Famous Australian Lifeguard Says Suicide Is Never the Answer

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R U OK? Ambassador Bruce Hopkins knows better than the average person the importance of having meaningful conversations with friends and work mates.

After 25 years on the job, and as head lifeguard at Bondi Beach, “Hoppo” has witnessed plenty of heartbreak as the result of lives lost by suicide in the Eastern Suburbs area of Sydney, Australia.

“I took on the role of ambassador for R U OK? because sadly, I’ve seen plenty of preventable deaths over a few decades,

“I’ve had a few mates and even family who have lost loved ones to suicide,

“My job has also put me in a position where I’ve had to retrieve the bodies of people who did end their lives,

“Then there’s people who have attempted suicide and failed or died later from injuries, that happens a lot. It’s not always as instant as people think.”

“I’ve held some of these people in the water and not one of them has said, ‘I’m so glad I did this.’ They have all regretted it, they just didn’t know how to get away from their pain.”

“I’ve also had to have some devastating conversations with family members; last words and apologies to pass on,

“No one should have to have that conversation or hear those words.”

Hoppo is passionate that attitudes need to change and conversations need to be had, especially with the people who matter to us most.

“In Australia, over 3,000 people a year end their lives, in the U.S. it’s around 43,000 per year, and the implications ripple out and impact so many others, often for a lifetime.”

Hoppo ensures he keeps himself both physically and mentally as fit as possible.

“My resilience comes from having to stay fit and through my love of surfing.

“Surfing relaxes you and takes your mind off things. I believe doing things that you really love is the key,

“What are the things you loved doing as a kid? Going to see a game, going horse riding, taking photos, whatever it is. As hard as it is, try and do those things when you’re in a bad place, it can make a big difference to your wellbeing,

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“Also talking to mates and not being afraid to open up is what we should be striving for,

“People do care and want to be there for you, so let them in.” 

Tips on how to have a conversation:

1.     Ask R U OK?

2.     Listen without judgment.

3.     Encourage action.

4.     Check back in with them.

 For more information on how to help family and friends who might be struggling, visit R U OK?

Watch Hoppo on the job in an excerpt from Bondi Rescue: 

 

Watch Hoppo talk about some great advice he got from his mum when he went through hard times:

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But... I'm Still Here

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You may not see me or hear from me often…

But… I’m still here.

Everyone tells me how they can see my potential… all I see in me is hopelessness, incompetence, and despair…

But… I’m still here.

I am always doing for others what is expected of me and more… even though my soul cries out to me and I ignore…

But… I’m still here.

I give lots of love to those for whom I care… yet inside I neglect one person. My love to her is rare.

But… I am still here.

I wake up and do what is required for the day to go on… when really, I want to stay in my bed, under my covers and pretend the world is gone.

But… I am still here.

On the outside you see my smile, my charisma, my put-together appearance and style…. secretly I hide my insecurities, my flaws, my tears all the while…

But… I’m still here.

The sun shines, there are so many possibilities each new day has in store… yet there are times I want to give up, give in, I can’t take anymore.

But… I’m still here.

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

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Photo by Catherine McMahon, via Unsplash

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Why Selena Gomez's Response About '13 Reasons Why' Missed the Mark

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If you are following “13 Reasons Why” conversation online right now, you know it’s a very hot topic. People have expressed very well-thought-out critiques on it and every day, it seems like another mental health organization is recommending against watching it. However, there are also folks who have their own lived experience and found the show gave them something — be it validation, solidarity, etc. — and that’s completely valid. There are also folks who don’t have lived experience of mental health issues who found this show taught them something — which in itself may be dangerous for a number of reasons, as Mighty contributor, Alyse, says so well. All in all, it’s been a complicated issue.

Eventually, the show’s creators were asked to respond to these criticisms. And they chose to blame stigma. Selena Gomez said to the Associated press, “We wanted to do it justice and, yeah, [the backlash is] going to come no matter what,” and in Vanity Fair, writer Nic Sheff said, “Facing these issues head-on—talking about them, being open about them—will always be our best defense against losing another life. I’m proud to be a part of a television series that is forcing us to have these conversations because silence really does equal death.”

