Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Day 26 - A Million Little Things

Today marks the premier of ABC's new television series, A Million Little Things. I wanted to talk a little about the television show, especially given its premise, which has to do how a suicide impacts the survivors left behind.

A few disclaimers:

Beyond the previews (you can see one yourself, below), I have not seen the pilot in its entirety.

I am not a professional television critic.

And finally, the name of the character on the show who dies by suicide, is John. John was my boyfriend's name and that makes the part of the introductory dialogue in the preview difficult for me to hear. ("You aren't going to believe this. John killed himself.") My difficulty in that innocuous part of the show may be influencing this blog post. Just an FYI.

Ok, having said all that, here is what I want to offer:

If you choose to watch this show and you are a survivor of suicide loss or a survivor of a suicide attempt, it may be triggering. Give yourself permission to turn off the tv, change the channel, or watch it another day.

Some survivors may feel that they are fine and ready to watch this type of subject matter (or they may be curious about how the topic is handled). However, remember that triggers are usually unexpected. It can help to give yourself permission ahead of time to remove yourself from situations that you find triggering. You do not have to push yourself to watch certain scenes or any of the show, at all.

Arrange to watch it with a friend of loved one if you can, having someone with you may help you to feel supported while watching and to have someone to talk to, if you need to, during or after the show. Be sure that you and the person you are watching with agree to accept the decision if either of you needs to turn off the tv or change the channel.

Sometimes, we are triggered during an event but the symptoms of the trigger don't hit us for hours or even days after the event. Be prepared for the next few days for unexpected stress, anxiety, sadness or more acute grief to come up. Again, have a plan for if this happens. Perhaps a friend or a counselor you can call.

Whether it is a television show like this or any other trigger, be gentle with yourself. Allow yourself to avoid the trigger if necessary. Always ensure that you have others to talk to when these situations occur. Talking about the feelings you experience when you are triggered can be very helpful in taking the power out of these feelings. However, pay attention to emotional 'flooding' when talking about triggers and memories, as well. If you find that your voice is rising or you are beginning to speak very fast, or if you can feel heightened anxiety while talking, try to slow yourself down. Take some deep breaths. Remind yourself that you can talk about your feelings a little later, or just in small increments.

Next, let's talk about responsible media representations and presentations, when it comes to suicide. Whether you have been directly impacted by suicide or not, it is very helpful to know the following guidelines. If the show seems to be pushing the boundaries in these areas, please consider being an advocate for suicide prevention and contact ABC to let them know that you would like them to handle the topic differently moving forward. Please note again, I have not seen the show, so I am hopeful that all of the guidelines are already in place in the show.

First, it is critically important that the Suicide Prevention Lifeline number (1-800-273-8255) is made available at either the beginning of the show or the end of the show (or preferably, both.) This is particularly important because this subject matter does have the capacity to exacerbate some people's thoughts of suicide. Being reminded that there is a lifeline available to them is very helpful.

Third, it is important that she show not get into the gory details of the suicide. It is always best if the act itself is not portrayed on the show, and that there is no descriptive language (that could potentially be construed as a 'how-to' lesson).

Finally, it is important that when reporting on suicide, that the focus be o  pain of those left behind. (I am very helpful that this will happen, given the show is supposed to be about those who are left behind.)

Having said all of that, I want to note that at this juncture (not having seen the show), I am really pleased that this subject matter is being addressed during prime time television. Offering opportunities for people to learn more about suicide and giving them a better understanding of the experience of not just those who are suicidal;, but also those left behind, is critical to fighting stigma.

