Learning From Someone Who Tried To Commit Suicide

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The other day I was speaking with a man in his early twenties who had nearly died from a suicide attempt. I mean, he was on the brink of death, unconscious and had to be resuscitated.  I had spoken with him a couple of hours before the incident and what I saw was a young man going through a rough patch in his life, not someone who would hours later decide to end it all.

After he was saved from death, I spoke with him again because I wanted to understand what had driven him to that point. I wanted to know if there was anything I had missed earlier and I wanted to learn from what could have easily turned out to be a tragedy.

Several factors played a role in why this man felt his life was a failure and no longer worth living. I’m sure there are more, but this is what I gathered our conversation.

Egoic Mindset

Talking to this man what I learned was, that besides his pending and ongoing legal issues, he was trapped in his “egoic mind”. In our egoic mind, our thoughts are in control, not us. As many of use know, our thoughts, when left unchecked can cause us to suffer in many ways.

Our minds are extremely powerful. They can catapult us into greatness or they can hold us hostage in a hell we create.

If we do not control our thoughts and believe our thoughts that tell us we aren’t good enough, that this person must do this for us or that this must happen in order for us to be happy, then we will live a live full of anguish.

This young man’s thoughts had not only created his depressive state, but also had driven him to attempt to take his own life. They had convinced him that he was such a screw up that his life was not worth living.

Society

Society tries to force us down similar paths, even when most of us are meant to go down very different paths. When we resist that push by society or simply don’t fit in, many of us start to feel abnormal, different or even broken. The harder we try to fit in, the more insecure, uncomfortable and unbalanced we feel. The more we resist society’s pull, the more we may feel ostracized, rejected or even unsafe.

We start to compare ourselves with other people. Our peers, our siblings and even people we don’t know. We start thinking that we are not as happy as our friends appear on social media, not as successful as our brother who went to law school. In comparison, we start to feel like failures.

As people we always seem to look up, meaning we always compare ourselves to those who are in higher positions.  The person with the masters degree compares himself to the person with the doctorates.  The person making $75,000 compares himself to the one making $100,000. The person living in an apartment compares himself to someone living in a small house and the person in the small house compares himself to someone living in a larger house.

There’s nothing wrong with striving to improve yourself, but when we get locked into this type of thinking we tend to not appreciate where we are right now which keeps us from being genuinely happy. We start to think that we will not be happy until we reach the next level, and then the next level and so on. What this does is keeps us from enjoying life right now for what it is, as it is.

This is the kind of thinking that caused this young man to suffer. His internal thoughts told him that despite what I saw as his successes and strengths, he saw himself as a failure. He wasn’t even close to 30 and had already given up on life, assuming that he was so off track in comparison to other people his age that he could never get back on.

If we compared down sometimes, then maybe he wouldn’t feel so bad about himself. Maybe he didn’t have a house, but he had a place to stay, he wasn’t homeless. Maybe he had dropped out of college, again, but at lease he had some college under his belt. And yes, maybe he was in jail, but it was for a misdemeanor and not a felony and he was facing months, not years.

Not Taking Responsibility

Another thing that helped create the situation was that he didn’t take total responsibility for his life. As an adult, he had created nearly all the obstacles in his life, yet he wanted someone else to magically make them go away.

He was hoping that his girlfriend would do certain things, that his parents rescue him. This caused him to live in a state of helplessness because he allowed other people to control the way his life was going and it wasn’t going in the direction he wanted it.

Once you realize that you are 100% responsible for your life, including your mistakes, your happiness, your future and your present, you’ll realize how much power and freedom you really have. You realize that once you learn how to control your thoughts, that yes life will happen, certain events will happen, but it’s our thoughts that determine how we feel about them and our actions or inaction that will determine how we experience life.

This young man is in jail. He can blame his girlfriend for his current situation, his parents, his up bringing or whatever. He can stay in jail depressed because his girlfriend isn’t answering his phone calls or waiting for his parents to stop showing tough love and come bail him out. He can be waiting forever on all of that, but the moment he starts taking responsibility and control of his thoughts and feelings, his life can change in an instant.

He can say, yes I am in jail and it’s my fault. I did something stupid, how can I avoid doing that again? How can I use this time to improve myself? What lesson am I meant to learn from this?

Or he can continue to blame his girlfriend and his parents, be miserable in jail and come out the same person or worse than he was before going to jail.

Not taking responsibility for creating the life you want will leave you in a perpetual state of uneasiness which will keep you from ever reaching your full potential.

Attachment To Rigid Expectations

This man, like a lot of us, has high and rigid expectations. What I mean is that he expected by his age (although he is still very young) that he would have to accomplish several things in order to be happy or successful and when that didn’t happen, he deemed himself a total failure and didn’t know how to cope with that.

