Suicide and Suicidal Ideation
I want to take a few minutes to write about a very difficult topic to speak about. I want to discuss suicide and suicidal ideation. Many of us have friends that struggle and suffer with suicidal thinking and others who have even completed suicide.
The hard question to ask is what are we really doing about it? And I mean really as in what do we actively do to let people know we are here and make their experience reaching out more normal. This is a loaded question for me personally as someone who works in the mental health field. When I tried to answer the question for myself my answer was not enough. I have made numerous safety plans with many different people and ensured that they intended to follow the plan, and even involved people from their network with the person’s permission.
Many of you may be wondering what you can do? You can listen, and not just listen but listen actively so the person knows you understand their pain. You can ask the person if they are aware where they can get additional support. Crisis Line and Kids Help Phone are two great options if speaking to someone will help and who can offer links to other mental health providers for in person support in your area.
Kids Help Phone- 1-800-668-6868
Crisis Line 1.866.996.0991
Sometimes this is not enough support and the suicidal ideation still persists. There are many different tricks and tips that work for people. Some people have a mantra that helps them get past it, others use self-talk to talk themselves through it, some people want to activate their body and do something physical while others activate their senses to shift their focus.
However, sometimes this does not work. If you are a loved one and nothing is working you can stay with the person over night until it passes if they request that from you. As a final option we are left with the predicament of do we call 911 or not. If you believe the person’s life is in jeopardy, then it is your responsibility to contact emergency services at that time. I recognize calling EMS does not come easily and can even be triggering but when done in the name of safety is not a bad decision. Any argument about how it all went can happen later, and frankly the fact that there could be an argument later is a good thing if we are talking about a high level of suicdality. A healthy caution for caregivers and friends is to know the limits for yourself when you have reached a point where it is now impacting you. If this happens connecting your loved one with support needs to happen sooner!
A more macro scale problem is how suicide is not part of our daily conversation except on special occasions like “Bell Let’s Talk Day”. People’s level of suicide does not discriminate when it comes to the time of year. Part of the problem is still the stigma that exists and discrepancy that exists between physical and mental health in work places in schools. We have sick days to take but those tend to be reserved for having a cold. If you were to say that your stress level was very high or you felt like killing yourself today this would not be a typical conversation we would want to have with our employer or school, thus the conversation does not happen. The result being that the suicidal person stays in the shadows.
Therefore, the logical question that follows: What do we actually do to change this? Honestly, to me the solution is one that would require a lot of structural changes. I believe the problem with perceptions on mental health stems from what children are taught from an early age. Mental Health is often left out of the school curriculum and reserved for the parents that have had their own experiences with mental health and are worried enough to reach out for help for their children. The issues being they have likely waited until a problem has already arisen before getting help.
I will give you guys a personal disclosure here. My major reason that still sticks with me today as to why I am doing this work is this. I asked myself when I wanted to be a teacher: What would the purpose of me teaching math class be if I had even one child or youth sitting in that class that didn’t even have a reason for living that would allow him or her to want to see tomorrow?
If I am being honest this is a major problem to me. The children get one class in Grade 11 I believe it is where they study Psychology/Anthropology and Sociology in a 4-month period and they get 2 weeks of “Health” in gym class and a few assemblies here and there. Bottom line this is not enough! Do we honestly believe the children are going to have these difficult conversations with their friends and family in advance in a prevention style approach if we have never even brought the issues to light for them in their schooling? I would say it is doubtful. Overall, I am saying that the mental health curriculum needs to be in much more depth and needs to be universal. It should not be an elective to learn about mental health because nearly everyone can list a friend or family member touched by some form of mental health.
My suggestion to workplaces would be this. How many people have been part of a Health and Safety Committee? I mean it’s great that we are so concerned about getting out if there is a fire one day I am all for that. However, it is very rare I have seen a Mental Health Committee in a workplace working on issues related to how the employer is treating and managing employee issues with mental health. It has been even more rare that I have seen an employer speak out about the inherent stresses of the job and risks that come with that and then give a message about how important it is take care of your own mental health. The funny, part is I am telling you all this and I have worked in the mental health field for the last 8 years!
In Summary, if you want to be an advocate to people struggling with suicidal ideation and who may be actively suicidal speak up and question the practices your school and employer has had in place for a long time that are just not good enough anymore! Take advantage when you get to speak to a class or a group if the environment could be used as a forum to being up more macro scale issues. Most importantly never give up on the person you are supporting, never give up on yourself and never give up on making meaningful progress on the macro level!