And for my fellow survivors of suicide loss, whether you choose to watch the show or not, know that my heart is with us all and I have high hopes that shows like this will help others to be more kind and understanding about our grief and about suicide in general.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Day 25 - Too Many

Sergeant Benjamin Bruce
June 29, 1993 - January 8, 2017

Many people are aware that the number of military suicides is at an epidemic level. It is impossible to work in the field of suicide prevention without seeing the connection. The second post in the Our Voices Matter series on this blog was an interview with Nancy Varella Lendway, a military mother who lost her son, Vito, shortly after he returned from having served in Aghanistan. I personally attend a local support group for survivors of suicide loss, and one of the members lost her brother, a military veteran, to suicide. In my online groups, there are always numerous members whose loved ones were military veterans (or actively serving) when they died by suicide. In fact, the photo above, which is from the services of Sergeant Benjamin Bruce, was provided to me by a woman in one of my online support groups. 

As with all aspects of suicide prevention and awareness, it is very important to understand the facts in order to get a better sense of the urgency of this situation.
  • In the United States, military related suicides kill 20-22 people a day.
  • Suicide is the leading cause of death among actively enlisted members of the military.
  • 47 % of of those who are in the military and die by suicide are 25 years old, or younger.
  • Since the beginning of the war in Afghanistan, suicide has killed more US military members than ISIS has.
  • 83 % of those who die by suicide, do so here in the United States after they have returned from combat.

These things are known about military related suicide deaths. The cause for the high number of suicide  deaths is not as concrete. Likely, multiple factors are at play. As such - the vast majority of active duty or veteran service members are in higher suicide risk categories than the general public.

One risk factor is related to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It is estimated that 10% - 30% of all service members returning from combat zones have prolonged PTSD-like responses, or the full blown disorder. PTSD has been shown to exacerbate suicidal ideation as well as increase the number and severity of suicide attempts that a person might have.

Another risk factor is related to head injuries. Those in combat zones are far more likely to experience head injuries, than someone in the general public might. Research has shown that individuals who have had a single concussion are three times as likely to die by suicide.

Adding to the above, being a survivor of suicide loss increases a person's risk of suicide, and given the number of suicides in the military, chances are greater than average that those who serve will know others who have died by suicide. Depending on the closeness with the individual/s who have died, the increased risk factor may be mild or it may be significant.

There are also concerns about the the poor access to psychiatric care for military vets. Right now, there are multitudes of complaints about how long it takes for the US Veterans Administration to see patients who are complaining of psychiatric symptoms - and there are equal concerns about the quality of care veterans are receiving. 

Finally, one of the major risk factors for suicide has to do with access to means. In other words - how easy is it for a suicidal person to access a means to complete the act of suicide. One of the most lethal means of suicide is use of a firearm. Those who serve in the military are far more likely to use a firearm when dying by suicide. In fact, in comparison with the general public, those in the military are also more likely to own firearms in their civilian life, and they are more likely to know exactly how to load and use them.

All of these facts contribute to suicidal feelings, intent, and very likely drive up the numbers of suicides completed. At the same time, because of the wide variety of causes, addressing military suicides is a complex effort that requires comprehensive overhauls in many areas.

Active duty personnel and veterans both, need access to better, stronger, and more consistent healthcare services. Services upon return from combat need to be very proactive and incorporate comprehensive suicide risk assessment. We must improve our ability to detect and treat disorders such as PTSD. We must take a look at the pro gun culture in our country as a whole. There are no easy answers, and many of these issues require lengthy and complex overhauls, but the time we've had to eschew overhauls in the name of simplicity has passed. Too many of the brave men and women who serve or have served in the US military, are dying. 

Too many people are suffering. Too many hearts are breaking.

Too many.

Special thanks to Kiko Carrie Yoshida, for allowing me to use the photo at the top of this post. Kiko, I am so sorry for your loss, my heart is with you, as it is with all of my fellow survivors of suicide loss. 

Monday, September 24, 2018

Day 24 - Peter Bellamy

Peter Franklyn Bellamy was an English folk singer. He was a founding member of The Young Tradition but also had a long solo career, recording numerous albums and touring folk clubs and concert halls.