Suppose for example that you expected to be married by 25, have 2 kids and be living joyfully in a house on the beach. Yet, here you are at 35, divorced with no kids and living in a small apartment.

You can reflect on life and feel like you’ve failed and of course you’ll become unhappy and maybe even depressed. You can blame life and the things that happened in your life for keeping you from meeting those expectations and again, you’ll be miserable. Or you can take control of your thoughts, take responsibility and learn to flow with life and say “I would have preferred not to be divorced, have 2 kids by now and living on the beach, but that didn’t happen, what do I do now? What can I do with what I have to create the life I want?”

If however you are attached to rigid expectations, you’ll create misery for yourself. There’s nothing wrong with having expectations, but don’t be so attached to them that when life happens and things don’t go as planned, you fall apart. There are no guarantees in life.

Tony Robbins says that it’s our expectations that make us unhappy and to trade your expectations for appreciation. This is something I have been working on hard over the last several months.

Trying to control or change things that are out of our control will always cause us pain. That’s part of the egoic mind. Instead, we need to learn to accept what is, embrace reality and adjust to life as it happens.

When we can’t do that, we may find ourselves in some degree, like this young man and millions of others who suffer needlessly in life. For most of us, life really isn’t all that bad, but we create our own suffering. By taking control of our thoughts we can end that.

If you are anyone you know are struggling with suicide please call The National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255.

 

 

Helping Someone Who Has Lost Someone To Suicide

Helping Someone Who Has Lost Someone To Suicide

Earlier this week I was called to talk to a juvenile who had witnessed her boyfriend shoot himself the night before. He didn’t make it. She was obviously upset and making her way through the various stages of grief, but what was most pronounced were denial and anger. She is only 15 and he was 18. His life already over. Her life changed forever. As I listened to her talk, first with disbelief, then with anger at herself for not stopping him, then anger at him for leaving her, until she finally broke down in uncontrollable sobbing before returning back to anger and guilt directed towards herself.

Sadly, during my career I have dealt with a lot of death, but suicides always present their own unique set of challenges. People who have lost someone to suicide often not only feel the grief and tremendous loss that comes along with death in general, but they often also feel guilty that someone they knew decided that whatever they were going through was too much to bear.

A couple of years ago in an auditorium filled with crying high school students, teachers, and parents, after a popular student athlete killed himself, what I heard most was people blaming themselves for not recognizing signs that weren’t there. While sometimes suicides come with warnings, often they are very abrupt.

The irrevocable pain the loved ones of someone who committed suicide feel can cause them to become an emotional and mental wreck. Those of us looking in from the outside often want to help, but are unsure how.

You don’t have to be trained as a mental health professional (trust me, often times all the training in the world doesn’t make it easier), but here are some ways you help someone you know who has lost someone to suicide.

Let them come to you.

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As part of the Crisis team I had to go to several schools over the course of five years after a student had committed suicide. I would walk into a school I didn’t know and come face to face with distraught students, teachers, and parents I didn’t know. It is scary. The best thing I did was to be there and let those who wanted to talk come to me. If I saw that someone was obviously very upset I would go to them, hand them a tissue, sit next to them, and wait for them to open up to me. It always worked.

As a friend, try to normalize things. Let the moment be as natural as possible. When they are ready, they will talk as long as you are there.

Remember the good times.

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This is a lesson I learned from watching other, more seasoned mental health professionals during those crisis moments. While acknowledging the tragedy of what happened is important, it can be just as important and powerful to help them remember the good times they had with the person they lost. While this may seem counter-intuitive, I’ve seen it work miracles in helping someone stop reflecting on death and to start celebrating someone’s life. I’ve seen people go from sobbing to laughing and from being unable to process the tragedy to opening up completely. So, when they are ready, encourage them remember and talk about happy memories about the person.

Ask good questions.

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The young lady I spoke to earlier this week said what most people who lost someone to suicide say at some point; “I don’t understand why he did this.” Naturally I wanted to help her process that, but I knew it was more important that I resist that urge and get her to talk about herself.

It’s important to avoid statements like, “I’m sure you did everything you could”, but instead ask questions like, “Tell me what have you been thinking?”, “What was it like the last few times you were together?”, “What did you see?” These questions allow the person to open up as slowly and as much as they want to.

In the case of the young girl I spoke with earlier in the week, the last question was a big one because she had witnessed the suicide and it allowed us to process that entire scene at her own pace.

Be there, be mindful.

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When someone experiences such a tragedy, often they are inconsolable. That is one of the few things that bothers me about getting sudden calls to talk to someone when they have just lost a loved one. I know that generally, with everything so raw, there’s not much I can say that is going to make them feel better in that moment.

