Posted in Mindfulness Matters, Personal Perspective, Topical Time

Suicide in the 21st Century

The first week of June was filled with devastation and despair. First, Kate Spade, a celebrated handbag designer, committed suicide at the age of 55. Then, Anthony Bourdain, acclaimed chef and storyteller on his show Parts Unknown, committed suicide at the age of 61. Lastly, a comprehensive study from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) found a 30 percent increase in suicides in more than half of the states over the last two decades.

If reading that last paragraph made you feel hopeless, you aren’t alone. Mid-June I was going to work, going to class, meeting with friends, but I was numb.

I was reading Malcolm Harris’ Kids These Days at the time. His chapter on “Behavior Modification” illuminated more troubling information about mental illness in America. Despite tremendous growth in pharmaceutical treatment for mental illness, Harris notes there hasn’t been a decline in suicides. In fact, along with the rise of suicide, there’s been a 500 percent increase in depression since the 1980s.

I know medication can save lives. It’s critical in some situations. I would never suggest someone refuse medication or suddenly stop taking medication. However, I’ve tried over a dozen antidepressants in the past 15 years. In my opinion, medication on its own isn’t enough. Talk therapy (psychotherapy) can help people gain a greater understanding of mental illness and learn different skills that can lower distress. The American Psychiatric Association acknowledges that medication and talk therapy have similar effects on the brain. Therapy’s saved my life, more than once, and conversations I’ve had with others make me well aware that I’m not the only one.

On a national level, there’s been recognition of the power of communication when it comes to extreme distress and suicidal urges. Signs like these have been going up all around the city urging those who need help to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:

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Talking is the last resort. If it’s the last resort, it should also be the first. Unfortunately, as is the issue with most treatments for mental illness, there are so many barriers to talk therapy like access, affordability, and stigma that people who recognize they need help often can’t get it.

So, where does all this leave us?

The events of early June made it abundantly clear that suicide can touch anyone regardless of how much or how little they have. I think it’s important that we remember that and make an effort to check in on one another more often, especially if on the outside it looks like everything is fine. It’s not going to be easy with all the distractions of our digitized lives, but when we start the conversation we stop the stigma. That’s power.

We also need to push our elected officials to put more funding into mental health. Despite the 30 percent rise in suicides, our current president seeks to cut funding to the National Institute of Mental Health by 30 percent in 2019 (among other things). On the state level, New York and Virginia passed laws mandating mental health education. I think this has the potential to be a step in the right direction, especially with reductions in federal funding. Kids can learn how to take care of their mental health and that there’s nothing wrong with them if they experience mental illness. I’ll keep an eye out to see how this new law is implemented because I’m skeptically optimistic.

In a seemingly hopeless situation, there is still hope for us to hold onto. It’s kind of like the routine flight attendants go over before the flight takes off in case the cabin loses oxygen. Put your oxygen mask on first, but then turn to those around you and help them breathe. Take care of your mental health, but then do what you can to help your community engage with theirs.

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Posted in Life Lessons

Asking Is The Hard Part

We are stubborn, fearful of rejection, and don’t want to “bother” anyone, or at least that’s how I feel when I think of asking anyone for anything. I get anxious even just asking my roommate/best friend/therapist if I can eat some of her chips. Okay, so, normally instead of some I eat them all, but that’s besides the point!

It dawned on me recently that while my dream is mine alone, I am not alone in bringing it to fruition. I can already count a dozen people that have had a hand in this blog from reviewing concepts to proofreading posts, and even promoting. I owe a great debt to each of them for their solicited assistance.

I might not have made this blog live if I hadn’t womaned up and asked Becky Sarwate to take a look and give me some feedback. I have found it to be true that most people are willing to help. All you need to do is be respectful, direct and work up the courage to ask.

There are two caveats. One is to make sure that you are making a reasonable request. Consider that this person is taking time that could have been spent elsewhere to help you accomplish your goal. Be specific in your request so they know what agreeing entails.

The second is to be grateful. Appreciate their kindness and the next time someone asks you for help before you say no graciously consider the request. Do not let the magic of these simple exchanges fall away!

Here’s some tools to help you ask away:

7 Effective Ways to Ask for Help (and Get It): I love number four the “Foot in the Door” or “Door in the Face.” Ask a smaller question to get the chance to ask the bigger one!

5 Ways to Get Better at Asking for Help: Cannot get over how excellent number five is: create a culture where asking for help is encouraged.

Asking For Help Reveals Strength, Not Weakness: “The truth is we all have gifts to share -” YES!

Savvy Psychologist: How to Ask for Help: Effective tools to use when the anxiety about the ask begins to set in.

2 Words That Make Asking for Help a Lot Easier: I wasn’t sure what the words were, but this makes sense. Those words connect with the human instinct to help those in need.

 



 

I couldn’t close a post about asking for help without mentioning Chester Bennington’s suicide. The weight of losing someone so pivotal in my survival as a teen and seeing the collective suffering of others has been tragic this week. One question keeps kicking around my brain, what can we do about it?

As much as this post is about someone asking for help, I think some of these techniques might be able to apply to those surrounding someone who’s struggling. We often know something is wrong, but don’t know where to begin or how to get someone to open up. Maybe if we follow that “foot in the door” method and start with some small asks with friends (ex. how has work/school/hobby been lately? what do you want for dinner? how is your family?) these might open a space to ask the bigger more personal questions. There’s so much stigma around mental illness that reaching out can be an insurmountable task, perhaps we can help those we love towards that step.

I wrote about my own struggles with suicide previously in Bouncing Back From The Blues. Sometimes my days are filled with suicidal thoughts, and other times, like now, I am lucky enough to only have a few a week. You are not alone. Have hope. Reach out. We need you.