The Factor We Can't Forget When We Discuss Suicide Prevention

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The release of the latest suicide statistics present a grim picture. Suicide is on the increase. For the first time ever, in 2015, over 3,000 Australians ended their lives and once again, across all age groups, the majority were men. These men are our sons, grandsons, fathers, grandfathers, uncles, cousins, friends and workmates. U.S. science writer Paul Brodeur stated that “statistics are human beings with the tears wiped off.” Having worked in suicide prevention for 30 years with a particular interest in men and suicide, I have experienced way too many tears. Men’s tears of anguish and despair as they have agonized about whether they could keep living, as well as the tears of grieving families as they try to make sense of why someone they love has killed themselves.

Surely these statistics must compel us into action. It is time for us men to have a national conversation about why so many of us are increasingly choosing death over life. We must come up with the solutions. Thankfully with leadership from organizations such as Movember and beyondblue and now the excellent TV series “Man Up” starting on ABC this week, that public conversation is starting.

Suicide prevention is complex and requires a multi-dimensional approach. I have sat on several advisory committees writing suicide prevention strategies. I have been part of many roundtable discussions with the world’s leading suicide prevention researchers and practitioners on what the evidence indicates needs to be done to lower the suicide rate.  But in all these strategies and discussions, I believe there is one protective factor that has not been more forefront in our deliberations — and that is the role of compassion and kindness.

World Health organization states that suicide prevention is everyone’s business. The Dalai Lama reminds the world that “compassion is not religious business, it is human business, it is not luxury, it is essential for our own peace and mental stability, it is essential for human survival.”

I have lived with an enduring melancholic depression for most of my life. For most of those years it has been manageable and not interfered greatly with my day-to-day functioning. My episodes of clinical depression have been short and I had enough resiliency to navigate my way through the darkness. At times it felt hopeless, but I never experienced despair. However in recent years, I have experienced a deep and long-term depression. In my early 50s, I didn’t seem to have the energy to fight the depression. I caved into the constant bombardment of depressive and distorted thinking that framed my life as failure and futility, resulting in self-loathing. My sense of personal and professional efficacy and confidence eroded, and for the first time in my life, death seemed more attractive than living.

As I come out the other side of this destructive period in my life, I have been reflecting on what was it that kept me alive. What helped when I was lying in my bedroom for days too scared to leave it, or when I had to lock the balcony doors and give the key to someone else because I couldn’t trust myself not to jump off my apartment building, or when I gripped for dear life to railings at train stations while the almost deafening intrusive voice in my head said how easy it would be to jump in front of the approaching train. The answer: the compassion and kindness of others for I was incapable of being compassionate and kind to myself.

During my most darkest hours filled with dread and despair, I wondered what people would think of my life’s work in suicide prevention if I killed myself. Would they see me as a fraud? I thought about the many people I have helped over the years who have seen me years later and thanked me and said how glad they were still alive. I thought about all the things I have said to people, challenging their distorted thinking, helping them to find the voice within them that still cried out they wanted to live. But none of that was enough to instill in me hope or a desire to live again. It wasn’t someone asking me “R u ok?” I got asked that many times but like many men, I lied and minimized my pain and said “I’m fine, just going through a bit of a rough patch.”

It was acts of compassion and kindness that were able to break through the darkness and despair and remind me that that there were people who cared for me. It was their actions that muted my internal destructive voice and shouted boldly the message I have said to many people over the years, “Your life does matter and the world will be fundamentally different without you.” It was the mystery friend who anonymously mailed me $50 every week so I could buy food. It was the friends who even though I never answered my phone or replied to their texts, kept me leaving me messages of hope or reminding me how important my friendship was to them. 

As they say, actions speak louder than words. It is acts of compassion or kindness that are more likely to interrupt the suicidal thought than any words. The effectiveness of phone lines such as Lifeline does not come from some telephone listening skills training. It is the fact that these generous volunteers are a testament, on behalf of us all, that there is someone who gives a damn, that people are not alone in their despair. It is compassion and kindness, showing unconditional positive regard, being present or attentively listening that connects us in our humanity, and connection is one the most protective factors against suicide.

Sociologically, it can be argued that the rise in suicide is in part symbolic and even a by-product of a throwaway society. Something doesn’t work, it is often easier to throw it away than get it fixed. Throwing your life away may seem easier than sticking with it and getting it fixed. I am spurred on in my work by the words of Pope Francis: “We must never allow the throwaway culture to enter our hearts!..No one is disposable.” It was the compassion and kindness that allowed me to finally say I was not disposable, that enabled me to re-engage with the world, to regain hope and embark on my current journey of healing and recovery.

