We are advised to be aware of the warning signs that might help us to intervene and many times, individuals who are contemplating suicide ask for help or indicate by their actions and/or words that they have been considering ending their lives. Yet, there are too many of us who have experienced losing someone by suicide, where no such early warning occurred. We are left wondering what we missed, because surely this person "told us" in some way. We go through the checklists of the typical warning signs and come up empty. We blame ourselves because we didn't pay closer attention. We feel guilty because we didn't spend those few extra minutes we had with the person we lost. We didn't tell them we loved them often enough...
When I worked as a high school counselor, my experiences losing students was especially devastating. The high school I worked at lost several teens who chose to end their own lives. Feelings of shock and disbelief and overwhelming grief were expressed by students and staff alike. As a school counselor, it was particularly difficult to comfort others while I too was grieving.
During my work as a Licensed Professional Counselor, I started seeing one young lady, after her first attempt. I thought we were making progress, yet after only three sessions, she hung herself. I questioned my effectiveness and doubted my ability to be able to help my clients. I felt as though I had not earned the trust and hope her parents placed in me to help their daughter.
Although there are some who plan their suicide, the students we lost acted impulsively. In a moment of desperation, when they felt as though no one could help or nothing would ever change, they were gone. Our lives were forever changed by their actions. Immediately, any of us would have traded that for an opportunity to help, to listen, to care.
How do we learn to bounce back from disappointments? How do we learn to take things in stride? How do we learn that it is OK to make a mistake? How do we learn that we will have our hearts broken? How do we learn to tolerate being teased, rejected, and that we won’t always get what we want?
The Survivors of Suicide and Loss group I meet with monthly (Community for Hope at www.communityforhope.org) agree that starting at a very young age, children must learn to be resilient. They must have their feelings validated as well as experience disappointments so they learn, in incremental steps, how to navigate the full range of our emotions. They must learn that they don’t have to “take something” to feel better. Children learn that things can help us feel better by seeing us have that drink when we get home from work, or that cigarette when stressed. The group members also believe the pace of our lives limit our direct interactions with each other and see the impersonal and somewhat shallow relationships that are developed via electronic media.
Yes, it is important to be aware of the warning signs of suicide. But before someone ever considers that suicide is an option, it is more important to be an early and constant loving, supportive, caring, and accepting presence in each other’s lives.
Kathy is passionate about using the therapeutic relationship to help you achieve your personal goals.