National Suicide Awareness Day

I haven’t posted for a while. I would love to say it was because I was busy being creative and writing a ton and just have not had time; however, it would not be true. The truth is I struggle with depression. For the average person, I think this is still something that’s incredibly hard to say out loud and even say to ourselves. Being a mental health provider, it’s even harder to say out loud. Health care providers are among the top ten ranking professions for suicide. Being depressed as a therapist is hard. Having suicidal thoughts is really challenging. I recently went through a period where I was placed on some medication and the medication made me very depressed, to the point of having suicidal thoughts. I have had one other period in my life where I had suicidal thoughts. When I look at each of those times, I remember very little except laying in bed, trapped inside an endless loop of negative thoughts. There were thoughts of loneliness, sadness, worthlessness, hopelessness. These are feelings and we all come to experience them at times; however, it was different. Typically I can write or read or change my thoughts, but this was a place where you could put anything in front of me and I wouldn’t budge. I would try to watch something funny or write (things I love) and the idea that there was no ‘purpose,’ to any of it, would return. Even worse is I know every trick in the book. My life is teaching these skills to suicidal individuals. In fact, I have spent days teaching these skills, convincing individuals of all the reasons there are to live, and at the end of the day, I could not convince myself. I told no one. I just faded out for a bit. I believe therapists should be in therapy. I participate in my own therapy; however, I also am aware of the systems in place. I knew exactly what to say and what not to. I have worked inpatient units, and I believe the people that work on those units do the best they can. I know I tried my best. The thing is suicide is impulsive. Inpatient units today are there to keep individuals safe, get them stabilized, and move them on. There are various levels of care out there; however, take the individual who maybe is just burned out, is lonely, and needs a break. This may sound like an individual who needs a vacation; however, in our society many people don’t have PTO days for this or they don’t have the money. The anxiety and depression continue to grow and eventually you have someone who is asking themselves, “Why am I here? What is my purpose?” It’d be nice if there were a level of care for average people to check into to get reaquainted with themselves. I have lived through suicides. I know how they haunt the lives of those who truly did know and care about the individual. Depression is one of the leading disabilities in our country. We live in a time where it’s hard not read headlines about our need to ‘fix the mental health system,’ after another act of senseless violence is committed. I teach classes to families on how to move on after suicide attempts, how to manage depressed family members. It’s striking to me how surprised families can be by how simple acts like validating someone’s struggle, taking time to really listen versus trying solve every problem, trying to engage someone who is depressed versus leaving them alone to isolate, can and do work. Humans are tribal by nature. We need to know people have our back, that we’re not alone, that someone cares and is willing to listen. If you know someone is hurting, reach out and just listen. It can go a long way. If someone is suicidal with a plan and intent and is telling you they actively want to die, get them professional help. Most of the time though people do not want to die, they want to be invited, touched, felt. To someone in depths of despair, a phone call, a text letting them know you’re thinking of them, a hug can go a long way. We are tribal creatures and knowing someone in the tribe is watching you and cares goes a long way. One of the biggest feelings that leads to suicidal thoughts is, “I don’t have a purpose.’ One of the biggest things we can do for each other is remind one other that we do have a purpose and that we are all important enough to be loved and shown up for. Basically, if you notice someone struggling, reach out. Allow them to talk about their feelings and validate those feelings. Yes, it is uncomfortable. I’ve been a therapist for years. I probably have someone tell me they’re suicidal at least once a week if not more, and there’s still a part of me inside that squirms and is scared. That’s natural. I should be scared. It’s someone’s life. There are not magical words. There’s just my humanity that I can offer, which is to listen, ask them what they need, validate them, and let them know they matter. I may not be able to take away the depression, anxiety, pain, etc. that they’re in immediately, but I can be the first person to prove to them that they matter and that people can and do show up when we need them to. I do believe we all are here for a purpose, and we all have moments where we need to be reminded by others that our purpose exists. We are needed, wanted, loved.

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