13 Everyday Ways to Prevent Suicide

September 10, 2018 is World Suicide Prevention Day where we focus our attention and energies on the rampant global epidemic of suicide and consider ways to end this pernicious, deep sorrow.

From my research, I would say everyone has been impacted by suicide. Be it their own abstract thoughts, a school rocked with grief at a student’s suicide, the loss of a loved one, the sudden death of a coworker or hearing about the friend of a friend. Alas, suicide is everywhere and touches every aspect of society.

It feels fitting that today I share with you once again 13 Everyday Ways to Help Prevent Suicide. Please never estimate the power of one to make a difference.

What can we do to help?

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.

Thank you for your open, caring heart.

 

And please share if you find this of value. You can never underestimate the power of a suggestion. Many thanks.

 

 

 

Frank Ostaseski’s Story

Frank Ostaseski tells this story:

“When my son Gabe was about to be born, I wanted to understand how to bring his soul into the world. So I signed up for a workshop with Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, the renowned psychiatrist from Switzerland who was best known for her groundbreaking work on death and dying. She had helped many leave this life; I figured she might teach me how to invite my son into his.

Elisabeth was fascinated with the idea and took me under her wing. She invited me to attend more programs over the years, although she didn’t give me much instruction. I’d sit quietly in the back of the room and learn by watching the way she worked with people who were facing death or grieving tragic losses. This fundamentally shaped the way I later accompanied people in hospice care.

Elisabeth was skillful, intuitive, and often opinionated, but above all, she demonstrated how to love those she served, without reservation or attachment. Sometimes the anguish in the room was so overwhelming that I would meditate in order to calm myself or do compassion practices, Imagining that I could transform the pain I was witnessing.

One rainy night after a particularly difficult day, I was so shaken as I walked back to my room that I collapsed to my knees in a mud puddle and started to weep. My attempts at taking away the participants’ heartache were just a self-defense strategy, a way of trying to protect myself from suffering.

Just then, Elizabeth came along and picked me up. She brought me back to her room for a coffee and a cigarette. ‘You have to open yourself up and let the pain move through you,’ Elizabeth said. ‘It’s not yours to hold.’ Without this lesson, I don’t think I could have stayed present, in a healthy way, with the suffering I would witness in the decades to come.”

From the Introduction: The Transformative Power of Death
Page 6 – 7
The Five Invitations: Discovering What Death Can Teach Us About Living Fully
by Frank Ostaseski

Suicide and brain damage

The brain is doubly impacted by trauma and addiction. We also know that organic brain disease may increase suicidality, and there are worrisome side effects that come with certain psych meds. Soldiers, football players, boxers, other high-impact sports athletes, car accident victims, and others who have had a traumatic brain injury (TBI) or its milder form, post-concussion syndrome (PCS), are at risk.

Traumatic Brain Injury has two causes:

1. Penetration of the head by a foreign object, such as a gunshot or sharp object.
2. Strong jostling within the cranium from a fall, a blow to the head, a car or motorcycle accident, etc.

The hallmarks of TBI, depending upon the severity of the blow to the head, can be:

• Cognitive impairment, evidenced in poor memory and lack of focus
• Emotional problems, such as depression, anxiety, personality change, aggression, and impulse control
• Impaired motor function, poor balance and coordination, and weakness in the extremities
• Problems with vision, hearing, and touch as well as impaired perception

NFL player Dave Duerson, former star of the Chicago Bears, shot himself in the chest at age 50. Before taking his life with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest, he texted his family, asking that his brain be given to Boston University School of Medicine to be used for research—which is why he shot himself in the chest rather than in the head.

Researchers in neurology discovered that Duerson suffered from a neurodegenerative disease called CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), which is linked to repeated head trauma and promotes the growth of a protein that is prevalent in degenerating brains like those with Alzheimer’s disease. The symptoms of CTE include suicidality, depression, aggression, and impaired judgment.

