disempower the stigma of suicide.

Suicide is universal and global. It has been around since the earliest of times. Suicide has been tainted by taboo, shame and guilt. Don’t be afraid to talk about suicide. Bring it out in the open. Don’t be afraid to ask. The “S” word is far too prevalent for us to ignore its presence or to be in denial. Let’s have heart-to-heart conversations and put suicide in the light of day. No more secrets. No more hiding. Let’s talk. Let’s connect and change the paradigm.


  1. Be a power of example.

Our actions often speak louder than our words. Walk in your integrity, coherence and with an open heart.  Share some of your light. It can help ease the darkness



Check out Frame of Mind

heart and homeThe wonderful editors of the Huffington Post Canada blog have put together a month-long series on teens and mental health, entitled Frame of Mind, which you can access here. There are a number of first person-stories and many focus on suicide.

As you know, suicide is a global epidemic that calls for our awareness, education and compassion. This series is a great start in that direction. Do check it out. New articles will be added regularly.

The thunderclap of sudden death

MT storm comingFrequently, suicides are sudden deaths. And sudden death hits like an enormous, out-of-the-blue thunderclap to the heart. Your world stops. This can’t be true.

And, then, your brain frantically engages. One minute the person is here; the next minute that familiar presence is gone. Like a flame extinguished, you are plunged into a darkness that is incomprehensible. You become wild-eyed with questions and uncertainties.

You try to make sense of it all; you retrace your steps. You race back in time to the very last connection you shared. You think of the “Goodnight, Honey” or the “Don’t stay out too late” to a family member or the “Have a good weekend” to the co-worker on his way out the door. The everyday words, the daily connections, seem so trivial and unimportant given the enormity of the loss, but they matter. They are the connective tissue of life.

Your mind, like a search engine run amok, comes up with all the related memories and associations. You remember the shared laugh over a quick cup of coffee. You think of the sharp words about keeping the curfew or who is going to pick up the quart of milk or why didn’t this-or-that get done.

You remember yesterday, your last week, last year, the day they were born, the day you got married, the day they walked into your class, your job, your life. Whenever and whatever those points of intersection, the moments of laughter and love, the hard times, the good times, the better times, the hang-out times, you want to remember it all — in vivid, painstaking detail.

Images and words jump to the fore. Your knees buckle at the image of reading him a bedtime story or brushing her hair. Bath time, bedtime, play time, work time, lunchtime, sleep time, making love time, finishing the project time; it all spreads before you—a diagram of your life with that person.

You find yourself choked up; words, memories, and feelings are caught in your throat and chest. It is difficult to take a deep breath. Everything feels so fragile and precious now. It is hard to navigate these uncharted waters; you lurch from side to side, feeling broken into a million little pieces. You have been shattered.

Sudden death leaves a trail of collateral damage. There is shock, complicated grief and, frequently, trauma. It takes time to accept the reality into your psyche. It takes courage to deal with the aftermath of sorting through a suicidal death. There is a deluge of every possible feeling.

Go gently. Go patiently. It takes clock time and it also takes as-much-as-you-need “heart time” for you to grieve and pick up all the shards of your shattered heart.

May you find peace. And may your newly pieced-together heart be awash in love and compassion for our very humanness.



Children of suicide

Unhappy Child Sitting On Floor In Corner At Home

Unhappy Child Sitting On Floor In Corner At Home

Suicide is frequently a sudden, surprising and shocking death that leaves family members reeling in disbelief and heartache. Suicide is akin to lobbing an explosive into the middle of the family. There is enormous collateral damage.

For children, the death of a parent is a traumatic event, which is especially intensified for young children. However, when the death is a suicide, the trauma is heightened even more.
Arguably, suicide is the hardest death to accept. There are so many unanswered questions.

Young children do not readily understand the concept of suicide.


Read more here.


(Young Minds Matter initiative:

What if the suicide was not so surprising?

contact-treeYears ago, I worked at an urban drug clinic. In my early days, I was assigned a new client—let’s call her Mimi—for my caseload. She was being released from long-term care in a psychiatric hospital, where she had been hospitalized for a near-fatal suicide attempt. It was her seventh attempt; Mimi had lethally drugged her dog, and she had barely survived herself.

At our first meeting, Mimi said she wished she had succeeded in taking her life and could join her German shepherd. At our next two sessions, Mimi talked less about suicide and focused on the possibilities of work or school. At our last session, Mimi uncharacteristically bounced into the clinic. I had never seen her so happy. I was thrilled. We made an appointment for the following week, but that never happened. Mimi had secured another cache of drugs and ended her life at a local motel, hours after our session.

As a young therapist, I did not realize that Mimi’s unusual happiness, given her psychiatric history and prior emotional states, was an indicator that she had decided to take her life again.

Individuals who have been in and out of psychiatric hospitals, have attempted suicide multiple times, and/or have dealt with the extremes of bipolar disorder are at high risk for suicide.

Their families and loved ones have lived through the duress of chronic crisis states and the cycles of hospitalization, new meds, and help. Suicide threats are far too common in their households. These families have witnessed the get-out-of-my-life locked doors and the crashing explosions of fury; they have listened to the refusals to be hospitalized or take meds. They have seen the mind of their mentally unstable loved one unravel with delusions, spiral with grand plans, and crash with tangled emotions and distorted thinking. It is exceedingly difficult, stressful, and heartbreaking for everyone.

And, if the unstable one ends his or her life, it is often not a total surprise. Suicide has been percolating on the back burner as a possibility for some time. It doesn’t lessen the impact of suicide or the heaviness of grief. Sometimes, however, there is relief that their loved one is no longer in agony. Their loved one is now free from the internal torment and, hopefully, has found a place of peace.

Understanding helps us heal

After you have lost a loved one to suicide, you feel anything but powerful or strong. Most likely, you are at your most vulnerable, full of heartbreak and deep grief.

Suicide leaves a trail of questions and uncertainties. Knowledge can help make some sense of the unimaginable. When we learn more, we have a basis for comparison. We realize, perhaps, that our situation is not so unusual. Plus, we can accept more fully the biochemical or psychosocial elements that have led to a suicidal action. When we understand more, we are no longer so confused, confounded, or upset. We find steadier footing, and we find ourselves more emotionally and mentally stable. Indeed, knowledge can serve as a powerful healing ally.