What I do, and what you can do as well, is just be there. I sit with them and make myself available. I allow them to cry or to say nothing if they don’t want to. As a friend, you can do the same. You can put your arm around them, hug them, or just be there as a source of comfort. That can be more powerful than trying to find the right words to say.

Find the balance between intrusion and distance.

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It is common after someone has lost someone that they will want to be alone so that they can figure out their own emotions and thoughts. You can give someone mental space while still remaining physically present.

What that means is, you can be in the same room with the person, but allow them silence if that is what they want. Allow them some space if that is what they need. You can even be in another room and remind them that you are there for them if they need you.

Offer practical help.

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After an incredible loss, the person suffering will need help if they realize it or not. After my father died I spent countless days not eating, not showering, and only wanting to sleep. I didn’t even realize I was doing those things, I just remember that my life felt upside down.

Allow the person to go through the natural grief and mourning process, but also offer to help do things to make this time in their lives a little more manageable.

For instance, go grocery shopping for them, pick up the kids, and remind them to eat, to shower, or even ask them how you can be helpful. They may not know that they need help or even have the awareness to be thankful for the help you give them, but trust me, it will help them make it through the darkness.

Allow them to problem solve on their own.

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Eventually, the person will ask more of the tough questions about why the person did what they did and what they could have or should have done. Try not to get caught up in problem solving for them, but allow them to work through that themselves. You can be there for them by asking intelligent questions like; “What thoughts did you have when the suicide first happened?” What thoughts do you have now?” But allow them to reflect and figure that out on their own so that they can put it in perspective for themselves.

Suicide is a tragedy and people who have suffered such an extreme lost need good friends to help see them through it.

Combating Depression: 10 Tips

depressionistockDepression affects about 17. 5 million Americans and out of those, an estimated 9.2 million will have what is considered major or clinical depression.

What’s the difference between depression and major depression?

Major depression is categorized as:

  1. a depressed mood, most of the day, nearly everyday for at least two weeks. In children, adolescence and some adults, depression may present as irritation or anger.
  2. Marked diminished interest in or pleasure in all, or nearly all activities most of the day, nearly everyday.
  3. Significant weight loss (when not dieting), decrease in appetite, or significant weight gain or appetite nearly everyday.
  4. Insomnia or hypersomnia nearly everyday.
  5. Psychomotor agitation or retardation (i.e. moving extremely slow or faster than normal) nearly everyday.
  6. Fatigue or loss of energy nearly everyday.
  7. Feelings or worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt nearly everyday.
  8. Decreased ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness nearly everyday.
  9. Recurrent thoughts  of death, suicidal thoughts with or without a plan or a suicide attempt.

A person doesn’t have to have all of these symptoms to be diagnosed as having major depression, but they have to have the majority of these symptoms for at least two weeks and they can’t be accounted for something else, such as bereavement (i.e., losing someone close to them recently).

Depression has been given a bad name and so many people who feel depressed don’t like to admit to it and may not seek help or even the comfort of a friend when they are feeling depressed. The thing about depression in general is that it is not always a bad thing.As a matter of fact, very often, depression is your minds way of telling you that something in your life is not going the way you want it to go.

Instead of ignoring that feeling or trying to make it go away immediately, it may be a good time to sit with it and evaluate your life and see what is it that is not going the way you want it to go, and if you can change it, then change it, if you can’t, then try to change the way you think about it.

More often then not, this is what depression is and it is possible for a person who is in tune with themselves, to take this self-evaluation, correct the problem(s) and eliminate their symptoms. Other times, a depressed person may need the help of a professional to help them analyze what’s going wrong in their lives and help them learn how to deal with it. And yet, still there are times when medication is needed due to chemical imbalances or if a person gets to the point where they are so depressed that they don’t have the capacity to be introspective.

While most of us have or will experience depression at least once in our lifetimes, major depression can be a very dark and dangerous place. The Center for Disease Control has intentional suicide as the number ten cause of death in the United States last year, killing an estimated 38, 364 people.