Despite significant early success and acclaim, Bellamy did not like to market himself and his performance career declined. Family and friends say that he became increasingly depressed over his lack of scheduled concerts. In September of 1991, Peter Bellamy died by suicide. Bellamy was forty seven years old when he died.

Peter Franklyn Bellamy 
September 8, 1944 – September 24, 1991

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Day 23 - Suicide in the LGBTQ Communities

Suicide is not just a concern, it is an epidemic within the LGBTQ community. It is imporant know the facts in order to begin to make a difference. Some of the factors that contribute to this epidemic are the impact of being part of an often stigmatized and marginalized community, as well as excessive bullying of LGBTQ youth.

Whether you consider yourself a part of this community or not, a suicide epidemic anywhere is heartbreaking and unnaceptable. We are all one human family. When it comes to suicide prevention, every community affected belongs to each and every one of us. Speak up. Make changes. Advocate. Begin now.



  • Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among young people ages 10 to 24.
  • LGB youth seriously contemplate suicide at almost three times the rate of heterosexual youth.
  • LGB youth are almost five times as likely to have attempted suicide compared to heterosexual youth.
  • Of all the suicide attempts made by youth, LGB youth suicide attempts were almost five times as likely to require medical treatment than those of heterosexual youth.
  • Suicide attempts by LGB youth and questioning youth are 4 to 6 times more likely to result in injury, poisoning, or overdose that requires treatment from a doctor or nurse, compared to their straight peers.2
  • In a national study, 40% of transgender adults reported having made a suicide attempt. 92% of these individuals reported having attempted suicide before the age of 25.
  • LGB youth who come from highly rejecting families are 8.4 times as likely to have attempted suicide as LGB peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection.
  • 1 out of 6 students nationwide (grades 9–12) seriously considered suicide in the past year.
  • Each episode of LGBT victimization, such as physical or verbal harassment or abuse, increases the likelihood of self-harming behavior by 2.5 times on average.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Day 22 - Social Media and Suicide

After many years of steadily decreasing, the suicide rate for teens began to go upward in 2010. That trend has not slowed down, and suicide is now the second leading cause of death among young people.

Studies have shown that the rise in social media applications and useage may be part of the reason. While not yet fully understood, there are several aspects of social media that likely contribute to the rising numbers. It is important to be aware of them, so that you can be on the lookout for these issues.

One train of thought is that social media postings allow a person to only show select scenes from their life. It is easy to craft the appearance of having a life that is perfect. Other teens may see this and feel envious, or worse, that their lives are worthless in comparison. It is important to remind your children that people have control over what they show on social media, and that all people have challenges and difficulty in their life, no one person is struggling with these things alone. Just because someone may not share these challenges on social media does not indicate that their life is 'perfect' or 'better' than other lives.

Another way that social media has been shown to exacerbate feelings of suicidality is that the medium often serves as a vehicle for glorifying suicides. It is very important when a suicide occurs, that public reporting be cognizant and respectful of guidelines around how to be responsible when sharing the news. For example, describing the specific methods of suicide is ill advised, at times it can serve as a how-to. And whenever reporting about suicide, the Suicide Prevention Hot line should always be easy to find in an article or posting. No one should post notes about how 'brave' someone was to have taken their life, and posts should veer away from stating that when someone dies by sucide, they are to be envied. However, on social media, the posters (youth in particular) are not often aware of these guidelines. Their online discussions can be very triggering to others who have been or are newly struggling with suicidal feelings.

In addition, it is disturbing but important to know that there are many pro-suicide and suicide-pact websites and chatrooms on the internet. For teens, these are not hard to find. Because of their reprehensible nature, I will not name them and I will not provide any links or backlinks of any kind. However, it is important for parents to know these sites exist.

However the most devastating impact social media has had on the suicide rates of young people has to do with the advent of online bullying (or 'cyber-bullying'). Bullies tend to be more ruthless on social media. They are not in a position of having to see the person they are bullying, or the immediate impact it has on that person. The bully may say things they wouldn't say, if they were to be confronting someone in person. And their bullying has an exponential reach. The person being bullied has to cope with the fact that the bullying may be viewed by thousands of people, maybe more. And because of the permanency of words and posts online, the bullied person may feel like the immediate feelings experienced when being bullied will never go away.