As a mental health advocate who also has a lot of mental health advocate friends who are upset with the show, I felt like this response missed the mark. Of course, there are people who hate “13 Reasons Why” because they still believed stigmatized things. But that’s not the reason it’s getting the criticism it’s getting. I believe you can’t claim stigma is responsible when most of the people sharing criticisms of the show are experts on suicide prevention and mental health. In addition, I’ve noticed “13 Reasons Why” is affecting vulnerable people in their communities. I believe you can’t say stigma is the reason people are upset when the creators of the show either didn’t read the responsible suicide reporting guidelines, or didn’t care about them.

Stigma is not the reason mental health advocates and organizations are not fans of “13 Reasons Why.” We want real, gritty, engaging stories about the experience of being suicidal. But we don’t want it in a way that people feel like they have to recover after watching it, or worse, go to the hospital. It’s disappointing they are blocking out the well-thought-out critiques and feedback. It makes me sad to think they might not learn from this and build something even more awesome with us next time.

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

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Screenshot via Netflix Youtube channel.

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My Uncle Is So Much More Than a Suicide Statistic

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Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts or have lost someone to suicide, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

The problem with writing is I love it too much to do it half-assed. There are days when I write entire blog posts in my head while driving to work or playing with the kids on the floor, but they never make it to the page. There are other days when I open up my laptop, pour a glass of wine and contemplate writing, but then realize I have no direction to my thoughts or nothing relevant to say at that particular moment.

This doesn’t mean I am not constantly thinking because I am, all the time. While making the kids’ lunches, while walking to the mailbox, while drifting off to sleep. I mostly think about people. I don’t waste time worrying about politics or events that are occurring halfway across the world because they are out of my control. Instead, I spend most of my life focusing on the people I care about (and there are many). I try and make their lives inherently better just by being a part of it. I love to listen, to truly listen, to what people have to say. Over the years, I have certainly done my fair share of talking as well, but when I was younger, I was more of an observer. I think when you start out life as a shy, introspective child, you gain a lot of insight and perspective about the world around you. You can immediately tell when someone is hurt, even if the person that inadvertently hurt them might not notice. You see and notice small changes in facial expressions like disappointment or sadness. You watch and take internal notes, or at least I did. I may have been too quiet to do much about these observations until high school, but I know the time I spent both writing and observing during those formative, character-building years made me into the empathetic person I am today.

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So a few summers ago when I was sitting on my love seat and heard about the death of the beloved Robin Williams, like everyone else, my jaw dropped open and I almost ran off to Snopes to find out if it was true, but mostly an overwhelming sense of melancholy washed over me because of the cause of death.

Suicide. I hate that word. I also hate the phrase “committed suicide.” It’s so cold. It sounds so harsh. I don’t know if “took his own life” sounds any better, but at least it’s less clinical. People expressed shock about his untimely death and I suppose that’s understandable in a way, but if you are familiar with suicide, and have lived through the death of an immediate family member, you know depression can completely change a person’s life view in a matter of months. It can often change their personality and their physical appearance, their mannerisms and their routine. It can affect their level of patience, their former passions, their every relationship. It may not be completely transparent to the public, but the signs are there. And sometimes there’s nothing we can do to recognize how serious the situation is until it’s too late.

The other day, I was home alone with my son. He went down for a nap and I decided to relax watching some old home movies. (In addition to writing and being empathetic, I am also extremely nostalgic and sensitive). These particular movies are silent because they were filmed with my parents’ Super 8 camera prior to their mega Camcorder purchase in 1986. I watched my first day of kindergarten… blonde curls and blue crocheted dress with little brown Mary Janes and a white button-up cardigan. Care Bears lunchbox. Then I watched my brother’s second birthday party, in September of that same year (1984). I watched my Uncle Billy come up the hill with my aunt. He was a young 30-year-old, even younger than I am now. He was sporting faded, but surprisingly designer-looking blue jeans and a long-sleeved V-neck shirt. Young and happy as could be with a blonde woman (who had a Farrah Fawcett haircut, I might add!).

Looking at them, tears glistened in my eyes as I did the math. In 25 years, he would take his own life. Would you ever have guessed had you been in that moment? Would I have ever guessed it? My four and a half year old self running around the front yard in that video without a care in the world? No. I wouldn’t have. Even in the months before his death (and I was 30 when he died), I honestly didn’t think he had it in him, even after hearing he had been experiencing depression. I pride myself on being empathetic, but I didn’t even notice he felt suicide was the only alternative.