I write this not as some form of self-indulgent catharsis. My story is not unique. I have heard it from many men. Their stories can be summed up by a suicidal 45-year-old man whose business had failed, his marriage broken up and he had lost custody of his kids. In the middle of one night I sat with him on a milk crate in an almost unfurnished bedsit listening to his pain. He felt alone, betrayed and was filled with shame and failure as a husband and a dad because he couldn’t provide for his family. He told me how his friends and family had gathered around his ex-partner and children offering support. He looked at me soullessly and asked, “Who brought me my casserole?”

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

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The Two Words I Would Have Said to My Friend Who Died By Suicide

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September was Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. I must admit, I never thought too much about needing a month for prevention before. I realize now this thought process selfishly was because suicide wasn’t something that personally affected me. That was, until January 18, 2016.

My good friend of 21 years died by suicide. I hope you noticed I didn’t say “committed suicide.” The Sarah I knew would never have “committed suicide,” left behind her two young sons and a life full of promise and opportunity. Saying she “committed” suicide is like saying you intentionally went into a diabetic shock from lack of insulin. It’s taboo to say your brain, another organ in your body which is susceptible to disease or illness, is sick.

That’s what I want to change. I said “died by suicide” because my friend had a mental illness.  No one seems to care if you have a mental illness in this country. They call you names like “crazy” or “addict,” and they never look beyond that. My friend was the “victim” of a suicide. Maybe that explains it better. She was a victim of a mind that turned against her. She was a victim of a system that couldn’t help her.

Sarah was absolutely brilliant, even when I had met her at the young age of 14. Standing tall and proud at 6’3”, she was an unmistakable presence. Her outer shell was witty and tough, but her inner shell was vulnerable and insecure. I remember her battling depression when we were teenagers. In our 20s, she managed (under the care of a therapist) to go off medication and was using meditation and yoga to help manage her symptoms.

When she had her first child at 26, I remember having a conversation with her about postpartum depression and how we would have a plan if I thought I started to see it. She was thoughtful, agreeable and logical. The birth of her beloved child came and went without incident. Depression never reared it’s ugly head. In fact, the time during her first son’s young years was some of her best. Park outings, fishing trips, splash parks, Sarah did them all with her young son as any mother would have.

Our friendship saw a renewed uptick during this time as well. I had my first child a couple years later, and we once again bonded as juggling the life of being mothers along with our life as working, professional women. I think we both forgot about depression. That’s a lie.  I’m sure it was just me who forgot about depression. Either way, it seemed that cloud of darkness had left, and it lulled me into complacency.

About five years after her first child, her second child was born. She was giddy and happy about her new baby. I never suspected postpartum depression until it happened. Unfortunately, by then there was no plan as we had with her first child, and she was simultaneously going through a separation from the kids’ dad. She became estranged, and I was unable to reach her.

One incident a year before she died landed me at her house with others, convincing her she needed to go to the hospital to “rest.” We knew if we said for mental health reasons, she never would have gone. I was able to be available for a part of this. Yet, I wasn’t next of kin, and, thereby, unable to be her advocate. HIPAA privacy rules are strict and deep. I understand their purpose, but honestly I truly believe they are hurting more people with mental health issues than helping. That’s an entirely different post though.

Instead, my smart and savvy friend was able to talk herself right out of the hospital and informed us all she only had a dx (or diagnosis) of “exhaustion” and needed more sleep. My heart sunk. Sarah knew she had depression, but now she wasn’t even admitting that. She was sick, and I was powerless to stop it.

One year almost to the month after that hospitalization, my friend was dead. Estranged after that hospital incident, I had only spoken to her through Facebook comments and likes for the last year. Had she reached out, even a little, I would have ran to her side. I really would have. She never called, messaged or even texted me though.

I’m mad at myself for becoming complacent. I’m mad I didn’t realize suicide was an end result, even after knowing she had battled depression since she was a young teen. Had she texted, I would have told her one small phrase that is now the name of a non-profit started by a mutual high school friend of ours. If you haven’t heard of it, check it out. She’s on the internet and on Facebook.

At any rate, I would have said, “You matter. You matter to me and I know things suck right now, but they will get better. Let me help you. I will help you. You don’t need to live this way.”

You matter.

You matter.

You matter.

I love you Sarah.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

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Let's Talk About the Difference Between Passive and Active Suicidal Thoughts

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Before I start this, I’d like to get a few disclaimers out of the way. First, I’m not a danger to myself or others. Please don’t take this that way. Second, I’m not doing this for attention, I’m doing it to raise awareness for mental health. I’ve found that being raw and real about my own struggles has helped others, so I do it for those who haven’t found their voice yet. Third, as with any essay I do about mental health, I know this will cause some of you to see me differently. I know and I’ve accepted that. However, I ask that you don’t treat me as fragile. If you’ve got questions, ask. I’m an open book about this stuff.