It is for all of the above issues that the impact the influence that social media has on suicide must be addressed. If you are a parent, you should regularly monitor your children's use of social media and discuss with them anything you see of concern.

If you see online bullying occurring, the advice is the same as if it were in person. Jump in, let the bully know that their behavior and words are not appropriate and not ok. They should be reminded that online bullying is not cool or funny, and in fact it is extremely cowardly. And then let the person who is being bullied know that you are sorry this is happening, you do not agree with the words being said or the actions that the bully is taking. Let a bullied person know that you are on their side. Kids need to know that it is never ok to bully another person online and that the action can be life threatening to the person being bullied.

Finally, it is important to know that most social media platforms have methods to report if you are concerned that someone is making threats of suicide or appears to be announcing their plan to die by suicide. If a person is threatening suicide, the faster they receive intervention, the better. Reporting a concern does not mean that person will automatically be arrested or confronted. I does mean that people trained in suicide assessment will take a look at what is going on. Use these reporting methods whenever needed.

Facebook's Reporting Method

Twitter's Reporting Method

Instagram's Reporting Method

Snapchat's Reporting Method

No matter what your age, remember that it is ok to 'unplug' from social media for as long as you want. If anything on social media is causing you stress, take a break. 

Friday, September 21, 2018

Day 21 - An Act of Grace

It is an act of grace to forgive.
It is an act of love to offer yourself another chance.
- Don Miguel Ruiz

When John died, among my myriad of painful emotions, there was a lot of anger. With the exception of one person, the anger wasn't focused on people, it was focused on the mental health care systems that had failed him. I was enraged at the lack of information, lack of adequate treatment, and the industries that prioritized cost effective measures over making mental health resources available to those who need them.

But I was also angry at the lack of resources and support available to those who love someone with a mental illness. I hated that much of the messaging for partners and loved ones is that they either leave, love perfectly, or assert boundaries that are nearly impossible to manage. None of these things were solutions and they all fell terribly short of respecting the imperfection of being human.

We must step back and recognize that mental illness inflicts pain and suffering on not just the person with the illness, but also on their loved ones. As a friend or family member trying to mitigate this suffering, we often treat the person with the illness as if they are the enemy. Sadly, this dynamic exacerbates the shame and fear that mental illness is already imposing on everyone involved.

And if we lose someone to suicide? We who are left behind dissect in excruciating detail the conflicts we'd had with the person we've lost. We continue to confuse the illness itself with the person. The questioning is telltale - it looks like this: How could they have said this to me? How could they have done this to me?

In order to understand what has actually happened, we must begin to replace the word 'they' with 'the illness'.

Similarly, we ask ourselves: How could I have said this to him? How could I have done this to her?  The answer is that we weren't fighting with the person we lost. It was mental illness that was causing chaos in our relationship. And when we fought back, we were engaged in an argument with the symptoms of an illness. There was no winning, for anyone.

Still, survivors of suicide loss agonize over what we could not do, what we did do, and what we believe we should have done. We blame ourselves for not having tools and resources, despite the fact that they do not yet exist. We blame ourselves for not knowing many things that are still unknown. We blame ourselves for not being able to cure mental illness all on our own.
So yes, in the months following John's death I was angry at a lot of things. And who was the one person I blamed for his death? Me. I blamed myself. Like so many survivors of suicide loss, I was ashamed. 

