There’s more to suicide prevention than just talking about it

How profound is it to be so connected to the pain of someone that you feel compelled to change it?

I recently said this to someone I look up to after I noticed how lost and disempowered he seemed to feel regarding the current political climate and violent loss of black lives at the hands of police and more recently, a young person who had died by suicide in our city. When you are so connected to the humanity of the world and the worst parts of what makes us human become apparent to us, it is hard to reconcile with the truth that we can cause tremendous pain and suffering just as tremendous pain and suffering can be done to us.

I think a lot about this, how this insight paradox can bring overwhelming feelings of disempowerment and powerlessness. The more we know about the truth, sometimes the more it hurts, but how else can we change something if we do not let the truth present itself? That’s the nature of insight paradox. The more you know, the more you feel, but hopefully with knowledge and empathy you are more skillful and compelled to be a part of its change.

Recently, there was a very public suicide in my city. Someone had taken their life in a building downtown and the aftermath was witnessed by many community members. To imagine someone else bearing such insufferable pain troubles me, but it’s a feeling I and many others alike are familiar with. I did not know this stranger, but I know we are all connected by the humanness of the pain we all experience. To them, I wish them restful peace. And to those who witnessed this violent end, I also wish them peace.

September is National Suicide Prevention month and so I’ve been thinking about why death, particularly a death by suicide, within our culture is a very “hush-hush” conversation or something we often only talk about once it’s far too late.

I believe denial of another person’s humanness divides us, which is why empathy is so important to me. It’s important for the survival of our society.

I imagine the isolation the person who’s last moments in downtown were feeling. How alone and frightened they must’ve felt when being confronted by the police. I wonder if they had been able to ask for help and if their pleas were ever heard; 

Suicide even in past tense is a demand for change it is a pang in our society that must be addressed. It is a public health crisis and carries insurmountable pain to those directly affected by it. On an intimate level, we do not have to know the right words to say when someone else opens up to us. Sometimes there are no right words to comfort someone, but your presence alone can be greater than the words we try to share. Suicide prevention month is also more than just checking in with your friends, but it is still something I hope you continue to do. 

Systemically, suicide prevention month can mean shifting the focus on suicide not just being something that can be prevented through a 1-1 interaction, but also through preventative measures like safe housing, food security, access to dignified healthcare, and access to person-centered education. It means re-looking at our institutions and how oppressive they can be for those that don’t fit the mold. I’ve noticed that for the global issues that affect every society, there is a narrative that we, individually, can fix it. It’s like how ads preach about if we all stop using plastic bags, we can clear the oceans, but that’s only one part of the multi-faceted process to addressing global issues.

We must do our part, but we must also demand our institutions and corporations do theirs.

Are our workplaces supportive and accommodating to our different abilities and needs? Are our supervisors well equipped and aware to be able to connect their employees to community resources? Do our workplaces truly value their employees well-being and how do they show this?

Are our schools teaching necessary skills in mental wellness and self-care? Are our classrooms conducive to safe and respectful conversations where students feel supported not just in their learning but in their everyday lives?

Are people in our community accessing dignified and person-centered treatment in their healthcare? It isn’t just about having access to mental health care or basic healthcare, but knowing that your doctor/treatment team respects you, hears you, and has your best interest in mind.

Are our community centers taken care of in funding, resources, and people-power?


What about the people in your family? Do you check-in with one another often? What is your language around things like mental illness or suicide? Is it one of stigma or one of empathy?

What about you? When people ask you how you are, do you answer honestly? Do you feel like you are well supported in various aspects of your life? Have you had a chance to take a breath lately and practice an act of self compassion? What is your personal commitment to your wellness and your community’s wellness?

Suicide prevention is a daunting goal, but if we are able to understand our own civic duty and commitment to this we can also better engage our communities and institutions to do the heavy-lifting. Suicide prevention isn’t a one-person job. It’s a community-effort and we cannot “fix” this global issue if we are not taking care of ourselves and if our communities are not taking care of each other.

How profound it is to be so connected to the pain of another that we feel compelled to change it, so will you do your part in changing this? How will you choose to take care of yourself today? How will you contribute to your community’s wellness every day?

With love,

Michelle

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