I’m putting out a call for all good humans to be observant and responsive to those of us who feel so hopeless about finding relief from the stresses of life that we consider the option of ending our life by suicide. For years I provided in-service training to staff members at a maximum-security state prison, and at a state psychiatric facility. Before I would start the presentation, I always ask how many people in the audience have been touched by suicide. Inevitably, there were several people who raise their hands. Occasionally, someone would approach me after the talk to share that they had lost a loved one to suicide.

While suicide seems to discriminate along racial and gender lines (white males are disproportionally represented in most survey data), it is not selective when it comes to most other demographics. Whether you are rich or poor or anywhere in between or are a teenager who has been bullied and feels lost, an adult who has suffered trauma, or a local mom or dad struggling with the loss of your child, we are all vulnerable to convincing ourselves that suicide is the solution to life’s problems.

In my experience, most people who suffer from chronic suicidal ideation are in what I refer to as a “slow spin.” I have always believed that it is difficult to voluntarily end your life. I think what happens is that over time, an unhappy person slowly but deliberately convinces themselves that suicide is the best option. I believe that they do this by knocking down “psychological barriers.” These are thoughts and beliefs that provide psychological push back to the urge to end one’s life. For example, I may be having a rough time and start thinking about ending my life. Hopefully, I then encounter thoughts such as “My wife will be devastated if I end my life,” and “I may not be successful at the attempt and end up permanently disabled and more miserable,” or “My completed suicide will have a negative effect on my patients.” Without intervention, I can easily knock down these mental barriers. For example, I can convince myself that I’m quite a difficult husband to manage and my wife will be better off without me. I can do extensive research to make sure the means I have chosen to end my life will work, and I can convince myself that I really was not being of much help to my patients and they would be better off working with another psychologist. Once I’ve pushed aside all mental barriers to suicide, I then become extremely high risk to end my life. There is very little stopping me at that point.

Here is where you and other people who are mindful of others come into play. When you see changes in someone you care about, in a colleague, or a neighbor, please be curious as to why. Perhaps they are ill, stressed, or struggling with the decision to end their life. By noticing the change, having a conversation, and showing care and concern, we can interrupt the slow spin towards suicide. Helping the person get out of their own head, helping them see that someone noticed that they are struggling and took the time to show concern will often be enough to interrupt self-destructive urges. A smile, a thoughtful text message, a phone call, an act of kindness-sometimes that is all it takes to help someone change their direction.

I believe we have a social responsibility to notice when others are not doing well, to have a conversation about that, and if necessary, facilitate getting them the help they need. It is concerning to me that in a world increasingly dominated by our electronic devices, we miss many human moments–opportunities to reach out to those who are struggling and at increased risk for suicide. Most suicidal people will signal directly or indirectly regarding their intent and frankly, most do not wish to die. When we notice changes in behavior, more likely than not, that person is asking for our help. Our task-yours and mine- is to notice the change and respond with kindness and concern. If we adopt the attitude that suicide prevention is everyone’s responsibility, we will save many lives.

About the Author: Dr. Reinaldo Matias

Dr. Reinaldo Matias is a clinical psychologist who provides care and therapy for children, teens and adults at Lighthouse Counseling and Wellness in Michigan City. He can be reached at drreggiematias@gmail.com or 219-916-0239.

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