Reduce the Risk of Suicidal Tendencies by Investing in Yourself
Celebrity suicides raise awareness of this devastating event that plagues nearly 45,000 families each year according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Thirty-six years ago, my family was affected by this tragedy for the second time. My Dad took his own life at the age of 42. I was 18 years old at the time.
Our family has been stricken by an unusually high rate of suicide. When I was nine, my uncle committed suicide leaving behind his wife and two small children. And, just over six years ago, my cousin who was six months older than I took his life leaving behind a toddler and wife.
Statistically, suicide hits middle-aged white men the hardest, and this held true in my family. Each of the men in my family was in their forties when they lost hope and chose to exit this world.
Depression is often at play with people who take their lives. However, we, as ordinary observers, may think they are only experiencing regular bouts of sadness or disappointment. People suffering from depression can be experts at wearing masks to hide their pain.
Each year when the anniversary of my Dad’s death comes round, I still wonder what the ultimate breaking point was. I still can’t conceive what couldn’t be overcome. I wonder what the commonality is, if any, with people who give up and lose hope.
I’m certainly not an expert in determining why people lose hope. But, I can speak from personal experience and share five lessons I have learned as a survivor of suicide.
Being able to let your hair down and be yourself is essential to good mental health. We all need at least one person with whom we can trust and be completely real. All three of these men isolated themselves from deep relationships.
When life events happened to cause them embarrassment, they internalized each failure. Over time, this behavior eroded their self-esteem. Repeated difficult life events confirmed their belief that they were a burden to friends and family, and the downward spiral began.
Had these men felt comfortable sharing their story with a nonjudgmental friend or family member, they may have found hope from being loved and accepted. Our Danish/Swedish family required perfection coupled with high levels of performance to be accepted and validated, which prohibited them from being authentic or vulnerable to us.
Setbacks in life created a scenario of unworthiness and shamefulness that couldn’t be overcome. When we feel shame, we attached negative labels to ourselves that become potent saboteurs. Shame magnifies the impact of our internal stories.
Self-love is a valuable gift to ourselves
It is our responsibility to ensure our own needs are met. One way we can do that is to cultivate self-love and acceptance. Good mental health mandates cultivating a strong sense of self-acceptance, and self-compassion.
Being intentional about building positive self-esteem helps us cope with life’s ups and downs. Everyone experiences failure and setbacks in life. How we frame those experiences determines what choices are available to us.
Learning to have a growth mindset can develop the ability to see solutions to life’s problems, whereas embracing a limiting mindset can keep us stuck in the overwhelm of the current crisis.
Creating a sustainable self-care routine can prevent the day-to-day disappointments from building up. Participating in regular exercise releases endorphins and makes a profound difference in how we approach life.
Cultivating a spiritual practice creates a sense of purpose
As humans, we have a deep seeded need to belong. We are wired for connection. When we deprive ourselves of connection, we begin to lose sight of our purpose in life. If not put in check, we start to be consumed by inward focus.
Participating in a spiritual practice that encompasses faith in a higher power provides hope. Belonging to something bigger than ourselves gives us a sense of purpose and well being. If we have hope, we can conceivably make it through any crisis.
Placing hope in a higher being allows us to relinquish control over the outcome of any given circumstance. Believing that someone has your best interest at heart can relieve the pressure of having to perform. Faith can also provide a community of like-minded people who can relate to your struggles and offer support.
Relinquish shame from your story
Shame is a killer of self-love. It causes us to hide and not be seen, it causes us to play small and not take risks. It blurs the lines between what is real and what we believe to be true.
Shame is a powerful deceiver in our lives. It erodes all of the good that we once embraced. It partners with other judging voices we carry with us to tighten its grip on our soul. In the end, it causes a spiral of hopelessness by whispering phrases like, “I’m not lovable,” “I don’t matter,” or “I’m not worthy.”
Removing shame and negative connotations from our stories is essential for having a proper perspective on life. Learning to view things as they are, neither good or bad, removes power from self-sabotaging self-talk.
Survivors need to relinquish responsibility
Hindsight is always 20/20. As survivors, we feel guilt and responsibility. We believe we should have seen warning signs.
We have to allow our departed loved ones to own their choices. I know this sounds harsh, but we have to recognize that we are all responsible to ensure our needs are met. We need to accept the fact that rarely do people set on taking their lives leave clues. It is not their intent to be stopped, and it’s not a cry for help.
The most challenging part of the healing process is the struggle to understand “why.” Allow yourself to grieve the loss and relinquish the idea that you deserve to know more than your loved one chose to share at the time of his/her departure from this world.
What can we do?
Offer support. When you observe someone’s self-talk is more negative than positive, use uplifting terms and affirmations around them. Praise them publicly. Send them a note of encouragement. Your words could be life-changing to someone who has little or no self-worth.
Spend Quality Time. Building trust takes time. Most people won’t open up with personal details unless they feel comfortable. Offer to spend time doing things they enjoy and be sure to allow privacy for open communication. Model being vulnerable by disclosing details about your own life.
Ensure medical care is available. If you suspect there is something more than you can handle, offer to help them find medical attention from a licensed physician or therapist. They may resist getting mental health care because mental health issues have a stigma in our society. Promise confidentiality and keep that promise.
Encourage self-care. When people don’t feel like they have a purpose or meaning in their life, they are less likely to invest in themselves. It is difficult for them to make themselves a priority. Help them establish a self-care routine that makes them feel good about themselves.
Cultivate a growth mindset. Everyone experiences loss in life. Creating a coping mechanism for such times is essential. Introduce the idea that failure is the natural act of learning. The more new things you try, the more failure you’ll experience. Offer techniques for applying those lessons to build forward momentum.
How can we make a difference in our own lives?
Life rarely goes the way we plan. I know mine didn’t turn out anything like I thought it would. At 42, I was frightened by the possibility that I would take my own life, just like the men in my family had. There was no proof to indicate that it was a genetic mutation, but I worried that a life event would happen and I’d be unable to cope.
I felt so much relief when I made it to 50 and beyond and I’m happier now than I have ever been. There was this cloud that hung over me causing me to question my longevity. What made me different from my relatives? The only answer I could come up with was this…
I place myself at the top of my priority list. I devote time daily to invest in myself by infusing myself with positive knowledge. I have created self-love and self-care rituals that I practice consistently. I journal to work out my emotions and monitor my self-talk. I surround myself with a community of growth-minded people.
I am convinced that if the men in my family belonged to a community of non-judgemental people they would have shared their inner turmoil, and possibly made different choices. The power of unconditional love cannot be overstated when it comes to determining our value.