I fell on the couch when my mom called to deliver the news. I was pregnant and alone, and thought I might explode with sadness. I had just spoken to him the day before on my birthday. How could this have happened? But looking back, there were signs. Even when I had talked to him on the phone the day before, I know he knew it was the last time we would ever speak. It chokes me up to even write that now. While we will never be able to understand with our rational minds, it is an illness and it is important that people are aware of the signs and of how to get their loved one help.

After Robin’s death, I heard some unsophisticated caller on the radio stating that Robin must not have “given a shit” about his three children to do this to them. I was practically shaking with anger at that statement because it is so false. So unfair. Depression is serious. Be aware and reach out. Help in whatever way you can.

Every year my family and I do the American Foundation for the Prevention of Suicide (AFSP) “Out of the Darkness” walk in October. All donations go towards research and education programs to prevent suicide and save lives, because suicide is more prevalent than you think. Suicide claims more than 38,000 lives each year in the United States alone, with someone dying by suicide every 13.7 minutes. A suicide attempt is made every minute of every day, resulting in nearly one million attempts made annually.

I hope the death of Robin Williams has just one silver lining: awareness. If you see someone struggling, be empathetic. Don’t judge. Take the time out of your busy day to reach out and listen. It only takes a few minutes or hours, but may make a difference. I know there’s nothing I could have done to save my uncle, but I take comfort in the fact I was there for him every time he called me that fall and winter. I cheerfully told him all about the events going on in my life and tried to make jokes and make him feel like his “real” self again. I am sure I wasn’t completely successful every time, but I know in my heart that he knew I loved him and that I was trying to make a difference. Let’s all take care of each other. Life is too short to do anything else.

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

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Photos via contributor.

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When Your Brain Automatically Jumps to Suicide as the 'Answer'

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Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

What goes through your mind when something bad happens? You probably take some time to think about the event, the argument, whatever it was, right? Then you move on with your life, and if I was to take a guess, I’d probably say within a few hours, you’ve forgotten all about it.

That’s if your brain works in the way it “should.”

My brain doesn’t work like that.

Following an argument, I can invariably be found crying hysterically. If you could hear my internal narrative, you’d hear me telling myself why it’s not worth killing myself over the angry words exchanged. That no, I can’t leave a note asking someone else to take over my website for me so the damage of my death is minimized.

You see, my brain has a nasty habit of overriding logic. Where your brain huffs and moves on, my brain says there’s no way to move on. That this argument is the final straw, that I’m trapped in this endless circle of arguments, of losing friends, of always having to answer to somebody other than myself.

Logic says this isn’t the case. Logic says that yes, these arguments are a frequent occurrence, however, life extends far beyond this. Life consists of more than just angry words exchanged under the stresses and pressures that come with being a human being in this world. Life consists of travel, of connection, of carving out a space for myself in this world rather than letting somebody carve away at me so that I’ll fit nicely into whichever box is most convenient for them.

My illogical brain has become so as a result of seven years battling anxiety and depression at varying degrees of severity along the way. During this time, I’ve developed trust issues, which play a massive part in my brain’s tendency to jump straight to suicide as an answer to an unfavorable situation.

One of my regular internal narratives is that I constantly attract untrustworthy people and that this will never change. I’ll never find somebody who I can trust, and when I do make the decision to trust someone, they’ll go on to show me why I was wrong to do so.

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I have a very dramatic brain.

Over the course of several therapy sessions, my therapist and I have established for me, trust is an all-or-nothing deal. I either don’t trust you at all and won’t open up to you in the slightest, or I jump in with both feet and bare the entirety of my soul to you, scars and all.

I’m working on changing that.

So with this in mind, upon learning that the relationship I’d been in was built upon a foundation of lies, my mind quickly spiraled. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I found myself in a hotel room in the early hours of the morning, self-harming for the first time in nearly three years. I would go on to pack my bags as if to return home, while in actuality, my intention was to take my life.

I was saved by a text from a co-worker. When I saw the notification flash onto my phone screen, I fell to my knees and sobbed. To kill myself in the hotel room paid for by a mental health charity I was doing some work with that week would be cruel. It would be selfish. I collected my bags and eventually got on my flight home.

Most people would probably have spent a few weeks in front of the TV, gossiping with mates and having a cry into a tub of ice cream. But instead of this, my brain jumped straight to suicide.

