What’s the business of suicide prevention?

This blog post is to get something off of my chest.

I have observed some things recently that have me very concerned, and it’s folks making a business out of suicide prevention.

A good business model often incorporates snuffing out the competition somehow. Pepsi versus Coke cola wars. At&t versus Verizon. Dominoes versus Papa John’s. In our country of competition and free market, it’s understandable that companies will use cut-throat tactics to try to gain the leading edge.

I do NOT feel this is the way suicide prevention should work. There are numerous companies, agencies, and providers that bring us training, programming, and opportunities to learn how to prevent suicides and bring skills to folks of all ages in a variety of different ways. What I have observed lately among some of these agencies, corporations, and entities is a spirit of divisive competition, instead of a spirit of collaboration. Suicide is not a business, it’s a public health problem. Public health problems such as suicide are not solved by companies undercutting each other, spewing false claims, and sending folks in the wrong direction. It’s about providing communities strength, support, information, opportunities, efforts, and methods to save lives.

I’m sorely disappointed with some folks out there who have found their niche in suicide prevention, and have exposed this problem for their own monetary gain, and will throw other programs under the bus in order to get an edge. In some ways, needing to do that shows that you should not be in the suicide prevention business. Go into the insurance business, yeah, that’s it.

That is enough venting for now.

I appreciate all of you, and your desire to make this world a safe place for people in distress.

Moving from depression as a cause to community as a solution

Why do we blame depression for suicide? How do we think that makes folks feel who are depressed and NOT suicidal? I think it’s tough at the least and quite awful at the worst to be someone living with depression and reading on a frequent basis that nearly everyone who dies from suicide has depression.

I really think we need to change the conversation from “why” to “what can I do as a concerned citizen?” Although suicide is a very complex phenomenon and there are many threads to the sweater, the main concept we should be aware of is emotional pain. I think people feel safer giving EP the name “depression” because if it can be “treated” then it can be “managed”. Emotional pain is just too global a term, too unmanageable. I’m convinced, though, that we MUST accept this so that we can begin to understand the magnitude of what it is going to take to tackle suicide.


You. Yes, you. And me. And all our friends. And enemies. And their friends. You get the picture.

We are all going to have to acknowledge the existence of emotional pain, and with our brave swords of love dedicated to the public good, we should cut through the toxic stigma and disconnect that has suffocated our hearts. When we open up and allow our hearts to breathe in front of each other, showing our vulnerability and willingness to engage, we will kick this suicide thing in the teeth. When our neighbors know that we care so much about them that they feel inherently valued, that as humans we do not allow anyone to go unnoticed, well then, we all win.

So, let’s all be winners. Together.

Why don’t we treat emotional pain like physical pain?

You’re a high school student, and you’re walking into school next to someone who you don’t know well. She stumbles over something in the hallway, and falls down, landing on her arm. She looks distressed and is holding her arm? What do you do?  Most people would stop, ask if she hurt herself, how bad it hurts, and if she needs to go to the nurse to get it checked out. Would you? Now, let’s pretend you’re that same high school student, and you see someone you don’t know well get harassed by another students, saying cruel things. You see distress on the victim’s face. What do you do? Do you stop, ask her if she’s hurt (her heart), and how bad she hurts? Do you even acknowledge what happened? Or just walk on by?

I’ll extend this concepts to parents. Let’s say your child comes home from school with a swollen wrist. Upon investigation, you find out that your child fell from the monkey bars at school and landed on his wrist. You examine the wrist, asking about pain, and possibly make an appointment at the doctor to get it checked out. You then proceed to care for the wrist, applying ice, and, if you find it’s broken after the doctor visit, you will most likely continue to observe the wrist, check for pain and for healing. Now, let’s pretend your teen son comes home with a distraught look on his face. You observe this and ask what’s wrong. He says that his girlfriend broke up with him and he saw her flirting with another guy. How do you handle this? You know he loved her, that they had dated for six months, and that he wanted to ask her to prom. Do you ask him if his heart is hurting? Do you ask him how badly? Do you follow his heart pain, applying love, family activities, friend outings, possibly professional help, until he feels his heart is healed?

