Helping people to cope with despair and depression
Suicide, or ending your own life, is a terrible event that leaves tragedy in its wake. The consequences are innumerable, and the emotional toll done to the survivors can leave scars that last a lifetime. The families and victims are left behind to put together the puzzle pieces of broken lives, without knowing what the front of the puzzle box actually looked like, not to mention what pieces were missing. According to the CDC, 45,000 people in the U.S. killed themselves in 2016. Suicide has been gradually climbing and is now the 10th leading cause of death overall. Men are at risk at a rate of four times higher than women, and there are large disparities amongst ethnic and racial groups with American Indians and Alaskan natives being the highest risk group.
When a suicide occurs, we may go through a large range of emotions. We seem to be shocked by the instant death and loss of our loved ones. We are confused and ashamed. We are angry and bitter. We are deeply wounded and saddened. As a community, we can become scared and wonder who is next? We feel responsibility for not seeing the signs, or remorse that we had cross words the last time we saw that person. We may even start to question our own mortality and feel a sense of panic. Suicide is a scary word, and due to our lack of conversation and understanding, suicide brings fear into a small community when it happens to those we know.
As clinicians, it is our job to help people relieve their suffering. We work hard in counseling to help people manage their pain and their hopelessness. Suicide is one option to control pain and suffering. The end of suffering is what suicide victims die for. They believe in that moment that death is the best option. Most have reached such a level of despair that this severe action seems like the only way out. I think we would all say that women who suffer from postpartum depression don’t actually want to die. They might, however, believe that their baby would be better off without them. They might misinterpret their hopelessness as a permanent state, rather than a symptom that can be treated. They might pay too much attention to the intrusive thoughts screaming in their head and think they cannot possibly be a good mother. They might, through the lens of depressive thinking, believe that they have no other option. Suicide is a selfish and destructive option, but it seems at the moment like an option nonetheless. Eighty percent of people who commit suicide have an undiagnosed mental health issue and depression. The lens they look through is skewed, and their “choice” is limited. What mix of mental health struggles causes a person to get to this point? I believe it is a mix of depression and cynicism. These two partner up and with their ugly friend anxiety begin a cycle that is hard to stop. These three destroy hope as quickly as it can be summoned. This leaves people in a state of despair, and despair brings on its close friend, exhaustion. This is not only tiring for those who experience it, but for the loved ones surrounding them as well.
This level of despair and loneliness is difficult, so people keep it to themselves. We don’t want to bother people or put them out. We don’t want them to have to carry our already heavy burdens. It does not matter if you are a student, a father, a teacher or a celebrity. Depression makes you feel totally alone. When we hit the point of total depravity and deprivation, like so many, we end up taking our own life instead of reaching for a life-line.
do we prevent these types of tragedies? How can we become a culture
that is addressing people’s despair and depression before it is too
late? Well, it can be complicated, but here are a few straightforward
ways you can help, even if you are not a professional.
1. Ask: Asking the question “Do you think about suicide?” communicates that you’re open to speaking about suicide in a non-judgmental and supportive way. This actually lowers the risk because it makes people snap back into reality and the realness. Do not just ask about harming, use the actual word.
2. Keep them safe: After the “Ask” step, and you’ve determined suicide is indeed being talked about, it’s important to find out a few things to establish immediate safety. If there is an actual plan like “I’m going to use the gun or the pills,” etc., then this escalates the issue and calls for immediate action.
3. Be there: This could mean being physically present for someone, speaking with them on the phone when you can, or any other way that shows support for the person at risk. Not only be there presently but emotionally. Try to connect with their feelings and acknowledge their despair. Don’t just blow past it with a logical solution. Help them feel heard and validated before moving them to hope.
4. Help them connect: Helping someone with thoughts of suicide connect with ongoing supports like a mental health professional or a local hospital. You can contact us locally at 318-562-6903 or www. clintdaviscounseling. com or the national hotline 800-273-8255.
5. Follow up: After your initial contact with a person experiencing thoughts of suicide, and after you’ve connected them with the direct support systems they need, make sure to follow up with them to see how they’re doing. Show them you care and will be with them during the long fight.
This type of prevention is not black and white and usually can be complicated. It is not often any one thing or silver bullet that slays this beast. In many ways, suicide prevention is simple. These five steps are about being there for others. We as a community have got to get better at being there for each other on a macro and micro level. Be a person that the people around you know they can turn to without judgment and with empathy and love.
Clint Davis, M.S., LPC, CSAT, CCTP, CMAT. Clint Davis Counseling, LLC.Director of recovery for The Hub: Urban Ministry