I didn't know how to forgive myself then, and there aren't words adequate to describe the pain of layering that shame on top of the rest of my grief. I had heard that when we are angry at someone, sometimes the best thing we can do is to pray for a softening of our heart. When John died, I did not know how to pray for myself. Looking back though, I can now see that there was a turning point. A moment when a softening began. Here is how:

Because John died by suicide, there was this constant inference that he was selfish and that he should have been stronger. But I knew John and I knew him well. I understood that he'd lost his life to a mental illness that was beyond his control. And yet, I also knew that many blamed him for the ways he suffered. I knew that he'd fought extremely hard to protect others from the impact of his illness. I knew this because he told me how hard he'd tried and I knew this because I saw how hard he'd tried. 

When John died, he deserved far better than the accusation that he'd been weak or selfish.

So, I spoke up. I spoke up for him immediately and vociferously. I defended him in writing and in person. And then, when I kept writing and when people began asking me more pointed questions, I made an effort to educate myself more. I read and read and read. Over the course of a few months, I scoured hundreds of websites and blogs. I read books and called people and emailed others. I learned about the research that does exist. I memorized data and statistics and outcomes and the efforts that are showing promise. I also learned about the hurricane of wreckage that stigma leaves in its wake when it comes to its impact on suicide prevention. I read about neural transmitters and serotonin imbalances and brain scan variances and I can even say the words chronic traumatic brain encephalopathy.

If people were going to try and tell me that John was selfish or weak, I was going to put up a fight. If people were going to tell me that his death was sinful because they thought it reflected a rational choice on his part, I wanted my arguments to be backed up by facts and data and details that would be hard to dismiss.

John was a fighter. John was not weak. John deserves to be absolved of any blame placed on him for the fact that his mental illness ended up being fatal. It wasn't John's fault that his illness is not well understood - even by experts - and it was not his fault that he was unable to get effective treatment.

As I made these arguments, internally something began to happen to me. The thing is, I can not rightfully assign blame to John's illness, if I am also blaming myself.

And that is where the softening came from. It came from fighting for him. The way that I found the grace to forgive myself, came from the fact that I understood that John deserved to be forgiven.

The truth is, when I forgive myself, the act is a reflection of my love for John.

I wish this for all survivors of suicide loss. That we can find a way to forgive ourselves through love. In doing so, I truly believe that we will always be able to meet the greatest of our anger and the greatest of our heartbreak, with even greater acts of grace.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Day 20 - The Data That Gives Us Hope

Despite the increasing numbers of suicides, there are reasons to be hopeful. One such reason is that people are beginning to understand that intervention of some kind can save lives. Better yet, people want to know how and when to intervene so that they can help.

An online survey was conducted in August 2018 by The Harris Poll on behalf of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention (Action Alliance), the public-private partnership working to advance the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention, and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP),

The survey assessed perceptions of suicide and mental health among more than 2,000 U.S. adults. The survey also found the following:
  • More than 9 in 10 adults (94 percent) say they would do something if someone close to them was contemplating suicide.
  • Nearly 4 in 5 adults (78 percent) are interested in learning more about how they might be able to play a role in helping someone who may be suicidal. More than 9 in 10 adults (94 percent) think suicide can be prevented sometimes/often/all the time
  • Nearly 3 in 4 adults (73 percent) would tell someone if they were having thoughts of suicide, which shows the importance of having non-judgmental conversations.
  • When it comes to their own health, 4 in 5 U.S. adults (80 percent) say mental health and physical health are equally important. In our current health care system, however, most adults (55 percent) say physical health is prioritized over mental health.
  • Almost half (48 percent) of those who have spoken with others about suicide say it makes them feel better, which shows that talking about suicide does help

While initiating these conversations may be uncomfortable, talking has the capacity to save lives. 

If you are worried about someone, reach out, speak up, and ask questions. Then listen. Sometimes, one caring person can change the entire course of someones life. Sometimes, that care and concern can save a life.

To learn more about the just-released national data, go to:

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Day 19 - The Qualities That Define Us

One of the most difficult things about grieving a suicide is the fact that so few people know what to say or do in order to help. Many pull back or pull away entirely, because the topic of suicide is too sad, too depressing, and too scary for them to confront.