10 Tips To Fighting Depression

**First off… if you or someone you know is suicidal, don’t be afraid to call 911 or 1-800-suicide for immediate help**

  • Opposite Actions is a technique from Dialectical Behavior Therapy that basically says, do the opposite of what the depression is telling you to do. If you feel like staying in bed all day, get up and do something. If you feel like blowing off your friends, don’t, call them and force yourself to be out with them.  One of the things about depression is that it is a self-feeding disease. It zaps a persons motivation, makes them want to isolate themselves and stop doing things like going to the gym, all of which end up making the person feel more depressed.
  • Set an alarm that will help you wake up, that will remind you to eat, or to do whatever it is you need to do.
  • Take care of yourself by getting out of your bed, making it, and taking a shower. Letting yourself go is one of the hallmarks of being depressed and will make it easier for you to start avoiding other people.
  • Go outside for at least ten minutes a day. It doesn’t matter where you go, or if you don’t go anywhere. Going outside, getting some fresh air, some sun even, can do natural miracles when battling depression.
  • Exercise. You won’t feel like it, but it will be good for you and will get your blood flowing and your endorphin and dopamine (natural feel good hormones) going.
  • Make a list of activities to do, hopefully some will involve other people.
  • Keep a schedule, that way you can stay on track during the days you don’t feel like doing anything.
  • Make a daily necessity schedule if needed that reminds you when to eat, take  a bath, brush your teeth, etc. Yes, in the middle of severe depression, it’s easy to neglect all these things.
  • Visit people like healthy family and friends. Once again, you will feel like isolating yourself, but having good family and friends around will help pull you out of the fog.
  • Last, but not least, if all self-help fails, do not be afraid to see your doctor or a psychotherapist.  80% of people with major depression who received treatment had significant improvements.

Depression will affect us or someone we know to some degree, and it’s always good to have some idea of what you’re dealing with and how to begin fighting it.

The End Of A Long Week

GETTY_H_030811_SadDepressedYouthTeenI recently just heard about the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School and I feel so stuck in a box right now because I am still at the high school I work at and can’t get access to television.

 

Yes I can read it and see pictures on the internet, but it is not the same.

I’ve been busy myself this week with a number of suicidal kids, one suicide attempt and now I am watching a suicidal teenager (yes while writing this) as we wait for a sheriff deputy to come so I can brief them on what’s going on and have them take him to the local psychiatric hospital.

It’s been one of those weeks.

This particular client is hearing voices, has been so for about a year, the same amount of time he has been getting headaches, so I think it’s possible his hearing voices could be medically based.

He’s also states he’s been depressed since he was 8 years old so it’s possible his depression is causing his auditory hallucinations as well.

I don’t know, all I know is that I would like for him to get a full medical evaluation and kept safe from harming himself for the moment, which aren’t things that can be done here so I have to refer him and his family to places where that can be done.

Talking this his family on the phone, they knew that he has been complaining of hearing voices, but never thought enough of it to try to get him help.

Once again, there goes the whole denial of mental illness again.

It’s torturous, almost abusive to deny help to a kid hearing voices that are irritating him, causing him not to be able to concentrate or focus, and causing him to yell out things like “shut up” in the middle of church (talking to the voices).

So on the phone when the family said, “Oh, he’s been hearing voices for awhile”, I stressed to them the immediate importance that he get evaluated if they didn’t want to find him dead over the weekend due to killing himself.

A little shock therapy? Maybe, but I can’t take the chance on this young man killing himself because he is so depressed and can’t take hearing the voices in his head any more. Sure, many people hear voices and aren’t suicidal, but this kid is.

Many times in the school I work at, parents seem to be mis-educated or plain ignorant about mental illness and suicide. They don’t want to talk about it and definitely don’t want to get help about it most of the time, unless it’s going to get them a disability check.

Even then, they will go to the therapist/psychiatrist as needed, get on the medication if needed to fulfill the disability check status, and then either don’t get the prescriptions filled or stop giving it to their kids after the first refill or two.

So many kids I work with have been prescribed medication for depression, anxiety, ADHD, bipolar disorder and even schizophrenia, but haven’t taken medication in almost a year.

Now, I am not a big proponent of psychotropic medication, only referring families for medication evaluations when I think it is absolutely necessary, but these teenagers I am talking about, when not on their medication, are out of control.

These are the kids that are attempting suicide, so depressed that they can’t function, so anxious that they can’t go a whole week without being taking off campus in an ambulance for having a severe panic attack and driving their fellow classmates and teachers crazy with their erratic behavior.

These are the kids that need medication, because no amount of counseling can correct something that is largely chemically based. Yes I can work with them and help them learn to cope better, but if they are so out of it that they can’t take in or practice what I teach them, then counseling won’t work alone.

I guess I should have been prepared for this week and next week. Unfortunately, along with all the blessings of the season, this is also the time of year when we see an increase in student suicidal ideation (thoughts) and child abuse.

My clients, your kids, your students need us to be vigilant and responsive to their signs of distress.

This is not the post I attended on writing today, but maybe I just needed to vent a little. After multiple suicidal kids and just a frantic week of tense, emotionally and mentally unstable clients, I’m looking forward to the weekend.

It’s my time to recharge myself, refill my emotional energy so that I can stay healthy myself, be there for those around me and give it all up again next week.