Today is World Suicide Prevention Day (WSPD) and works in association with World Suicide Prevention Week and World Suicide Prevention Month. WSPD has a number of goals, prime of which is to raise awareness along with removing the stigma of talking about suicide. Suicide is not a simple issue; it does not have simple causes, and, therefore, does not have simple solutions. I am neither a clinician nor an expert, but I have been touched by suicide directly and indirectly – everyone has. Although it has been over a year, many, many people are still saddened by Robin Williams’ suicide and seek answers. Off the top of my head I can list dozens of suicides, and I am sure you can too.
The harder issue to deal with is what to do about it. To address this you have to try to understand the causes of suicide, which is far from easy because there are so many. Depression tops the list, and, there too, there are no easy explanations. Depression comes in many forms; sometimes it is situational, sometimes it is clinical. The most important thing to know is that depression is not simply sadness or unhappiness, and cannot be cured simply by cheering the depressed person up. To those who have not experienced depression it can seem unfathomable. You often hear people say things like, “why did he kill himself, he had so much to live for?” This shows a clear lack of understanding of suicide and depression. Being in the public eye as a sports figure, musician, comedian, or actor may look good to others – a reason to live – but it may be a form of self medication that ultimately fails for one reason or another.
Let me be clear, depression is not the only cause of suicide by any means, even though it is a big one. People can be driven to suicide for any number of reasons – bullying, chronic pain, seemingly impossible life circumstances, crushing debt, you name it.
This site – www.save.org – is an excellent resource. S.A.V.E stands for Suicide Awareness Voices for Education.
Here, for example, is a sample from their page on Common Misconceptions:
“People who talk about suicide won’t really do it.”
Not True. Almost everyone who commits or attempts suicide has given some clue or warning. Do not ignore suicide threats. Statements like “you’ll be sorry when I’m dead,” “I can’t see any way out,” — no matter how casually or jokingly said, may indicate serious suicidal feelings.
“Anyone who tries to kill him/herself must be crazy.”
Not True. Most suicidal people are not psychotic or insane. They may be upset, grief-stricken, depressed or despairing. Extreme distress and emotional pain are always signs of mental illness but are not signs of psychosis.
“If a person is determined to kill him/herself, nothing is going to stop him/her.”
Not True. Even the most severely depressed person has mixed feelings about death, and most waiver until the very last moment between wanting to live and wanting to end their pain. Most suicidal people do not want to die; they want the pain to stop. The impulse to end it all, however overpowering, does not last forever.
“People who commit suicide are people who were unwilling to seek help.”
Not True. Studies of adult suicide victims have shown that more then half had sought medical help within six months before their deaths and a majority had seen a medical professional within 1 month of their death.
“Talking about suicide may give someone the idea.”
Not True. You don’t give a suicidal person ideas by talking about suicide. The opposite is true — bringing up the subject of suicide and discussing it openly is one of the most helpful things you can do.
I am not going to give a lot of advice because all circumstances are different, thus, help comes in many different forms. The only advice I think that is useful is to educate yourself. Don’t think that you can puzzle it out by yourself. You need help and guidance from others. Plenty of people, both professional and non-professional, have experience that they are more than willing to share. Seek them out.
Just as there is no general “recipe” for helping people who are suicidal there is no food recipe that fills the bill. However, depressed and suicidal people do need our comfort in one form or another. So I thought it might be helpful to talk about comfort food. I ask a “question of the day” at the beginning of every class so that everyone speaks and is comfortable speaking, and everyone feels included. One question I ask a lot is “what is your favorite comfort food?” Mac and cheese is a biggie in the U.S., as is chocolate. Some comfort foods are quirky, some remind people of childhood, it doesn’t matter. For me it is nice that people have ways of comforting themselves when need be. I used to be a big fan of Asian soup noodles – didn’t really matter what kind of soup or noodles. That was in the days when I lived elsewhere. Now that I live in China I’m rather sated on noodles, so now various kinds of dumplings in broth, preferably spicy, have taken over.