In 2006, another NFL player, Andre Waters of the Philadelphia Eagles, ended his life at the age of 44. The forensic pathologist who studied Waters’s brain said that it resembled the brain of an 85-year-old man in the first stages of Alzheimer’s.

The current research indicates that CTE is also found among military veterans and young school athletes, including those who play hockey and football, who take repeated blows to head. The soft-tissue damage to the brain is cumulative and dangerous.

Most significantly, the brain damage caused by CTE and TBI can lead to suicide.

A word about substance abuse, addiction and suicide

Research tells us the following:
• Drugs and alcohol increase the risk of death by suicide more than six times.
• The largest risk factors for suicidal thoughts are depression and other mental disorders, and substance abuse.
• More than one in three people who die from suicide are intoxicated, most commonly with alcohol or opiates (i.e., heroin, oxycodone).

Addiction is a brain disorder, not merely a matter of willpower. The brain is held hostage by drugs and alcohol. It is a real disease that is both cunning and baffling. And, it is treatable.

The abuse of substances, drugs and/or alcohol, leads to ignoring your responsibilities, taking risks, relationship problems, and potential legal issues. You are using substances without concern for their impact. It’s a bit like you have begun an unhealthy love affair. You are not quite yourself; you don’t care what others say, and you become more and more entranced with your new “love.” Slowly, and most certainly, you hand your power over to the substances of your choice.

Full-blown addiction harms the body, makes changes in the brain, results in poor life choices, and batters relationships. Addiction also increases feelings of self-hate, shame, isolation, and scheming behaviors. It erodes the spirit. Your life totally revolves around making connections, getting the substance of your choice, using that substance, and recovering from its use. Yet, you continue to use the drugs and/or alcohol even though you know it is bad for you. You are powerless, and the substances now own you.

Why do suicide, substance abuse, and addiction frequently go hand-in-hand?

We know that substance abuse changes us physically, emotionally, and mentally in these ways:

• Decreases inhibitions and lowers defenses
• Increases aggressiveness and violent behavior
• Impairs judgment
• Increases impulsivity. (Adolescents and young adults, especially, feel “bullet-proof,” and that nothing bad could ever happen to them.)
• Amplifies emotional responses such as hopelessness, despair, shame, and abandonment
• Increases and exacerbates emotional fragility already present within certain populations, i.e., those who are dual diagnosed (mental illness + substance abuse) and those suffering with PTSD and traumatic brain injury (TBI)

We know that substance abuse changes the brain. It impacts thoughts, feelings, and actions. Frequently, substance abuse is an anesthetic, a maladaptive habit-pattern, a coping response for stress, pain, and unhappiness. For the emotionally vulnerable person, substance abuse is akin to a match near a can of gasoline. There is a much greater potential for disaster.

Suicide and the Power of Shame

Shame is a feeling state. It is a deep-down, red-faced humiliation and mortification with oneself.

Through the lens of shame, we look at ourselves with complete disgust, revulsion, and contemptibility. We judge ourselves harshly, and show no mercy. We see ourselves as the epitome of gross imperfection, enormous stupidity, complete failure, and abject incompetence. Shame is a powerful force, and it can be a driving factor in suicidal thinking.

Shame is associated with intense feelings of disgrace, dishonor, and condemnation. It is also a major component of ostracism, shunning (think Hester Prynne and her Scarlet “A”), and punishment.

Shame is not the same thing as embarrassment. When we are embarrassed we feel, in varying degrees, uncomfortable with ourselves for something we have done or experienced. We are discomfited by our behavior. For example, we look in a mirror and realize that we had a piece of spinach stuck to our front tooth during our dinner date as we laughed and acted charming.

Nor is shame the same as guilt. We feel guilty when we have violated our personal standard. For example, we forgot to send our favorite Aunt Minnie a birthday card or we didn’t check up on a sick friend.

The etymology of the word “shame” is rooted in the words “to cover up, hide.” And, that’s exactly what we do when we feel ashamed; we want to hide and cover up. We avert our eyes, lower our head, and our shoulders slump. We want to disappear. And when there is intense shame, there is vasodilation (blushing) along with increased body heat and warmth.