We do not treat emotional pain like physical pain. This is an egregious error in community health. We do not engage a child’s emotional pain, and we don’t teach them how to engage it. Our relationship with emotional pain is to run from it. To hope that it heals itself, that time will take care of it. This neglect on all our parts has paved the way to our incapability of handling emotional injuries (both non-serious and serious). I assert that we should all take a stand and work together to engage our emotional pain, and begin teaching our children how to develop a relationship with a hurting heart that fosters healing.

I will be working on this concept, and how to turn this concept into a method for working with kids on identifying, engaging, and healing their emotional pain. Stay tuned for more on this.

Be vulnerable, be courageous

You are worthy of love, and kindness, and life.  Does your community make you feel that way?  Does your tribe include you, make you feel loved, cherished, valued?  I think this is the hook…I really do.  I think that the thing that we could all use is our tribe to make us feel like no matter what, they’re open to us being ourselves.  Completely vulnerable, honest, HUMAN.  My sincere hope is that we can all be on the receiving and giving end of vulnerability- who doesn’t want to be openly themselves…in hopes that YOU will do the same?  People who are suicidal are hiding.  They are at their most vulnerable.  WE are most equipped to help when we model vulnerability to each other.  We live in a world where vulnerability is viewed as weakness.  According to Brene Brown, a well known social worker and researcher on vulnerability and connectedness, we can reframe vulnerability as COURAGE.  What a beautiful thought- that when we’re vulnerable, we’re actually courageous.  Let’s show courage through our vulnerability.  Let’s make asking for help and reaching out for connection the NORM.



Using gratitude and thankfulness as suicide prevention

So many people get lost in the world, disconnected, feeling isolated.  They might lose meaning and purpose.  They don’t feel like they belong. They don’t feel like they contribute or have a role in society.  They might have experienced a great loss, such as a relationship, or a job, or some other important thing, and it caused a cosmic wedge between them and the world.

One way to combat social isolation is gratitude.  If all of us in the human race  show gratitude to each other in every way possible, it can melt the ice of loneliness, of despair, of lost meaning.  What would happen if we told each other simply “I’m glad you’re here”?  Not for any real reason.  In other words, we don’t have to say “I’m glad you’re here because…”, but just saying “I’m glad you’re here today, and I’m grateful for the role you have in this world.”  Smile at someone today, and say “I’m glad to see you today.”

Help to make someone feel connected to you.  Challenge your discomfort with sending messages of gratitude to people you don’t know.  Spend time also showing thankfulness for those who you do know, even if you don’t know them well.

The research is clear on gratitude.  Feeling and expressing gratefulness and thankfulness has shown positive outcomes in ourselves and others.  It works.  It boils our existence down to the positive, it lifts us up from the other messages that bog us down and add to our despair.

In that vein, I want you to know that I’m thankful for YOU.  I’m grateful that you’re here.  I want you to know that you are someone with gifts and I appreciate those gifts.

Be well.

13 Reasons for teens, Part I

Since this has been such a popular topic and is relevant today, I’m going to start my blogging by asking some important questions.

I wonder how you (teens, kids, students, adolescents) feel about this series (Netflix, 13 Reasons Why).  Adults have a bunch of concerns about it.  Some adults think it’s bad to show a suicide on television, and that the series is promoting 1) suicide as an answer to conflict and pain and 2) that it’s okay to blame others for a suicide death.

Some adults say that the series has helped people talk out loud about suicide, which they say is a good thing.  What do you think?  If someone was going to teach you about suicide, how would you want to learn about it?  Would you want to learn about it by seeing a pretty awful scene from a television show where a girl kills herself and sends videos to people making them feel responsible?  Or would you want to learn about it from people who have personal stories to share, maybe even people who have thought about suicide, or tried to kill themselves, but lived and now feel better?  Or is there another way you would like to learn about suicide?  What if your friend’s life depended on learning about suicide and how to help?  How would you want to learn about it then?

When our emotions feel like crap, chances are pretty good that we want to feel better.  BUT, we also want people to know we hurt.  When we’re hurting, sometimes it feels better to know that we’re not alone, that others hurt too.  That’s when a tv show like 13 Reasons Why comes along, we say to ourselves- “See!  I’m not the only one who feels like crap, and I’m not the only one who thinks about dying to end my emotional crappy feeling!”  You are correct!  Sometimes we feel good when we know we’re not alone.  But when you end the pain that way- by killing yourself- you don’t just end the pain, you end everything.  And you can’t go back.

When I publish this blog, I hope you’ll respond, and tell me how you feel.