|Posted on May 20, 2020 at 1:00 AM|
"Revealing the Truth about Suicidality" ©
In society today, a simple mention of the word suicide often creates either anxiety or fear-driven stigma. Awareness from news media coverage varies depending upon how well known the victims are. Unfortunately, the positive impact of individual loss victims greatly diminishes anyway within two to four weeks after bereavement. They are no longer here to speak for themselves as capable advocates for change. Numerous reputable studies still show serious mortality rates in many countries, including the U.S. As proven in my Sept. 2019 NAMI Blog, for prevention, “there is no better resource than someone who has lived through this and survived.” Join me as I discuss what I have learned as an experienced survivor of suicide.
To this day, stigma has a constant disruptive influence on how suicide is perceived and addressed. On a basic level, suicide involves the preventable death of a loved one. Feeling anxiety about such a traumatic and personal loss is a natural reaction. However, if you were to ignore what suicide is like to live with and over-react, you can stigmatize others with shame and fear. These reactions make it harder for people to cope with their mental health, thus affecting friends and relatives. Talking about heightened stress is often risky. Coping skills are needed more outside of treatment. Finding someone trustworthy to confide in is difficult. The more I explain from experience, the less likely you will be to react to suicide with fear and confusion.
Since early in my youth, I have found that not keeping my emotions bottled up has been very important. Faking a smile was a common way I saw other people hide from their stress. But this never felt safe or right for me to do. Without expressing negative emotions, through treatment or self-care, your mental health will suffer from the strain. Heightened stress can lead to an increased risk of suicide symptoms. Unfortunately, coping skills take time to learn. So, I was more vulnerable at a young age than I am now as an adult. Although my first symptoms of suicide did not occur until after high school, I did recognize the need to talk about my feelings. I never realized that one of my best coping skills was a habit I already frequently used.
Between Elementary and Junior High, I had few friends outside of school and problems at home. There was not enough positive social interaction for me. Then, I started noticing I was vocalizing my thoughts quietly, while comfortably in my bedroom. At first, this helped me to brainstorm ideas. I just regarded the habit as thinking out loud since talking was socially acceptable. When I encountered negative emotions, it felt natural to express my feelings in the same way. So, I vocalized anger, frustration, sadness, confusion, and anxiety. By expressing them on my own, I felt better and unknowingly avoided a build-up of stress. I kept it private because I felt people would misunderstand and, for lack of a better word, think I was crazy.
Now, I know this secretive habit as a coping skill called self-talking. Why do I still need to be so private about it even now? A lack of acceptance keeps me from feeling comfortable with my mental health. Stigma about suicide frequently causes anxiety. I do not feel safe openly expressing myself as a survivor. Fortunately, for over twenty-five years, I have used self-talking responsibly to cope with negative emotions. I cannot imagine what suicide ideations would be like without it. There have been no problems because few people overhear what I do express. Though, self-talking by itself is not entirely effective. I have found it best to seek proper care by a certified mental health professional, whether secular or faith-based, as early as possible.
In October 2018, after ensuring affordability through case management, I experienced counseling and psychiatry for myself. I have also observed a false impression that counseling should help all the time. From their point of view, when behavioral therapy does not appear to be effective, those closest to you may express concern. I know because people have asked me why counseling does not always help. In my case, I waited too long. There are a lot of delicate factors with mental health treatment. First and most important is finding a counselor you can safely and comfortably talk to about your feelings. Treatment is more challenging with suicide symptoms, but it does still help. You need to find what is affordable and works best for you.
Meanwhile, with mental health appointments still on-going, there is something essential that the treatments often cannot fulfill. My counseling sessions and support group meetings typically only take an hour and occur weekly at most. Therefore, regardless of any prescribed medication, this leaves managing most of my mental health outside of those set office hours. Properly coping with thoughts of suicide is much more important too. It is my responsibility to cultivate positive coping skills I can use on my own during this time. Crisis and intervention are available in many locations, but there are other beneficial options you can explore. In fact, by making the most of what is around me, I have been more self-reliant with my mental health.
After attending a mindfulness presentation, I discovered that everyday activities were already useful as positive influences. Some of the best examples include listening to or playing music, watching movies, arts and crafts, hobbies, exercising, or finding ways to relax. I make creative music playlists, watch inspirational movies and interesting gameplay videos, or search for new ideas of activities to do. I can also take something I like, such as a favorite song, and cherish it more to experience a stronger sense of energy and fulfillment. The more I am aware of what is positive and distracts me from a depressed mood, the better I have been able to handle time outside of appointments. Even so, there is still something more helpful than all of this.