Now that that’s out of the way, here we go.

Suicide. Killing yourself. That’s what I want to talk about. Specifically how suicide pertains to me. It’s a highly stigmatized topic, and humans tend to go one of two ways when confronted with it. We either ignore it, or treat it like a priceless china artifact, delicate and frail. This in turn continues a vicious cycle of people wanting to reach out, but not wanting to for fear of judgement and alienation.

Passive vs. active suicidality is something some people have problems wrapping their heads around. I can say with absolute certainty I’m suicidal. I’ve waged war against depression and anxiety since I was 13. Seven years of fighting an endless battle really does a number on the brain and the psyche, let me tell you. If anyone wants to read my story about the journey, it is here . So I’m suicidal. I have been for almost a year now. However, it’s passive. The difference between the two is very simple (but also super complex). Being passively suicidal means you wish to die. Actively suicidal is just that — you’ve got your plan and you’re planning on going through with the plan.

I’m not going to lie to you: a lot of mornings, I wake up wishing I hadn’t. It’s not early morning blues, it’s a deeply flawed brain chemistry. I go to work, and it wouldn’t really bother me if another car ran the median and slammed into mine. At work, it gets a little better because I’ve got a lot of things to do and distract myself with. I’ve got people who appreciate me and sometimes even laugh at my jokes (you guys are the best). Life becomes OK. However, that can change in an instant. If I say or do something wrong, anxiety tells me I suck and I shouldn’t be here, both at work and in the world. The thoughts come back and I need to fight them off again.

I’d love to tell you all that it goes away after a while. But it doesn’t. Like my depression, it comes and goes but never truly fades. Some days are so much better than others. All the right songs come on the radio, the weather is just right, my humor is on fire, and everyone loves me. Those days, often I don’t even think about wanting my life to end. Other days, depression breaks on me like a tsunami. One big wave in the morning, sometimes for an extra long time, and then aftershocks throughout the rest of my awake time. Those days, thoughts come almost constantly. Everyone would be better off without you. You’re nothing to them, you don’t matter. No one cares if you’re here or not. Not a damn person. I know that’s not true, but anxiety is a helluva brain changer.

Until my brain decides to stop being a little shit, my life will continue like this. I’m in the long-overdue process of finding a therapist and hopefully a course of anti-anxiety and depression medications that work for me. For now, I weather the storm with good humor, coffee and a wildly strong support group (thank you, internet). I weather it because I’ve got people to prove wrong. I weather it out of spite and out of love. I weather it with a f*ck-ton of coffee and tight pants. I always find the little things to enjoy and be happy about. Despite my personality being best described as a cold machine, I let myself cry it out. I run, I walk, I lift and I laugh.

And I survive.

This post originally appeared on Medium.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

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20 Reasons We Should Speak Up About Suicide

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During National Suicide Prevention Month, Active Minds asked its community to share why they speak about suicide using the hashtag #ReasonsISpeak.

Just because September’s over doesn’t meant the conversation has to stop.

To keep it going, we asked the Active Minds’ community to tell us why they speak up about suicide, and compiled some of the great messages shared throughout the month.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students. Let’s talk about:

1. “It felt like I was stuck in a very dark, endless cave. I just couldn’t see a way out. But good mates brought me back, and I have not thought like that for well over 12 months.” — Taya N.

2.I’ve needed the support of friends to help remind me to keep fighting, and I hope I can be that person to others by speaking out.” — Robyn S.

3.Because one day, someone might actually listen, rather than dismissing it as ‘negativity’ and ‘attention seeking.’” — Ash F.

4. “To break the stigma of mental health.” — Simone M.

5. I speak because my dad is no longer is able. He died by suicide last November. He battled depression with a warrior’s heart for over 49 years. I tell his story in the hopes that it will spark a dialogue in other people’s homes, workplaces and society in general. My dad used to say he found the shame of his depression as crippling as the disease itself. No one should ever believe that mental illness is anything other then a medical condition… I have no shame of my father or his battles. My dad was a funny, brilliant man. He had a life well lived, was loved deeply and is missed every day. I am proud of who he was and gladly share our story whenever possible.” — Heather T.

6. “I’ve have had depression since I was a young woman. I felt so different, but I put on a smile. It was not until I was in my 30s that I was told this is depression. When I speak about it, I hope just one young person will be helped.” — Diane S.

7. “Because it’s my reality.” — Marianne R.

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Why do you speak? #ReasonsISpeak #SuicidePrevention #Depression pic.twitter.com/Czly24BcSh

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Want to join the conversation? Use #ReasonsISpeak to tell us why you speak up about suicide on social media or in the comments below.

