Suicide is one of the hardest topics to discuss.
That’s why so many of us have such a difficult time recognizing signs of suicidality or responding to them.
Add to that the myths we’re told about suicide — “just talking about is dangerous,” for instance; or that people who are contemplating suicide always show outward signs — and it becomes even more difficult to navigate. Even as several high-profile celebrity passings, and rising suicide rates re-affirm that the discussion is now more important than ever.
On World Suicide Prevention Day, an expert took to Reddit to make the conversation just a little bit easier.
Dr. Tyler Black is a child and adolescent psychiatrist and the Medical Director of the Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Emergency Department at BC Children’s Hospital in Vancouver, where he’s worked with thousands of families during his nine-year tenure.
Aside from the work and research he does at the hospital, Black is passionate about educating others about the science of suicide. And because he knows that the world’s got questions, he set up an “Ask Me Anything” to give people a chance to further their understanding of suicide in order to reduce its rates.
One question makes it clear we need to rethink how we view suicide.
When one user posed the question of what one misconception Black wants others to stop believing, the doctor dropped some real knowledge that does away with the belief that only those with serious mental health issues become suicidal:
Probably the biggest would be that suicide behaviour or thinking is only for people with mental illness. Risk factors and protective factors don’t work like that. Just like all humans are at risk for heart attack (some, very very very low compared to most humans, some very very very high), all of us have various risk factors that push us towards suicidal thinking and protective factors that push us away. Mental illnesses add to our suffering but so do physical illnesses, stressors, bad news, poor sleep, etc etc. There are hundreds of risk and protective factors that all work in different directions to influence suicide risk.
This misconception, Black explained, allows us to ignore risk factors until they’re at crisis levels. It also allows us to not think about suicide until a person shows outward dysfunction. But for many people, suicide isn’t often predated by a long period of mental illness.
That’s why it’s so important for us to be aware of the emotional states of our friends and loved ones, check in on them regularly, and make an effort to be there for anyone we care about.
What can you do to help others? Show up.
One of Black’s most important points is this: Often, we undervalue the impact we have in others’ lives. We think that psychiatrists are the only ones who can help those who may be contemplating suicide, but as Black notes — mental health professionals are just one piece of the puzzle.
Recognizing that we have the ability to help others, only if it’s just by listening, is a powerful way to let those we care about know they’re not alone. So if you’ve been thinking about calling a friend who is struggling, or just saying hi to someone you haven’t seen in a while — now’s a good time to reach out. Of course, no one’s expecting us to single-handedly change a person’s entire outlook on life, but making contact can make a huge difference.
If you or someone you know is struggling, know that there are immediate resources available if you’re in a crisis. There are many organizations to become familiar with, including the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 800-273-8255, the Crisis Text Line (text “HOME” to 741741), and the Trevor Project 866-488-7386.
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