It’s a battle I’ve been making an effort to fight for over three years now, and for three years, I’ve been winning. It hasn’t been easy. I still have those days when my mind jumps straight to suicide. At the moment, those days come roughly once a week. They’re intense and they’re exhausting.

In addition to being utterly terrifying for me, it makes me reluctant to enter into debates. Debates have a habit of turning into conflict, and nobody wants to be the person who says “Please go easy, your words could actually kill me.” Perhaps I should start doing that, maybe it would make people think twice before picking a fight with someone whose situation they don’t know anything, or at least think twice before throwing personal insults around.

My fear is rather than encouraging people to take care when walking on the carpets of another person’s mind, it would encourage people to fight a little harder, and add that extra touch of vitriol to their words. The world is full of malicious people who can push further when they learn of the vulnerabilities of others. Indeed, that’s been my experience with a lot of people to date, and is the source of my complex relationship with trust.

And so my plea to you is to be careful when making your case to someone else. Be it politics or attitude, be gentle, be kind, conduct yourself with dignity and tact. Refrain from descending into mudslinging, hold off on personal jibes, bite your tongue before producing unfounded allegations.

Taking care when speaking your mind may actually save someone the pain of having to fight with their own mind. In recent months, my life has become a game of trying to outrun the voices that tell me I’m not good enough. These voices tell me for all I’m running, I’m not getting anywhere, and never will. No matter how hard or how fast my feet hit the ground or my fingers hit the keyboard, I struggle to stay ahead of those voices. Please don’t cheer them on. Please don’t feed the gremlins. They bite. Hard.

Finally, if your brain is as illogical as mine is sometimes, keep fighting it. We have to believe that one day, we may just outrun those voices, and the gremlins might just go to sleep.

What harm can hope do?

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

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Unsplash photo via Ben Warren.

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When the Thought 'I Want to Die' Replays Like a Song Stuck in My Head

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Editor’s note: This post discusses suicide ideation and may be triggering. If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

“I want to die.”

This is a thought that plays over and over in my head, endlessly, without prompting or any feasible substance behind it. I want to die. I want to die. To die. Die. And I have no real reason for this. I have no evidence as to why I should die or any idea of why this desire is so strong. I can’t say, “I want to die because…[fill in the blank].” There is no blank. There is nothing. But it’s there, all the same. The words, like a tape on loop, playing until I can’t stand to hear them anymore. I want to die. I want to die. I want to die.

It hits me at all times of the day, every day of the week. This and phrases similar are the soundtrack in my head. I’m worthless. There’s no point. I want to die. I’m worthless. There’s no point. It’s automatic. Like muscle memory. I try to fight it, replace it with something different, but the work seems futile. It always comes back, the song stuck in my head, the melody I’m so used to hearing.

My therapist says the brain can be rewired, the tune changed. I don’t always have to live in minor key. Sometimes I believe her, on the good days, when the band isn’t playing quite so loud. Sometimes, when the involuntary “I want to —” arises, I quickly correct it — “No, I don’t.” Because I don’t. I don’t really want to die. That is just, as I said, a refrain in my head. No more significant than the annoying repetition of “Never Gonna Give You Up” or “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” or “We Are Never (Ever, Ever) Getting Back Together.” But this isn’t as simple as a pop song. I can’t sing the words aloud without someone pouncing on me, out of concern or fear or judgment: “Are you OK?” “What’s wrong?” “Suck it up.” I don’t like to worry people, and I don’t like to feel invalidated, so I keep the thoughts to myself. These words seem dangerous, but if they’re in my head, they can’t hurt anybody but me. It turns into a game of self-sacrifice. Strap me to a post and let the sirens sing; as long as I do not act, what damage is done? And they’re just words, right? Thoughts, swimming aimlessly?

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After a while, thoughts can be grating. They become less amorphous, more definitive. If the thoughts aren’t combatted, or at least challenged, they grow and become worse. Instead of “I want to die,” the phrase alters. “I need to die. I have to die.” There’s no point becomes there’s no other option. And then there’s no fighting.