Like fear, shame is a learned response. No one is born with shame. Shame is passed along by super-critical parents, relatives, employers, teachers, and the like. They regularly make denigrating comments that make you feel horrible about yourself. You might hear that you are stupid, worthless, unlovable, ugly, fat, a failure, incompetent, and any number of put-downs that attack your very essence. These critical folks (from their own wounded and unhealed hearts) tell you these terrible things about yourself, and you believe them. You unconsciously absorb their personal poison and drink it in as truth. You forever feel not good enough, not lovable enough, not enough enough.

You can feel ashamed when you are stopped for a DUI (i.e., driving while intoxicated); are verbally abused in front of your co-workers; or tell your friends your father died of a heart attack when he actually died by suicide. You can feel shame when you learn you are infertile or you need to file for bankruptcy. You can be filled with shame and the attendant self-loathing after you rage at your children or realize you have sent a scathing email to the wrong person.

Perfectionists, understandably, carry a tremendous load of shame. Members of dysfunctional families where there is addiction, violence, anger, and control issues also live with shame every day of their lives. Shame is all too common in cases of child abuse and child neglect. And, we all carry the secret shame of being ashamed. Shame says, I am a bad person, a horrible person, a no-good person.

Brené Brown, PhD, LMSW, is a researcher and storyteller who studies vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame. (Check out her fab TED talks on shame and vulnerability.) Brown has discerned what she calls her 1-2-3’s of shame:

1. “Shame is universal. It is one of the most primitive of human emotions. The only people who don’t have shame are those who have no empathy and lack the capacity for human connection. Here’s your choice: Fess up to experiencing shame or admit that you’re a sociopath.”
2. “We are all afraid to talk about shame.”
3. “The less we talk about shame, the more control shame has over our lives.”

Further, Brown has identified 12 categories of shame:

• Addiction
• Aging
• Appearance and body image
• Being stereotyped or labeled
• Family
• Mental and physical health
• Money and work
• Motherhood/fatherhood
• Parenting
• Religion
• Sex
• Surviving trauma

Within each of these shame categories, we can see a link to suicidal thinking and behavior. Brown reminds us, “Shame is such a powerful emotion that it can literally overcome us.” It can. It does, and, alas, too frequently results in suicide.

Let us watch for and notice the pernicious and dangerous hold of shame. We can circumvent the slippery slope of shame with compassion, discussion and reality-testing. Shame is a powerful, soul-eroding emotion that distorts good minds and twists hearts.

Understanding teen suicide helps make sense of the heartache

n-lonely-sad-woman-large570Suicide is heartbreaking. And suicide is especially crushing when a teenager has made the lethal choice to end their life. What happened? As the adults in their lives, we cannot fathom how things went so bad so fast. We feel so certain there could have been another way, a different choice. Yes, we might have been mad, but love comes first, above all, and we would have helped you.

And so begins the hell for parents and loved ones of a teen suicide. You are full of questions and “what ifs,” reeling in shock and disbelief. You rethink everything. What did you miss? Were there signs? You thought it was normal teenage angst and withdrawal. You had no idea it was this bad.

Or maybe you did. Maybe your teen’s life was a maelstrom of chaos and upheaval. He or she kept unraveling, becoming riskier, angrier, withdrawn or hell-bent on self-destruction. You were considered the enemy. Communication had shut down. You felt powerless. It was hard to recognize this snarky stranger who avoided eye contact with you at all possible costs as your child.

The teen years are an emotional roller coaster

Teenage years, by definition, are tumultuous. The brain is not fully developed. Hormones reconfigure bodies and play havoc with emotions. Psychologically, teens need to individuate — pull away from their parents to become their own person. These years are physically, emotionally, mentally and socially difficult. They can be hard to negotiate. Teens can be extreme and dramatic — and their parents, too, who wonder who they have become in trying to manage and protect their teenager. It’s a highly sensitive and volatile stage of life.