From experience, having a close friend or relative who accepts my mental health has been invaluable. Communicating as often as possible with them is very comforting. Though, outside of treatment, finding suitable social interaction is not always easy. It depends on how many people I am in contact with and how much time they can offer. Screening for compatible personalities has been helpful too. If someone is unrealistically positive, I am not as comforted despite even their best intentions. Coping with suicide often involves intense negative emotions. The darker your self-expression, the less willing some people may be to communicate with you. It is beneficial to be mindful of religious acceptance of suicide as well. Sadly though, not everyone has someone to rely on when critical emotional support is needed most.
To adapt, I have to be considerate of my friends’ daily lives, such as family needs, hours of employment, and private time of their own. Plus, with more than one trusted support friend, I have found it helpful not to rely on the same person all the time. Doing this disperses the stress and can be of great benefit to them. The more accommodating I can be will strengthen the friendships and ensure I do not overwhelm anyone with my issues. Balancing my mental health with all this experience has allowed me to focus on being an advocate. Helping others like me is important because stigma keeps many from speaking out. I choose to go above and beyond so that fewer people put themselves at risk. Here are some thought-provoking observations.
Above all, the most common perception I have found is a widely accepted connection between prolonged depression and empathy. People who endure depression are more sensitive to emotions due to the nature of their suffering. Although I do agree, it is not just from my experiences with surviving suicide. At a young age, through mindful self-awareness, I recognized how negative emotions affected me. If I felt miserable from being bullied as a teenager, why would I want someone else to experience that? Not to mention, as a mature adult setting an example for others. I choose to prioritize how I treat people because I take hurtful emotions seriously. So, neither compassion nor empathy requires a life of suffering. Though just being courteous is often helpful and with minimal effort needed.
Likewise, the belief that a person displaying suicide symptoms may be a risk for violent behavior is false. In reality, the heightened sense of empathy makes many people less likely to be a threat. I can confirm this by sharing my history of non-violence, but I am not alone. Any reputable source can demonstrate the ratio of violent crime compared to the majority of the non-violent population. It is the responsibility of the person suffering to be mindful of their self-expression and actions. As someone who may be around them, you are equally responsible for your behavior too. Choosing to fear them without understanding their mental health is how stigma can thrive. A calm discussion to learn more can help resolve confusion and concerns.
Unfortunately, stigma makes communication more challenging because it can easily be awkward for many people. If in-person, someone may overhear and misunderstand what is said. On social media or by telephone, there is no way to judge another person's body language. Or, for example, with autism, sharing too much information can create unintentional problems even with people you may trust. Venting negative emotions is an important part of coping with such diagnoses as major depressive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, and more. I have personally experienced a problem with expressing myself during heightened stress. In two previous incidents, someone close to me has called a suicide hotline. After reflecting on what happened, in each case, I was not careful with what I said, and they over-reacted.
In reality, tragedies have occurred when people over-react and involve law enforcement. Had the police been prematurely called in either of my instances, it is permitted to force taking custody and transport to the hospital for evaluation. However, my parents would have endured an abrupt and highly stressful incident since I still lived with them at those times. My stress would have spiked even higher, probably destroying the mental stability that I diligently manage. There have been cases, such as Osaze Osagie, in which law enforcement intervention has caused tragic and preventable losses of life. Over-reacting due to stigma and starting intervention for someone you are not familiar with can put lives at risk. There are also issues with terminology.
Following publicized incidents of mass violence, I have witnessed people express their belief the person responsible is or must be mentally ill. First, not all information is known, disclosed, or accurately reported to the public immediately afterward. Investigations by law enforcement and psychiatric assessment take time to determine the facts and motivations. Assuming based on emotions ignores the truth. The suspect may not have any mental health symptoms directly responsible for their actions of violence. If they do, you would be ignoring the complexity of their mental health and any unique diagnoses involved. Although mental health and mental illness are interchangeable, misusing them as a stereotype only creates stigma. Doing so makes you more likely to misjudge people you care about, such as friends and family.
Similarly, repeated use of the term murder-suicide in news media reporting undermines critical awareness efforts. Non-violent suicides are instantly associated with traumatizing violent crimes such as mass shootings. Logic proves the term is no longer appropriate to use. A person does not kill another person to end their own life. In these cases, the purpose is to carry out homicide first. Therefore, aggressive behavior is a crucial difference. Keep in mind, empathy and non-violence are common of many who live with suicide symptoms. So, using an outdated term does more harm than good. A suitable alternative would be to use murder-aggressive-suicide. Not only is the trademark aggression identified in the term, but more people may ask what the difference is. Clarifying stigmatized mental health information is always beneficial.
Consistently, suicide losses are attributed to or suspected of being caused by mental health conditions. From experience, I know diagnoses such as depression do play a significant role. Reporting rhetoric discourages singling out one factor because of how complex suicide is. A wide range of factors can take months or years before leading up to a single active attempt. Contrary to this, I have observed and experienced external factors that escalate suicidal behavior in a matter of months or days. Although commonly disputed by some as a direct cause, the easiest trigger to recognize is intentional bullying. Two recent cases in my community stand out as decisive proof: a 12-year-old Junior High student and a 45-year-old businesswoman.
