Surviving Suicide: Mental Health Awareness Month
May is Mental Health Awareness month, and I'd like to personalize what emotional pain can look like, and how the struggle for young survivors of suicide may manifest itself.
When I was a senior in high school, I met a boy who gave me warm fuzzies. I wasn't the most conventionally attractive girl back then, and being socially awkward didn't help my dating experience either, which at the time, was nonexistent.
He was my first contact with the male species beyond the observation level.
He gave me the love of poetry, instilled fascination of human behavior, and adoration of electronic music. He also, however, introduced me to a world of internal chaos and constant introspection. To sum him up, I guess we could call him a troubled artist, a social deviant, or a depressed and angry teenager.
He attempted suicide several times, and was successful on his third or fourth attempt. Part of my choice in learning psychology, mental health, and education is related to this moment of life. As a teenager, surviving suicide introduced me to many existential thoughts:
- Will it get better? Will this feeling always stay the same?
- Who can I be safe with to talk about what happened?
- Why do I feel shame for feeling sad? Should I be over with this sadness already?
- Is suicide really a possible answer to end the pain?
- Am I allowed to be angry at those who choose suicide?
- How do I ask for help or express these chaotic thoughts in my mind?
- Is love real? Or will I end up hurting again?
- Can I trust people to know me, not just the bright and vibrant parts?
- Am I worthy of being heard, accepted, and loved?
Not having resources created an endless cycle of isolation for me. Many people rolled their eyes when I preached about telling people how much they mattered to you before it's too late. I think they had enough of my gratitude for being alive. And again, as I've stated before, I don't blame anyone for our loss in relationships. This culture does not promote an acceptance of all emotions, especially negative ones. Family members became frustrated that I wasn't "getting better" quickly enough, and it created a larger gap in my connections with the outside world. I did not want to burden others with my pain, and stopped talking about something that needed to be explored and healed. Because my social circle decreased, I sought art for comfort, and began reading voraciously about the human condition. I wanted to understand.
I came to the conclusion that I would never understand his choice to end his life, but I have met several others along my journey who shared a similar and dismal world view. To some of us, life is not worth living, and it does not seem like anything will improve. Suicide continues to be the ultimate answer for many who cannot find another way out of the muck.
According to CDC (2012) "Among 15- to 24-year olds, suicide accounts for 20% of all deaths annually." This has implications for adolescents and their abilities to work through emotionally intense life experiences. NIMH (2011) assert that the brain is not finished developing until one's early to mid twenties. Depending on one's social, emotional, economic, and cultural backgrounds, solutions may not be attainable or even considered. Stigma or socially constructed views related to seeking help may also contribute to suicide.
To some, suicide leaves a legacy, and has even permeated the thoughts of very young children. In 2010, a six-year-old was the youngest person to commit suicide. Technological advancements have gifted and cursed this culture with an abundance of information. This can lead to many children being exposed to mature topics such as sex, suicide, and violence.
As adults and caregivers of children, what are some options related to healthy emotional expression and honest dialogue?
Emotions can be confusing if they haven't been acknowledged safely. Sometimes having a safe space to share positive and negative emotions can make a world of difference. Some cultures assign weakness and shame with emotional expression, so having a conversation about the family's views on emotions may be a first step. Seeking friends or support groups that allow for safe emotional expression can also be an option.
Model healthy emotional expression.
This involves mindful living where one allows the emotions to work through their processes. This step also involves respectful dialogue for oneself and others, and learning how to cool down during conflict. Healing professionals can assist with this step if it's something very new or a skill that needs a nudge in the right direction.
So we're feeling bad emotions. How do we problem solve? Verbalizing one's thoughts and emotions respectfully can help increase interpersonal connection, and help others give feedback about possible solutions. Being open to feedback would also be something to work on. Some of us may consider feedback criticism. Mental health professionals can also help with this step in interpersonal healing.
Asking for support.
We are human beings. This life is not meant for suffering alone. It is truly a sign of strength to ask for help.
In addition to not suffering alone, learning about one's community can open a window to positive options. Many communities offer workshops, educational training, and low-cost counseling referrals.
Lifelong healing and growth means continuous learning. Sometimes there are people who have more tools than you do. It is a sign of humility and openness to seek more information from multiple sources to make the best choice for you and your loved ones. You have a right as a consumer to 'shop around' for a good fit clinician.
Hearing about suicide or suicidal thoughts should be taken seriously. It may just be attention seeking. It may also be the difference between life or death. Calling 911 or suicide hotlines is a very valid option when concerns are this strong.
You are not alone. Your struggle is real, and compassionate people do exist.
For those considering suicide:
- Suicide Safety Plan | National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
- Suicide Prevention Hotline | Didi Hirsch (877) 727-4747
- Suicide Prevention Resources | SAMHSA
- Suicide Facts (2012) | CDC
- The Teen Brain: Still Under Construction | NIMH
- 6 Year Old Suicide in US | DailyMail.uk
- Helping Your Gifted Child or Teen Cope With Death | Davidson Institute