At any given moment, you have the power to say: “This is not how the story is going to end.”
Christine Mason Miller
Unless you looked closely, you may have missed the news last week that Minnesota’s dedicated suicide hotline will be deactivated at the end of this month.
The announcement is all the more poignant as its coverage was eclipsed by news of the suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain.
As stories of the celebrities’ deaths unfolded, public outpourings of emotion flooded the media.
Collectively, we shared reflections on their lives and careers…
We expressed appreciation for their contributions and impact…
We tried to put words to feelings of sadness and loss…
…and many of us voiced another kind of emotion, as well:
“But she’d achieved so much…”
“He was the best in the industry…”
“It just doesn’t make sense…”
These sentiments reflect a virtually universal belief that we aren’t even aware of:
On some level, we believe that “success” ought to protect against suicide.
From a purely intellectual stance, it seems reasonable…
A person devotes their life to their own creative pursuits or unique passions.
And goes on to reach heights of recognition and reward that most can only dream of.
How could such a person experience deep sadness, isolation, and hopelessness?
It doesn’t seem to add up.
And yet, emotional wellness is so much more personal, more complex than that.
The truth is that any person can experience these depths of pain.
So, what can we do?
In short: We can do the simple things that are good for us, good for those who are struggling, and good for everyone else.
And we can keep doing them.
So, although there’s no single answer to the problem of suicide, we’re sharing 3 powerful ways every one of us can work to prevent it:
1. Harm reduction
When thinking about prevention, it’s easy to overlook some of the practical steps we can take to reduce vulnerability to suicide.
It’s not about eliminating every conceivable risk.
Or living in fear.
The goal is to take reasonable steps to ensure your day-to-day is safe, stable, and supported.
It starts with taking an honest inventory of your current life…
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
- Know the risks. Familiarize yourself with the types of factors that increase risk for suicide.
- Minimize risk. Take a closer look at your habits, lifestyle, and environment, and make any changes to promote your health and safety. For example:
- Are weapons accessible in your home?
- What are your substance use habits?
- Do you have stresses or emotional concerns that have gone unaddressed?
- Enlist help as needed. If you know you’d like to make some changes, there’s no shame in consulting a professional for support.
The days and weeks that follow a suicide can be heartbreaking for those left behind, as loved ones are left thinking:
If I’d only known how much they were hurting…
As painful as it can be to be left with unanswered questions, one thing is certain:
Mental health stigma creates a barrier that prevents even the most beloved individuals from asking for help.
Of all the challenges we face as a society, this is one of the most dangerous.
We must work to dismantle the stigma surrounding emotional wellness, mental illness, and help-seeking.
We owe it to ourselves and to one another.
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
- Discuss wisely. As news of high-profile suicides continue to break, pay attention to the way you’re talking about it.
- Educate yourself. Learn the simple ways you can support good emotional wellness.
- Take the simple opportunities. Some of the most potent antidotes to stigma are hiding in plain sight, in our daily interactions. For instance:
- When you greet a coworker or neighbor: Ask how things are going. Stand still, make eye contact, and really listen. (And when they ask you how you’re doing, answer honestly.)
- When you’ve found something that helps you practice self-care: Talk about it. Share the apps and other resources that have helped you.
- When you see or hear something (e.g., in a movie, on the radio, at the office) that perpetuates mental health stigma: Call it out. Let your spouse, kids, friend, coworkers, etc. see your reaction in the moment. Voice your objection more formally by offering feedback to the network, radio station, etc. Bring the topic up when you’re with others; start a conversation by asking what they think.
3. Social + professional support
One of the most pervasive myths about emotional wellness is that all suffering is obvious.
It’s as if we expect those who are hurting to move through life announcing their pain.
And yet, if you’ve struggled with anything in your life, you already know:
That’s just not how suffering works.
At any given time, you’re likely surrounded by people who are carrying their own private battles around with them.
And you’d never know it to look at them.
Find simple ways to connect with your coworkers, neighbors, and loved ones.
Re-establish contact if it’s been awhile.
Trust your instincts and speak up if something doesn’t feel right.
Even if there’s nothing major going on, you’ll have deepened your relationships with the people around you.
And if concerns do come up, you’ll already be in a great position to take the next step…
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
- Concerned about a friend or family member?
- Concerned by your own thoughts or feelings?
- Tell someone you trust. If you can, reach out to a loved one to let them know what’s going on.
- Seek additional support. Whether it’s an emergency situation or just the sense that something’s “off”, you can’t go wrong accepting help. (SEE RESOURCES BELOW.)
Is it an emergency?
Dial 911 immediately
Are you (or is someone you care about) feeling at risk?
Call the national lifeline: 800-273-TALK (8255)
Find your county’s crisis response number here
Call CRISIS from your cellphone (274747)
Could you (or someone you care about) benefit from emotional wellness support?
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