Please click this link to read the remainder of this article which is a part of “Frame of Mind,” a new month-long series focused on teens and mental health by the Huffington Post Canada:

http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/adele-mcdowell/understanding-teen-suicide_b_11833820.html

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

 

 

The many faces of suicide

purplenightscapeSuicide is many things.

Suicide is not a sin, from my point of view. Some religions espouse hellfire and damnation; others ponder the intention of the suicidal individual. Since I see all of us on a path to open our hearts, expand our consciousness, and operate from our Best or Higher Selves, I do not believe that the Divine—in any form or moniker—is looking to punish us for being human. The Divine is all about love—unconditional love—and helping each of us find the pathway to that conclusion. Individuals who take their life by suicide are not punished. (Quite frankly, haven’t they lived through enough hell?) That is old school thinking to me. If you believe in heaven, they are in heaven. If you believe in past lives, their souls are being readied for their next assignment. Where we all can agree is that the soul has moved out of the constraints and limitations of the 3D world and moved to another non-physical dimension.

Suicide is not a crime. (For the record, suicide is no longer illegal in the Western world, where suicide has been decriminalized. There are, however, legal ramifications to assisted suicide and the like).

Some say the weak choose suicide. I disagree. “Weak” is not the operative word here.

Suicide can be a tipping point of pain or shame, a plea for help, a response to mental illness and haywire neurochemistry, as well as the last gasp of despair and resignation. Suicide can also be an impulsive mistake, a planned ending of life, a shredded soul, the death of the ego, or the ultimate act of rage and fury. (That rage and fury is often the much wounded child-self battling mightily for control or screaming in enormous pain.)

Suicide can be a choice that we may or may not understand on the 3D level, such as a teaching tool for our loved ones or choosing to do profound work from the Other Side.

Suicide can be a part of our destiny, our soul path toward healing.

Suicide can be the result of soul loss.

Suicide can be a game-changer. After the loss of a loved one to suicide, your view on life changes. Life becomes more fragile, more precious, and more cherished. This holds true for those who have attempted suicide as well. For them, the attempt may lead to a spurt of fresh energy and a re-engagement with life.

And suicide is definitely a societal, and, therefore, a political and moral issue. We human beings—and our organizations, corporations, or governments—can be terribly self-serving, ruthless, abusive, and tyrannical toward others. Acts of violence, war, and exploitation damage and destroy the very souls of our being. We lose ourselves and the meaning of our lives. Suicidal thoughts and actions are a part of the collateral damage of these polarizations.

Further, suicide can be a powerful teacher. It teaches us the great lesson of compassion. It opens us in ways we never thought possible. Suicide asks us to accept a loved one’s choice and circumstance. Suicide asks us to forgive ourselves for our perceived wrongdoings, including our inability to prevent our loved one from harm. Suicide requires us to face our guilt, anger, and shame. Suicide asks us to accept the unacceptable, the inconceivable, the horrific, and make peace with it. Suicide asks us to live with an open heart. This means no judgment, no castigation, and no punishment. We see one another through a lens of acceptance. We allow each other to be who we are—in all of our shortcomings and crazy-making ways as well as all of our idiosyncratic wonderfulness.

12 things you should know about Suicide

Pain-Suicidal-lossSuicide is a dirty word, mired in judgment, shame, and taboo. It is often whispered or, even, denied (“Oh, he died of heart attack.”) or avoided (“She died suddenly.”).

Given the staggering statistics, isn’t it time we take suicide out of the closet and bring it into the light? Isn’t it time we begin the conversation so we can help one another and find solutions to help alleviate the enormous amount of pain circling our planet?

The first step is to understand suicide. This helps make sense of the unknown and feared, the tainted and tabooed. As a former suicide hot-line responder and a practicing psychotherapist who has worked with suicidal clients for 30+ years, here are 12 considerations I wish everyone understood about suicide:

1. Suicide is universal.
Suicide is not a foreign concept. Each and every one of us know someone, or know someone who knows someone, who has considered or acted upon suicide. Further, most everyone would allow when in a dark, despairing place that the thought of ending all of their pain — even in the most fleeting of abstract ways – has crossed their mind.