I did lose a few good friends. People who slipped through my fingers either because of the discomfort of it all, or because in my grief I was at times selfish and insensitive and for them it became too much.

But, I know so many survivors of suicide loss who've become estranged from their entire family and who feel they now have no one to be there for them or to help them get through. It is a loneliness on top of a loneliness that is truly unimaginable for those of us who have not experienced it ourselves.

And I'd be lying if said that there aren't still times when I feel deeply heartbroken and perhaps alone in the sense that I am missing John, and he won't ever be back.

But from day one, from the first moments after he died, I have never questioned whether or not there were people who cared about me. Never.

I know I am blessed. I know that this is not everyone's story. I know that I have been afforded something profoundly beautiful in the fact that I've been surrounded by so much love.

I know.

If you want to support a survivor of suicide loss, but aren't sure what to do - here are some ideas.

This what courage, kindness, friendship, and character looks like.

These are just some of the things that the people who loved me, did for me.

  • Brought me jello and fruit cups and toilet tissue and paper towels and diet coke, without my having to ask.

  • And brought me more diet coke.

  • And brought me more tissue, too.

  • Brought me flowers. And kept bringing me flowers nearly every week for an entire year.

  • Worked in my yard and cleared a tiny forest of weeds, in 100 degree weather nonetheless. And then came back and did it again. And again.

  • Told me about their memories of John.

  • Laughed with me when I talked about my own memories of John, and cried with me too.

  • Texted me every single day for weeks on end to remind me that that it was important to them that I stay alive.

  • Gave me momentos that had that belonged to John. Clothing, books, toys and more.

  • Let me sleep on their couch night after night after night after night. And then told me I could come back and sleep on their couch if I needed to, again. (Which, I did.)

  • Slept on my couch when I wanted to be home but still didn't want to be alone.

  • Met me in parking lots so I wouldn't have to walk into any building or any room all on my own.

  • Gave me rides to places, even when it was inconvenient, so that I wouldn't have to find my way in a world that, to me, was suddenly upside down and backwards.

  • Told me I was family. Treated me like family. Became my family. Called me and checked on me and then reminded me I was family again and again, until I began to believe them.

  • Played scrabble with me, and cards, and trivial pursuit.

  • Read my writing and then read my writing and then read my writing some more. And then told me that they liked what they read.

  • Answered my phone calls and returned my texts, no matter what time I called, even if I all I wanted to do was say that there was no way I was going to make it through this. Or to just weep. And weep. And weep some more.

  • Listened.

  • Asked me to go to movies. Asked me to go to barbecues. Asked me to volunteer at events and help out. Let me say yes. Let me say no.

  • Thanked me for helping to keep the memories and the best parts of John alive.

  • Gave me gifts that reminded me of John and our love for one another. Drawings and cards and jewelry that I will hold dear for the rest of my life.

  • Took me to go bowling, and miniature golfing, and to little league games. Paid for me to spend a weekend in Tahoe with wonderful women. And took me river rafting with old and new friends.

  • Moved every single thing I owned into a new house. Spent hours with me as I unpacked and cleaned up and organized.

  • Told me that I was loved. Told me that I was loved. Told me I that was loved again.

  • Told me and showed me and held me until I understood, that I was loved. 

  • Let me cook for them, and pretended that my distracted half burnt poorly seasoned food was good enough to eat.

  • Fixed my car and my cabinets and hung shelves for me too.

  • Invited me over to play with a pack of puppies that were cuter than cute.

  • Called me and emailed me and texted me again and again, day after day, week after week, to tell me:

I was cared about.
I was surviving.
I was in their thoughts.
I was brave.

  • Gave me arms to fall into and hearts to hold me up and spirits to buoy my own.

  • Taught me that grief is made bearable when it is met with Grace. Showed me that sometimes kindness and redemption are one and the same. Helped me to understand that compassion is one of the most important things in the world. 

