Let's be vulnerable: Breaking down barriers to suicide prevention
Written by Melissa Barsotti, LCSW, therapist in San Diego, CA.
Photo by Travis Saylor: https://www.pexels.com/photo/cyclone-fence-in-shallow-photography-951408/
Cautionary Note: This blog post is intended for adults, as I specialize in treating adults. Social media is often not a safe place, especially for teenagers. If you are a teenager/adolescent experiencing suicidal thoughts, please reach out to a professional. Posting something vulnerable on social media may result in disappointment, and even more isolation.
Here are helpful Suicide Hotlines:
(For mental health emergencies, suicide prevention and referrals to treatment):
Call 988 or text 988: For confidential support available 24/7 for everyone in the United States, call 1-800-273-8255.
This post is inspired by the tragic death of Stephen Boss, known to the world as Twitch. Twitch was known as a talented dancer, entertainer, producer, husband, father, and incredible light in the world. Looking at his smile, and watching his dancing posts on social media, one would never suspect that this beautiful person could be suffering and eventually take his own life.
Suicidal thoughts do not discriminate. People experience suicidal thoughts across the globe, and it is a torturous experience to go through alone. Suicidal thoughts often are experienced in moments of emotional desperation, when the nervous system literally shuts down our thinking brain in response to a perceived threat of some kind. What is experienced in the moment is exacerbated by the connected memory networks of the past. If in the moment there is a self-perception of failure, not being good enough, being unworthy, weak, stupid, a disappointment, not successful enough, etc, then your amygdala has stored all of the other times you have felt this way and your current experience is intensified.
I am proposing something that is not original, but needs to be said and taken into account. I propose that we all start being more real, more vulnerable, and more honest with one another, preferably with our trusted social network. Saying that we are "not okay" should be encouraged.
Sharing our own personal experiences with our loved ones or those close to us will breed more vulnerability. When you are vulnerable, you are authentic, and you will be perceived as a safe person to talk to. Our most primitive parts of our brain pick up on safety cues all of the time. If you are perceived as emotionally safe, perhaps in a moment of desperation, someone might feel safe enough to confide in you.
My initial thought was for every positive uplifting post on social media, that we also post our perceived failures, disappointments, and imperfect humanity; however, I was recently reminded about the realities of social media, and what a dangerous and uninviting environment this can be. It is not possible for me to change the system and discourage insensitive comments online, so I will not fight that battle today.
Instead, I am encouraging more human contact in any way possible. Our lives and lifestyles have changed with the pandemic. There may be less social gatherings than before. Perhaps we can lean into the resources that are available, such as on-line groups, virtual get-togethers with friends and loved ones.
During these interactions, allow yourself to be vulnerable, and make it clear that you can be trusted with emotional pain, if in fact you are up to the challenge.
By doing so, I believe more lives will be saved.
If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide, please resist isolating yourself. In this moment you may feel such intensity, but please grant yourself permission to confide in at least one person. Maybe you live alone in a new city and have limited connections. Maybe you've lived at your current residence for a long time, but have struggled to make social connections due to anxiety, the pandemic, etc. Still, take the leap, and
call a suicide hotline. The individuals that answer you have training and experience, and will listen to you and work with you in finding hope, and may guide you in the direction of healing. Whatever you choose to do, please resist isolating yourself. Experienced or perceived isolation makes managing the torment of suicidal thoughts even more difficult.
Some tips on how to respond to suicidal thoughts if a loved one confides in you:
Thank your loved one for their trust in you, and thank them for their courage to share something painful.
Ask questions, just as you would with any other medical condition. What is your pain like? How frequent or heavy are these thoughts? Express gratitude that you are being confided in, because it's painful to imagine that your loved one is carrying this pain alone, when in fact they have you and others that care deeply for them.
Ask if they have started planning to carry out a suicide attempt, and if so, to please share with your their means by which they thought about doing so. Then, ask your loved one to collaborate with you, to trust you to get rid of the means from their possession, at least until a longer-term plan has been identified. Medication, sharp objects, firearms, and anything that can be used to tie a noose can be removed from reach.
Encourage your loved one to schedule an appointment with a therapist. Psychologytoday is an easy way to find a qualified therapist near you. You can filter through issues, such as depression and suicidal thoughts. You can filter through insurance, and through zip code.
If your loved one feels desperate to carry out their plan, and expresses having no hope for the future, and struggles to connect with any reasons for living, then you can:
Call for an ambulance/paramedics
Drive your loved one to your local emergency room for evaluation. Here they will likely then be transferred to a psychiatric unit if necessary.
Call the Access and Crisis Line Near You. These are mobile support teams, which include a trained licensed therapist who respond to calls, along with law enforcement. Calling law enforcement may feel scary, which is why calling an access line might be the better option. The problem here is that their response time may be hours.
My heart goes out to Stephen's wife, children, friends, and loved ones. If you have experienced the loss of someone in your life, due to suicide, please reach out for help. Therapists are trained to help you navigate the confusion and mixed emotions you may be experiencing. A loss of this kind is a significant event in one's life that requires as many resources as possible.
Dr. Kate Truitt is a neuroscientist and clinical psychologist, and author of Healing in Your Hands: Self-Havening Practices to Harness Neuroplasticity, Heal Traumatic Stress, and Build Resilience.
Dr. Truitt has an incredible gift of breaking down the complexities of the brain, in a way that is accessible to us all. Dr. Truitt offers incredible resources on her website, as well as educational videos on YouTube.