In cognitive behavioral therapy, an “automatic thought” is exactly as it sounds: a thought (rational or not) that occurs automatically, usually in response to a stressful situation. Automatic thoughts have been, evolutionarily, useful because they cause appropriate feelings and behaviors in anxiety-inducing situations. If you’re in the middle of the street and a car barrels toward you, your automatic thought is likely, “I’m in danger!” which causes feelings of fear and anxiety, which prompt you to move, and quickly.

Situation → Thought → Feeling → Behavior
Car barrels toward you → “I’m in danger!”→ Fear/Anxiety → Run Away!

Automatic thoughts become not-so-useful when the brain reacts irrationally to everyday stressors. Over time, the brain can train itself to respond to stress in a certain way, usually as a result of long-term environmental factors (e.g., where and how we grew up, past relationships, our educational experiences, etc.). As a result, small things like forgetting to call someone or accidentally missing a work deadline can escalate into high-stress feelings and behaviors.

For example, because my very first romantic partner was emotionally manipulative, I tend to be wary of others’ motives when beginning a new relationship, even if my prospective partner is the sweetest, most caring person I’ve met in a long time.

Situation: A date brings me flowers

Thought (triggered by a past event): “This person is trying to gain my trust and use me.”/ “Nobody really wants me anyway.”

Feeling: Distrust/Fear/Hurt

Behavior: I never call said person again

Or, because I never felt good enough growing up, I now criticize even my most minor mistakes and have formed unproductive habits.

Situation: I have a 10-page report due for a class in two weeks

Thought (triggered by long-term behavioral reinforcement): “I cannot this mess up.”/ “I’m a terrible writer.”/ “I’m never good enough.”

Feeling: Anxiety/Fear of Failure

Behavior: Hardcore Procrastination

Or, because I often felt emotionally disconnected from my family and peers as a child, I can sometimes take even the slightest social interactions very personally, and often my response is entirely irrational.

Situation: A friend forgets to text me back

Thought (triggered by long-term behavioral reinforcement and past events): “She is mad at me.”/ “She doesn’t care about me.”/ “No one cares about me.”/ “It wouldn’t matter if I weren’t around.”/ “I want to die.”

Feeling: Hurt/Anger/Anxiety/Depression

Behavior: Social Withdrawal/Suicidal Ideation

Unproductive automatic thoughts tend to be generalizations, to have little evidence to back them, to spiral downward quickly, and to lead to damaging behaviors. Dealing with negative automatic thoughts is hard because they are often so ingrained in the way we think that we don’t even notice them until they’ve already done their harm. In my personal experience, the best way to deal with negative thoughts (once I begin to notice them) is to treat them like an annoying song stuck in my head: listen, question, and if all else fails, just say no.

When the thought pops up — I want to die — I hear it, I listen to it. I do not act on it. Sometimes, that’s all I need to get the song out of my head.

When that alone doesn’t work, I try to figure out where the thought is coming from. (“Why? How?” I say. “Why this? Why now?”) Identifying and questioning emotions is key to understanding negative thoughts. If I can pinpoint a feeling, I can trace it back to the thought in some way. In the above case, “I want to die” is linked to feelings of loneliness and anxiety. When I feel lonely, I sometimes jump to the conclusion that nobody wants me around (and, to take it a step further, that nobody would miss me if I were dead). When in reality, a lot of people would miss me if I were gone, and a lot of people would love to enjoy my company in that moment. Applying logic to an illogical thought usually negates the thought. The fact that my friend didn’t text me back does not mean my life is worthless. She might just be busy or not looking at her phone. She could be angry, depending on the situation, but she is entitled to anger, and her anger won’t last forever. Her actions, or lack thereof, are not a reflection of me as a person.

Sometimes, when my mood goes dark, it’s hard to think logically. Sometimes, the thoughts keep playing and playing and playing until I can’t bear to listen anymore. In this case, distracting myself and shutting out the thoughts is the best method for dealing with them. It does not solve any long-term problems, but it gets me through another night without harming myself. No matter how catchy or effortless those thoughts might be, I try to remind myself that, like Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” or Rebecca Black’s “Friday,” there is very little substance to them, and they are best listened to on mute. My point is, getting caught up in negative automatic thoughts is easy, and they are extremely difficult to shake, but oftentimes, they are not worth the struggle. And, just because I think, “I want to die,” does not make the sentiment true. I very much enjoy living, even if my melody tends toward melancholy.

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

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

Follow this journey on M.K. Murray.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo by Rachel_Web_Design

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