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The Small Part of Anxiety and Depression That's Always in Me

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This article was originally published by Active Minds and was written by Colleen Coffey, a member of the Active Minds Speakers Bureau who speaks to schools and groups nationwide about mental health.

I think mental health issues exist on a spectrum. I mean this, of course, in the context of the range of issues we all face and the spectrum of severity of diagnoses. I also mean this as it relates to how issues appear within us.

The best analogy I can think of when it comes to mental health issues is a Russian nesting doll. A little doll, inside of a medium sized doll, inside of a larger doll that presents to the world. Usually, the larger doll is me — the best version of healthy, happy me. The little doll is anxiety and depression — it’s always there but kind of little in comparison to the rest of me.

Most days I feel great and my quality of life is pretty awesome.

Some days I still struggle.

Even after years of being well — I still struggle.

I have learned over the years how to manage that struggle. Whether it’s sadness or stress or worry or grief — I know how to feel those feelings, deal with them for what they are and not let them rule me.

But the truth is, some days I feel like dying.

These are days (and they are few and far between) when I can’t get ahold of what I am feeling. When the little doll — the depression and anxiety — seems stronger than the real me. These are days when I couldn’t feel sadder, when I couldn’t possibly be more anxious, when I could not feel more out of control. These are days when I just want to give up.

Do I really want to die? No.

I just don’t want to feel that out of control anymore. What I really mean is that I want the feelings to stop. Those feelings that can seem so impossible to manage. Those feelings that are out of the realm of what’s real and good in life.

Most people who die by suicide don’t really want to die — they just don’t see another way out. I’m here to tell you that there is another way out. All that feelings do is change, but living and dying are both immutable states of being.

The way out is in.

The way out is about having the courage to tell someone you are not OK and to seek help at the first signs of feeling out of control. The way out is to learn how to cope with things that seem impossible and to continue to surround yourself with people who love you. There are so many resources available that specifically address suicide prevention.

Dying is not the best option. It means that the world misses out on you. Whatever it is that you are going through, there is hope and I promise it gets better. It will stop, you will feel better, you will get yourself back.

The world needs you here — stay with us.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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7 Things That Made Me Grateful in the Fortnight Following My Suicide Attempt

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When I was feeling suicidal I had forgotten about all of the little things in life that can often bring small moments of joy. Here are seven things I got to experience in the two weeks that followed my suicide attempt — seven things that made me a little more grateful I lived.

1. The warm towel from my radiator that awaited me after I pulled myself out of bed to have a shower for the first time in three days. I wrapped myself in it after stepping out of the shower. I felt warmth — warmth I had never felt before.

2. Falling in love with my puppy all over again — seeing his excitement, his joy for everything. Seeing the way his tail wags when anybody get close to him. Seeing him try to contain his excitement when I open the cupboard with his food in. Seeing him look at me like I am his whole world.

3. Being able to wish my sister a happy birthday — this brought both guilt and joy. Knowing I had pre-written her card a week before her birthday, as I didn’t think I would be here to give it her. Holding back the tears as I gave her a hug, knowing she didn’t have a clue about what had happened. I wanted that hug to last forever. I made it to her birthday. I hope I make it to her next one. I love you, sis.

4. Treating myself to a sugar in my tea — I hadn’t drank anything in more than a day. My water bottle had run empty. I got out of bed, wrapped my dressing robe around me and made myself a cup of tea. I put one sugar in. I treated myself; it felt good. I was letting myself enjoy the little things in life.

5. Feeling proud of myself for emptying the dishwasher — it may seem like an easy task, but you may as well have asked me to climb Mount Everest. Except I didn’t have to be asked; I volunteered. (I’m still proud of this, can you tell?) It was the first bit of housework I had done since my attempt. It took every ounce of energy I had. 

6. Feeling the rain on my face when I went outside for the first time in a week — it was like I had never felt the rain before. I felt like I was feeling it for the first time, and it felt good. It made me feel alive. I usually shy away from the rain for the fear of making my hair frizzy or my makeup run. I usually put up my umbrella or the hood on my jacket, but on that day I embraced it. It gave me feeling on a day I felt so numb.

7. Watching the sun rise — my safe haven when I am feeling majorly depressed is my bed. Sleeping means I can avoid my feelings; 7 a.m. gets confused for 7 p.m. My curtains remain shut until I am able to come out of the darkness. I awoke early on this day. I watched the sunrise. It wasn’t the most amazing sun rise I had ever seen, but it reminded me of all the sun rises I had seen before and all of the sun rises I will see again. It reminded me I am a part of this world. It reminded me that perhaps there is someone else out there, feeling the same way as me, watching the same sun rise. I am not alone.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Image via Thinkstock.

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