According to reported information, they were both victims of emotional mistreatment within months or days leading up to their respective attempts. The timing and influence of these incidents are undeniable. As an outsider, I do not have access to their mental health records. Neither should anyone assume they had underlying diagnoses to cause emotional instability. People are responsible for their actions and thus behavior as well. In cases of child abuse, whether or not the abuse results in death, the abusers are still held responsible. Instead, with cases involving bullying, accountability is placed on the deceased victims who succumbed because of their mistreatment. If someone takes their life as a direct result of emotional abuse, students and adults alike should be held accountable or deterred from abusive behavior.
Had the intentional bullying not occurred, both the student and businesswoman would likely still be alive today. This fact alone should void legal precedents protecting public school districts from student-upon-student bullying. Unfortunately, no one involved in the local cases was held accountable for their actions. As a result, the lack of prevention solves nothing. Worse yet, they were only two years apart. The year in between, as an adult myself, I endured bullying that pushed me to the brink of active suicidal behavior. Trusted and influential adults in the mental health community were responsible. One year later, the businesswoman’s suicide was a chilling wake-up call for what nearly happened to me. External factors, such as bullying, must be taken seriously. Without anyone to intervene, bullying-related suicides will claim more lives.
If you think someone you know is in crisis, do not be afraid to help. Many survivors of suicide express a hope that someone would have asked how they are feeling. Most already lack meaningful social interaction, genuine happiness, or a fulfilling purpose in their lives. Providing supportive contact and ensuring they are safe may be all that is needed, just use sound judgment. To keep from adding stress to the conversation speak calmly, and avoid expressing a need for intervention. Once they seem to be out of danger, ask if they have treatment options. A simple follow-up encouraging them to seek appropriate help will see most people through the worst of their ordeal. Being the person to ask if someone in crisis is okay can make a big difference.
Critically, a fact often overlooked by many is the significance of suicide survival stories. With firsthand experience from getting mine published, sharing what I have learned will reveal an essential truth about suicide prevention. Reporting guidelines recommend how to discuss the delicate information involved. These precautions are necessary to help people who have greater difficulty coping with suicide symptoms. I had never written a formal article about my survival experience before. To ensure it would be acceptable for publishing, I needed to abide by the guidelines as well. A recent adult diagnosis of autism added an extra challenge because I had to be careful about my self-expression. I followed my instincts and covered everything I could.
By concentrating on the guidelines, I realized there was honestly no need to discuss the method of my attempt. My survival story was safer to read. I also accomplished something incredibly important. I focused on what was going through my mind leading up to, during, and in the years after my experience. I was awestruck to tears. This information is what people need to understand why suicide happens in the first place. Mental health professionals can study it. Suicide prevention task forces should not ignore it. Youth Aevidum groups can adapt it to help the at-risk younger age groups. The general public will be able to understand it. Stigma does not stand a chance against objectively written firsthand accounts of what causes suicide behavior.
With proper guidance, survivors of many ages and backgrounds can legitimately improve suicide prevention. However, individually, survival stories are not taken seriously enough as primary source information. Suicide still creates anxiety and fear-driven stigma. People still cling to a status-quo that accepts suicide losses as the best anyone can do. Yet, there is no better resource than someone who has lived through this and survived. So, I decided to do something about it. I respect the journey that led me to be who I am today. And I will never stop caring because you are why I am still here. Check out my Jan. 2020 TWLOHA Blog today. Share my courage to help change the fate of suicide now, when this life matters most.
Finally, and perhaps the most helpful fact of all can be realized just by looking at today. Suicidality does not mean a person will not live to old age. Many people do cope with and recover from even the most harrowing experiences. Consider Kevin Hines, who suffered significant physical injuries yet has become an international success story and a positive force for suicide prevention. I also consider myself living proof. At the time of this writing, my first active experience with suicide was seventeen years ago. Seventeen years, despite having sought full diagnosis and treatment only in October 2018. Each day still holds realistic hope for finding happiness and achieving a positive recovery. Give yourself, and tomorrow a chance.
(inspired by the Penn State chant)
© 2020 Jim R. Irion.
My article is protected under Fair Use copyright law.
Formal publishers must contact me first.
This body of writing also serves as professional presentation material (approx. 24 minutes). Interested parties should contact me right away to make arrangements at no cost or charge.
About The Author:
I am a two-time Pennsylvania State University graduate and mental health advocate with over ten years of dedicated community service volunteering. My primary focuses are suicide prevention, anti-bullying and empowerment. Currently, I am a NAMI member trained as an In Our Own Voice presenter. I also have QPR Gatekeeper layperson suicide prevention training.
Be sure to check out my writing today.