  • Reminded me that even in the face of terrible loss, there is still a loving God who can hold us and even heal us, during the very worst of our heartbreak.

  • Cheered me on and kept me company and told me they were proud, as I began to learn that finding a purpose in life helps to alleviate pain.

  • Told me silly stories about their day to day activities. Asked my advice about problems they were having. Let me be there for them. Knew that I was going to learn to live again, even when I wasn't sure.

  • Never rushed me. Never shushed me. Never told me to move on.

Some of these things may seem small, but all of these actions were full of love, and love is the biggest thing of all. I have learned that there is nothing bigger.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Day 18 - Bullied To Death

No one heals himself by wounding another.
― St. Ambrose

I guess I should start with this. I feel strongly that when one person dies by suicide, it is not the fault of another person. Despite conflicts. Despite hurtful words. Despite fights, heartbreak, painful boundaries, or making mistakes. Even big mistakes. Suicide is not the fault of another person.

Conflicts, struggles, and painful life circumstances are very often a part of the story of the person who dies by suicide. Some of these are terrible conflicts. People can say horrible things to each other in the heat of an argument. Frustration can bring out the ugliest part of us. The impact that mental illness has on a relationship is confusing at best and tragic at worst.

Often the mental illness that complicates and intensifies conflicts between two people is the same mental illness that lends itself to suicidal despair, or that fuels irrational and impulsive behavior that leads to a death by suicide (even before an argument has a chance to settle or be worked out).

In these cases, what I have seen is survivors of suicide loss who are ravaged by guilt. Suicide takes the life of one person and then guilt destroys the lives of those left behind.

I want to tell the survivors of suicide loss the same things that all experts on suicide would say:

It is not your fault that you did not know any better.

It is not your fault that you yourself did not have enough resources or enough information to understand someone's mental illness or how to help them.

It's not your fault that frustration and pain and chaos entered into your own life and that you reacted.

Try to remember, it is a sad truth but people do betray each other. People do fight. Divorces happen.

Heartbreak happens. People lose their possessions and homes and even lose custody of children due to these ugly circumstances. And yet, people do not take their lives because of it.

Suicidal despair is the result of many things, but it is not caused by conflict with loved ones. It is not appropriate nor is it accurate to blame a suicide death on someone else, even if that person was involved in a conflict with the person who died. Even if the person who died overtly blamed someone else, either as part of their last words or in a note. I feel very strongly about this, and I am not alone. Other people are not the cause of a suicide.

With one exception.


Bullies intentionally use words, humiliation and cruelty as weapons - and those weapons can be lethal.

Unfortunately, in our culture we routinely excuse the actions of the bully, while suggesting to the victim that if they can't find the strength to tolerate or change or fix the bully, then they are at fault for being victimized.

Just ignore it. 

Words can't hurt you. 
Toughen up. 
Stop being so sensitive. 
You just need to fight back. 

And meanwhile, as we've been offering these platitudes, suicide has risen to the second leading cause of death for young people aged 10-24 years old. So, while we have been telling our children that 'kids will be kids,' kids are dying. We are talking about kids as young as eight and nine years old.

There is absolutely nothing that is funny, clever, strong, or impressive about a bully.

And bullying is not just a youth problem. Bullying has been associated with the suicide deaths of adults, as well.

It is for this reason that it is critical that we recognize the different forms of bullying, and that we intervene when we see it, or ask for help if it is happening to us.

If we don't include comprehensive efforts to address bullying in schools, on playgrounds, in the workplace, and in other areas where bullying occurs - then it will not be possible to have effective suicide prevention.

In order to better understand bullying, let's start with a definition. Bullying occurs when a person repeatedly, intentionally, and without provocation, humiliates or hurts someone else. Merriam Webster describes a bully as someone who is habitually cruel, insulting, or threatening to those who are weaker or vulnerable.

