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Jun 13, 2018

Suicide: How to Help Yourself & Others Find Healing

Written by Dr. Caroline Leaf

We have a problem.

More and more people are choosing to take their own lives. More and more people see death as the solution to the difficulties they face. 

Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain are high-profile suicide cases that devastated the world. Yet every 40 seconds someone commits suicide—every 40 secondssomeone’s world is devastated. 

I say “we” have a problem because the rising rates of suicide are a judgement on our society. David Foster Wallace, discussing suicide, said that

“The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.”

Individuals like Bourdain and Spade couldn’t escape the flames because we, as a society, didn’t provide a way for them to save themselves. 

These flames are different for everyone; it could be the conflict of trying to be someone else than who we are; it could be festering trauma from any stage in our lives; it could be mounting pressure and expectations from our lifestyle; it could be loneliness; it could be relationships…it could be anything. All of us are vulnerable because we all of face the challenges of daily life.

And the very system that is supposedly helping people suffering—the current psychiatric system —is in shambles. Psychotropic drugs have failed to eradicate mental ill-health; more people suffer from mental ill-health than ever before. Kate Spade saw some of the best mental health professionalsin New York for months before her death. As psychologist Noel Hunter notes, “most people who have suicided did so after having sought out help.” Indeed, as Hunterpoints out,

“Telling a person they are “ill” for suffering or being sad serves to further alienate the individual.It often results in the person feeling defective, and puts the problem inside the individual instead of recognizing that cultural and circumstantial factors are a problem. Studies have demonstrated over and over again that a biological illness perspective on human suffering leads to decreased empathy, increased desire for social distance, and increased prejudice and discrimination.”

As a society, we have to re-examine how we view mental health. We have to re-examine the way we help people who are going through difficult times. We have to stop placing blame squarely on the shoulders of the individual who couldn’t escape the flames of their life.

So what can we do as a society? 

  • Love. We cannot survive without love. Love is, according to research, the top addiction and scientists show us we are wired for love. More die from the lack of love than any other disease. Love thrives in a community. Humanity is wired to work and thrive in community. Love cannot be shared, of course, without someone to love. In science, and especially quantum physics, “entanglement” is one of the most important laws—it is often referred to as the law of relationships. We are entangled humans living in an entangled universe; we need each other. When we help other people, we heal ourselves. 

Love starts in the family unit. It is so important for parents or guardians to constantly tell and show their children that they are loved. Hug them, tell them they are needed and wanted, and tell them they are special. Parents or guardians also need to create a safe space for their children and show them that they will not be judged or condemned. As a parent of four children, I have to constantly work at making sure my children know that no matter what they have my trust and love, and making sure that they feel safe and not judged—that they can talk about anything and everything.   

The next step is in school and workplace: teachers and managers should be trained to identify the signs and should provide adequate support for troubled individuals, such as providing each teacher or manager with a compassionate and knowledgeable individual who is there to help individuals deal with the vagaries of life.      

Churches can also be incredible powerhouses when it comes to showing communities what love looks like. In addition to regular counseling services, churches should create a loving, safe and nonjudgmental centers or peaceful gardens manned by volunteers who can just listen and love people who are going through tough times. The fact that more and more people feel that the church is a harsh, critical and sin-obsessed institution in bed with the current political empire is a judgement on the current state of Western Christianity, which, in many ways, does not reflect the love of a beautiful and caring God.

  • Mental well-being. The association between mental “disorders” and violence (including suicide) is an unfair association and distorts the discussion, particularly with the media’s caricature of individuals with mental issues committing acts of violence because there is something terribly wrong with their brain. According to research, those battling with mind issues are more often victims than perpetrators.       

We desperately need a revolution in mental healthcare. The current drug-oriented, biomedical model of diagnosis and treatment for non-medical problems and experiences is reductionistic and dangerous. While the biomedical model is very effective in treating illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer and so on, it is unhelpful and even damaging in matters to do with consciousness and the mind, such as depression or anxiety. The “treatment” of these so-called diseases is predominated by psychotropic drugs, ECT and TMS, which have been shown to be ineffective in the long term, destructive, disempowering, and stigmatizing. Calling for a bigger budget for drug-oriented psychiatry “medicalizes misery” and dehumanizes people, ignoring the context surrounding why a person choose to act or speak in a certain way.

Drugging people to control their thoughts, feelings and actions is not the answer to all societal ills. The good news is that there are many alternatives to psychotropic drugs and invasive treatments like ECT. Mad in America, an online community of mental health professionals, advocates, and individuals provide detailed resources on not only the current state of mental health treatment, but also guides to withdrawal and alternatives to drug treatment for mental health issues. The contributors at Mad in America, including psychiatrist and mental health advocate Dr. Peter Breggin, are making incredible strides in changing the way individuals and institutions define and treat people suffering from the vagaries of life.       

My own experience as a clinical practioner has repeatedly shown that transforming the mind in communities of love works wonders, which I have written down and recorded in my books, DVDs and online programs, including the 21 Day Brain Detox. People can be healed—there is indeed much to hope for!

I also recently recorded a podcast on dealing with depression with Dr. Jason Littleton. You can listen to the full interview here: Episode 35(also available on iTunes and Google Play)

  • Relationships. Although the technical age has helped improve the lives of many, technology such as social media can serve to increase our sense of isolation, and increase our desire to seek attention. We now have the world at our fingertips, yet, paradoxically, more and more of us live solitary, futile lives. We are more connected, literally, yet we are more isolated than ever before.    

We should all make an effort to communicate less with our phone or computer and more with those we love and are in community with. We should limit our time using technology, including social media, to certain hours of the day or certain days. The brain thrives in a dynamic and social atmosphere; the more we reach out to others, the more we improve our own mental and physical health.

Most importantly, we need to recognize that DMs, Tweets, commenting on someone’s Facebook wall, or liking an Instagram post is NOT the same as takingthe time to pick up the phone and call someone, or paying a visit to check in on a loved one-even if they seem "fine"

You can listen to my podcast on social media and the mind for more information.

"Often times, depression can mute or hinder someone’s ability to reach out. So if you do see someone struggling, REACH OUT! If you don’t see someone who used to be around, REACH OUT!" (Caissie St.Onge)

If you, or anyone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts call 1-800-273-8255

**This is informative and NOT individual medical advice. 

**DRUG WITHDRAWAL should ALWAYS be done under the supervision of a qualified professional. These drugs alter your brain chemistry, and withdrawal can be a difficult and painful process. There are thousands of patient-run sites on withdrawal from psychoactive substances on the Internet, and many books available in stores and online. We suggest you begin looking at the resources page on Mad in America or in Psychiatric Drug Withdrawal A Guide for Prescribers, Therapists, Patients, and Their Families(New York: Springer Pub. Co., 2013). 

**For renewing your mind and finding your identity please visit the 21 Day Brain Detox and Perfectly You programs. For my other products visit our online store at drleaf.com. 

**For general information on the current state of psychiatry please visit Mad in America

**If you or someone you know is being threatened with drug treatment please visit Psych Rights.

**To report any adverse psychotropic drug effects you have experienced, and for more detailed individual drug information, please visit Risk.


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