Monday, September 10, 2012

How are you?: Some thoughts on World Suicide Prevention Day

Sometimes I think about how many times in a single day I ask people: "How's it going?" and barely hear their scripted "Fine. You?" response. Probably because I am already answering their question with a "Fine, thanks" of my own. Often, even as the "Fine, thanks" is falling out of my mouth, I am anything but fine. Or grateful for being asked, since I resent feeling compelled to let the question asker off the hook rather than saying "I'm not feeling great today, actually. And here's why ..."

As I was reading daily Facebook updates this morning, I came across a post by Mental Health America, announcing that today is World Suicide Prevention Day. According to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK), suicide is, in fact, preventable. Perhaps not in the way we'd like to think, but often in ways we haven't thought about. While there are many risk factors for suicide (not to be confused with warning signs), the National Suicide Prevention Resource Center has also identified several Protective Factors considered to "make it less likely that individuals will consider, attempt, or die by suicide."

Certainly, while no amount of wanting to save someone from suicide can ever be truly, permanently effective without that person's permission/participation/willingness to live, there actually are things we can do to enhance one another's lives, to connect, and to show that we care beyond the superficial exchanges we shout across crowded coffee shops or send through "How r u?" text messages. According to the National Suicide Prevention Resource Center, some of the protective factors for suicide include:

  • Effective clinical care for mental, physical and substance use disorder
  • Easy access to a variety of clinical interventions
  • Restricted access to highly lethal means of suicide
  • Strong connections to family and community support
  • Support through ongoing medical and mental health care relationships
  • Skills in problem solving, conflict resolution and handling problems in a non-violent way
  • Cultural and religious beliefs that discourage suicide and support self-preservation

As I read through the above list, the factor that jumps out at me is the one right in the middle: "Strong connections to family and community support." I can actually implement that one! With others, and for myself. What's more, it seems to me that those strong connections are what make the other factors more likely to happen at all, and more likely to be successful if and when they do. Have you ever tried to navigate the mental health or substance abuse treatment worlds alone? Ever tried to access any clinical interventions, much less a variety of them, while in need of the services they may provide? Discouraging, no? What about problem solving and conflict resolution? Ever try to accomplish either of those alone? Ever try to question faith-based messaging in a vacuum, with no one to guide or counter or support those messages?

Strong connections to family and community support. I knew it was important. And it is a skill and a process I struggle with myself. Big time. Because I have bought into the quick conversations and the indifferent exchanges that allow me to pretend I am engaging in something meaningful. And because like so many, I don't want to unload my burdensome self on someone, even when asked. I don't know what it would be like to admit to a friend or a colleague or family member: "I'm not feeling that great today, and I could really use some support."  Because I have never really tried.

Like many others, I have been conditioned to skim the surface of the "How's it going?" conversation as a matter of social convention. On some level, we have convinced ourselves that others don't really expect to hear how we are. Even worse, at least in my opinion, is the realization that, generally, I don't even attempt to find out how others are doing, either. Not really. Whether because of time constraints or comfort levels or varying degrees of intimacy with the people to whom we pose this universal question, we continue to do this dance with one another by asking the seemingly "required" questions and then praying that the recipient doesn't botch his/her lines and throw us a curve ball - like, perhaps, the truth. Or an answer that extends beyond two words and a noncommittal, sorta-smile.

But the truth is this: Prevention, even suicide prevention, is a process. And often, when it comes to prevention, we never realize the magnitude of our impact because ... well, we have prevented the worst case scenario. Or, more specifically, we have created an undesirable environment for the risk factors to attain any kind of power or take hold. So we aren't aware of what could have happened, under different circumstances, even though such an awareness could make us more grateful for each moment we do have, for each connection we make, for each truth we feel able to give and receive.

Even though suicide prevention doesn't feel like a light topic, I think it is a necessary and important one for us all to be thinking and talking about. And perhaps a wonderful reminder to ask just one person today: "How are you?" And then wait for the real answer, even if it isn't "Fine. You?" and be ready - and willing - to listen to the truth.  To simply connect.

Until next time -

~~ Hasky

1 comment:

  1. Suicide is usually a scary topic for people to tackle so it was great to see you handle it with such grace. Thank you


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