Bullying can take place in many different ways. Some of the more common forms of bullying are as follows:

Physical Bullying / Threats

Fat Shaming / Body Shaming

Sexual Harassment and Assault

Schoolyard Bullying

Verbal / Emotional Bullying

Cyber and Social Media Bullying

Text Bullying

Workplace Bullying

Public Bullying

(If you want to learn more about these types of bullying, is a great resource.)

Aside from learning about the different types of bullying, it is even more important that we know what to do when we see or hear about it happening.

For years, the primary advice was to 'toughen up' the victim. This expectation was not fair, and it was not appropriate for many bullying victims. In recent years, the venues for bullying have expanded (including online bullying, social media bullying, text bullying) and the advice to the victims is not sufficient. People are suffering from PTSD and other long term ill effects of bullying, in no small part because of a culture that fostered a lack of intervention when bullying was happening. Today, people are being bullied to death. There is even a name for this now. 'bullycide.' People are dying and the number is increasing.

If you witness bullying happening, it is important you intervene swiftly, being assertive and firm. This is true if you see a child being bullied. This is true if you see bullying happening to adults at the workplace or in other areas in public or otherwise.

Effective intervention is incumbent on us all.

Research has shown that bullies can be stopped and that their behavior can be changed. It is important that they are confronted and told in no uncertain terms that their behavior is unacceptable and must not continue. According U.S. federal government website,

"When others respond quickly and consistently to bullying behavior they send the message that it is not acceptable. Research shows this can stop bullying."

In addition, it is important to address the pervasive pro bullying-culture which allows bullies to thrive. Schools need to have mandatory anti bullying educational programs and trainings in place for both staff and students.

Zero tolerance policies must exist in both schools and workplaces. And these policies must be adhered to. It is important that young people understand that this type of behavior will have severe consequences, and it is equally important for adults to understand that their jobs will be in jeopardy if they engage in bullying behaviors.

The evidence that bullying is life threatening is now so abundant, many states have laws in place that make bullying behavior a criminal offense.

If you see bullying occurring, offers the following suggestions for successfully intervening:

Intervene immediately. When you do nothing, you send the message that bullying is acceptable. If you ignore or minimize the problem, victims might not think that others care, or they may believe that there is no one who can help.
Intervene even if you’re not sure it’s bullying. Observing actions, words, body language, and facial expressions will help you determine if bullying is occurring. Even if it’s not, aggressive behaviors need to be stopped.
Stand between or near the victim and the bully, separating them if necessary, so as to stop the bullying behaviors. For young children, consider removing them from the situation to a “time-out” area or room.
Respond firmly but appropriately. Remain calm, but convey the seriousness of the situation. Announce that the bullying must stop. Describe the behavior you observed and why it is unacceptable.
Get help if needed. If the bully is using physical force, or there is more than one bully, you may need to find another adult to help keep children safe and protect yourself.
Do not respond aggressively. Using aggressive behavior sends the wrong message that this is a good way to solve problems. It may also prompt a bully or a bystander to increase his or her bullying behavior or become aggressive toward you.
Avoid lecturing the bully in front of his or her peers. Your goal is to end the behavior, not humiliate or shame the bully. Rather than serving as a deterrent, lecturing and scolding often provide the bully with attention that he or she finds rewarding.     
Don’t ask children to “work things out” for themselves.  Bullying is different from an argument or conflict; it involves a power imbalance that requires intervention.
Give praise and show appreciation to helpful bystanders.  Children or others who try to help the victim or stop the bully are key to bullying prevention.
Stick around. Remain in the area until you are sure the behavior has stopped.
Always remember, when you intervene and assist someone who may be experiencing being bullied, you may be saving a life. 

If nothing else, you are helping to lessen someone's pain in the moment. This in and of itself is an honorable thing to do.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Day 17 - Always

If you were to ask me for advice about how to approach survivors of suicide loss, how to treat survivors of suicide attempts, or how to support those with thoughts of suicide, I would start with these same seven words. Always.