2. Suicidality is a global epidemic.
From young to old and across every socio-economic strata, suicide reaches every nook and cranny of our planet. According to the World Health Organization, globally, there is, on average, one suicide every 40 seconds.

And, the number of suicide attempts is astonishingly higher. The National Research Foundation reports that the number of suicide attempts can be 20x greater than the deaths by suicide.

3. Why do people choose suicide?
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.

4. Suicide has many faces.

Suicide can be a tipping point of pain or shame; a plea for help; a response to mental illness and biological vulnerabilities; the last gasp of despair and resignation; a consequence of hopelessness and isolation; an impulsive mistake; a conscious ending of life; the ultimate act of rage and fury; the result of unabated terror; a response to abandonment; the repercussion of accumulated stressors; as well as collateral damage from violence, addiction, and trauma.

5. Depression is the strongest risk factor for suicide.
And this makes sense. Deep, intractable, dark-holed depression offers no options or possibilities. It is a tight, cramped, airless space. Individuals feel stuck, profoundly tired, deeply detached and disconnected. They hurt all over. Nothing makes sense. Their thinking is binary and boxed. And they feel utterly despondent and despairing. There is no sense of self. There is overriding pain which is often expressed as “There is no point. Why should I live?”

6. Survivors of a suicidal loss are at risk for suicide themselves.
Death becomes tainted and shame-faced when described as a suicide. Suicidal grief is complicated. There are so many mixed emotions (i.e., guilt, anger, heartbreak, confusion, to name a few) that are left in its wake.

Suicidal loss is also traumatic and leaves survivors reeling after the sudden death. They may have witnessed the suicidal act, discovered the aftermath, and/or repeatedly envision the specifics. And as with all grief and trauma, each experience opens the door to the memory of other experience of loss and trauma.

Further, since the taboo of suicide has been broken and the threshold crossed, a surviving loved one may choose to end their own pain in the same fashion.

7. The majority of people do not leave suicide notes.
When people who attempted suicide were asked why they left no note, they allowed that they were unable to find the right words and felt guilty; were preoccupied with preparing for their exit; felt no once would really care; felt no note was necessary; were too tired and they wanted their family to forget them as soon as possible.

8. Please don’t say “committed suicide.”
In the Western world, suicide (not assisted suicide) has been decriminalized. It is no longer accurate – and considered insensitive by many – to say “committed suicide.” Instead, you might try “died by suicide.”

9. Suicide is not an act of cowardice.
Imagine if I were to put a pillow over your face, wouldn’t you try to stop me? Our instincts are to fight for life. Suicide happens for a lot of reasons. Cowardice is not one of them. Pain – physical, mental, psychological – is the predominant catalyst.

10. Listen if someone talks about being suicidal or makes off-hand threats about suicide, death or dying.
These are warning signs. Suicidal people may express their suicidal feelings before they act as a way of seeking help or connection. Please do not argue, lie, cajole, shame or bully. Do not dismiss or ignore their expressions of pain and despair. Simply listen with an open, non-judging heart. Allow them to air out their dark thoughts and feelings. Fully listening to someone and knowing you are being heard is an enormous, healing gift.

11. If a loved one is on the verge of taking suicidal action, trust your good instincts and act quickly:
a) Establish physical safety.
b) Have compassion and create a connection.
c) Insert a pause to stop the momentum and expand the circle of help with possibilities and resources.
a. Call the 24 hour, toll-free hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) (English and Spanish).
b. Text the crisis text line 741-741.
c. Find online support groups; 24 hour teen crisis lines, and specialized veterans services.
d. Get professional help.
e. Go to the Emergency Room of your local hospital.

12. Ultimately, suicide is a lesson of compassion.
Suicide teaches us to release judgment, extend a helping hand, and remember we are all connected in our humanity. You know the saying, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” Compassion, not judgment, is the only response to suicide.