You Can Help Extinguish the Darkness – Light a Candle of Hope
Suicide Prevention Awareness Week Begins Today
One person dies by suicide every 40 seconds somewhere in the world. In 2018, clinical psychologist Julie Cerel conducted a study. She showed that 135 people personally knew each person who died by suicide. Her findings spawned the social media hashtag #notsix.
National Suicide Prevention Week begins Sunday, September 4, 2002. It culminates on World Suicide Prevention Day, Saturday, September 10th.
Awareness is the first key to change.
In this article, we present four key reflections about suicide:
- The factors leading to suicide are complex.
- Four statements to share with those in emotional pain.
- New discoveries about perfectionism and suicide risk.
- Some strategies in how to companion those bereaved by suicide.
Complex Factors leading to Suicidal Behavior
Suicide is a public health crisis affecting millions of people around the globe. There is no single factor cause, says suicidologist Rory O’Connor. In his book, When It Is Darkest, he writes, “Instead, it is the end product of a complex set of biological, psychological, clinical, social, and cultural determinants that come together in the perfect storm. For most, it is not about wanting to end one’s life, but about wanting the unbearable mental pain to end.”
Suicide is now the 2nd leading cause of death in 10-24 year-olds. O’Connor shares, “The greater the health inequity, the greater the risk for suicide.”
The Index Questions
Mark Williams is an Oxford clinical psychologist and pioneer in mindfulness research. He’s examined the suicidal mind extensively. Williams reframes suicide as a ‘cry of pain’ rather than a ‘cry for help.’
My own experience bears this out. I remember working with a young, sensitive male client who carried the weight of the world on his shoulders. He reported, “My brain feels like scrambled eggs.” He felt trapped in his grief and mental distress. A cry of pain indeed.
O’Connor and colleagues published a shortened version of the 16-item Entrapment Scale in 2020. The Entrapment Scale measures feelings of entrapment, wanting to escape a burdensome situation/state of mind but not being able to do so.
The first two statements on the short assessment evaluate external entrapment. These feelings of entrapment are driven by defeated or humiliating circumstances. This is what my son, Reed experienced when banned from the ninth-grade basketball team.
The final two items on the short Entrapment Scale assess internal entrapment. These are feelings of being trapped by unbearable thoughts and feelings. That’s what my client felt.
On the assessment, the person rates on a five-point scale the extent to which each statement is true for them. The higher the score, the more trapped they feel.
- I often have the feeling that I would just like to run away.
- I feel powerless to change things.
- I feel trapped inside of myself.
- I feel I’m in a deep hole I can’t get out of.
If you’re worried about someone, discuss the above statements with them. Especially if they’ve become withdrawn or had a significant mood change. Compassionate connection lets them know they are not alone. Your smile, relaxed, calm voice, and dialogue will convey your care.
Socially Prescribed Perfectionism
O’Connor has dedicated his life to unraveling the mystery of suicide. He believes suicide is best understood as a behavior and not simply as a by-product of mental illness.
O’Connor has found perfectionism to be a personality vulnerability factor. Perfectionism is implicated in suicide risk.
Socially prescribed perfectionism is consistently associated with suicide risk. It’s the standards we ‘think others expect of us’ that directly link to suicidal thoughts. Some experience socially prescribed perfectionism when feeling unable to meet the expectations of others. Or who feel people expect more than they’re capable of giving. This pattern of thinking reliably predicts suicidal ideation and attempts across the lifespan.
How to Companion those Bereaved by Suicide
The words we use and the order we put them in makes a difference.
~ Erin Weldon, Oregon Area AFSP Director
Offer your presence and a hug if appropriate. Use the phrase “there are no words to ease your pain in this moment.”
The survivors attending our Suicide Bereavement support group request you don’t say things like:
- You will get over this. The truth is one must go through the pain.
- What a weak or selfish act. You do not know what this person has endured and have no right to judge the deceased.
- Committed suicide. Successful, unsuccessful, or failed attempt. Say died of suicide, took his/her life.
- Time heals all wounds. Remember, this grief never goes away. It becomes different.
Finally, your Willingness to reach out to those bereaved by a loved one’s death of suicide will enfold their heart in comfort. Offer to take them places, provide food, send flowers, and do errands. For the first two years consistently reach out monthly on the date of the death. Send a text with a heart emoji or ‘thinking of you’ for the first two years or drop a notecard in the mail.
Actions you can take on Saturday to raise Awareness:
- Invite your neighbors via one of the social media sites to light a candle this Saturday and put it in their window.
- You do the same.
- Walk around your neighborhood and see how many people have candles in their windows. Report back on that same social media site.
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