National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month: A Mindful Approach to Discussing Suicide

September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.  As a mental health professional and specialist in the area of suicide prevention and crisis response, this topic is very important to me and the work that I do.  Furthermore, my own personal battle with suicidal ideation and mental illness has enabled me the understanding and empathy needed to work with this challenging topic. 

Due to the cultural beliefs around suicide and mental illness as a whole, most people find it very challenging to share openly about their personal experience, not only about mental illness, but simply just about challenging times. People tend to think that difficult emotions and mental illness are a sign of weakness and inferiority, and we prefer to portray ourselves in a certain light, one that we feel is favorable to others.  Unfortunately, we also tend to believe that our self-worth and confidence is directly dependent on our successes and good fortunes.

Under these circumstances, why would we ever want to share openly about our pain and suffering?

It is here that we propagate the vicious cycle of stigma, shaming ourselves into pretending that nothing is wrong, covering up our wounds with the Band-Aids of distraction, and never fully allowing ourselves to heal. 

As challenging as it is to talk about, our willingness to discuss the topic of suicide is paramount to erasing stigma and getting help to those who may be suffering. 

It is your vulnerability and imperfections that make your strong, relatable, and worthy of your deepest heart’s needs and desires. 

A mindful approach to this discussion begins with radical acceptance that mental illness plagues all of us.  None are immune.  Whether you yourself experience the symptoms and behaviors of a mental disorder or not, you at least know someone who does. In fact, research shows that 1 in 3 people will have a psychiatric disorder in their lifetime (Kessler et al., 2004).

Just think about that for a moment.

A simple Acceptance and Commitment Therapy exercise to grasp this idea of prevalence of mental illness is to imagine every single person you know in your life.  Imagine that all these people are standing shoulder to shoulder in a very long line.  Now imagine that you are standing before this line of all the people you know.  See their faces, recall memories of activities with them, allow yourself to really see them and feel whatever emotions are brought up by your experiences with them.  Now imagine that you move through this line from the beginning and all the way to the end, counting every third person.  Recognizing that every third person is likely struggling with mental illness, and maybe even suicidal ideation. 

Imagine the magnitude of this. 

Be it directly or indirectly, we are all affected. 

The second piece of approaching this topic mindfully is to increase awareness about the automatic thoughts, emotions, and judgments that are brought up by the discussion of suicidality and mental illness.  It’s best to begin by using a mindfulness practice to connect to your breath and cultivate calm and stillness.  Naturally allow thoughts, emotions, and judgments to arise.  Simply label the thoughts, emotions, and judgments as you become aware of them.  Avoid any judgments about the thoughts or emotions.  Simply just allow them to be there without trying to change them in any way. 

Keeping this practice in mind, let’s discuss the myths commonly associated with suicide. 

Myth 1: It’s NOT “normal” to think about suicide.

Suicidal ideation, or thoughts about suicide, are fairly commonplace in the world of mental illness.  The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that “more than 9 million adults reported thinking about suicide in the past year” and “more than 1 million adults reported making a suicide attempt in the past year.”  Furthermore, the CDC reports that suicide is the 10th leading cause of death among Americans, putting up there near Heart Disease, Cancer, and Stroke.  However, this number drastically increases when reviewing suicide among certain age groups, particularly our youth, such that suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death among ages 10-14 years old and the 2nd leading cause of death among ages 15- 34 years old.

Myth 2: Those who commit suicide don’t warn others.

Often there are many warning signs that are communicated verbally or non-verbally by someone who is considering suicide.  These can include the following:

·      Excessive moodiness or mood swings.

·      Severe anxiety and agitation.

·      Changes is personality or having a sudden sense of peace.

·      A loss of sense of purpose or meaning in life.

·      Severe hopelessness and worthlessness.

·      Experiencing a recent crisis or trauma. 

·      Withdrawal from friends, family, work, and responsibilities.

·      Reckless, acting out behaviors, that are often risky in nature (i.e. promiscuity, substance abuse, excessive spending, socially inappropriate behaviors, etc.).

·      Self-harming behaviors (i.e. cutting, burning, hitting head, etc.).

·      Overt discussion and questions or preoccupation with death and dying.

·      Making preparations and getting their business in order (i.e. creating a will, giving away possessions, cleaning house, etc).

·      Making passive statements such as, “I wish I wasn’t here.” Or “I can’t do this anymore.”

Myth 3: Those who talk about suicide are just attention seeking.

As mentioned above, people who are thinking about suicide often send out warning signs, trying to communicate their distress, as well as to seek help.  This is not merely attention seeking as a way to boost self-esteem and self-worth.  Rather, these individuals are crying out for help by seeking care and understanding from others, as well as a way to managing their difficult emotions.   

Myth 4:  People who think about committing suicide want to die.

People who think about commit suicide often DON’T want to die, rather they want to find a way to end their pain.  Hopelessness and despair, a common symptom of depression and anxiety, is the thought or feeling that pain and sadness will never go away.  Individuals experiencing hopelessness often feel paralyzed by their suffering and believing that the only way to end it is by result of their death. 

Myth 5: Suicide is selfish.

Another common symptom of depression and anxiety is worthlessness, which is just the opposite of selfishness. Worthlessness leaves people believing that are no good, not deserving of love, and that the world would be better off without them.  People who struggle with thoughts of suicide almost always feel useless, insignificant, and unimportant. 

Myth 6: Symptoms of mental illness, such as thoughts of suicide, are strictly due to a chemical imbalance.

Although it is true that some mental health symptoms, such as suicidality, may be due to a chemical imbalance, this is not always true.  Research shows that other times mental illness may be caused by some combination of medical problems, genetic vulnerabilities, situational experiences, trauma, poor mood regulation, and a heightened arousal to stress (Harvard Health Publications, 2009).

Myth 7: Talking about suicide with someone who is showing warning signs may encourage them to attempt suicide.

Asking someone about suicide does not assist them in any way in carrying out their thoughts or plan.  If anything, the more you can assert yourself in inquiry about suicidal ideation, the more likely you will be viewed as a strong support who will not be easily scared away.  If you observe the warning signs of someone’s potential suicide, get talking with them.  Ask them questions. This will allow you to learn more about their experience, express your concern and empathy, and work with the individual to create a safety plan for their care and wellbeing.

One final mindful approach to this topic is to take care of yourself. 

Suicide is a very difficult topic that can cause secondary trauma to the supportive others and helpers.  In discussing this, you will naturally rouse personal thoughts, feelings, and judgments that may be very challenging and may lead to your own feelings of sadness, anger, helplessness, exhaustion, or burnout. 

Begin to take care of yourself by cultivating a self-care practice, including unplugging from technology, using mindfulness to connect to your 5 senses and find stillness, getting some exercise, getting out in nature, developing a gratitude practice, or giving back to your community.  Please see my article here for more tips of developing a self-care practice.

Lastly, check out the resources below for more assistance:

  • 911- Crisis emergency assistance
  • 211- Los Angeles County Community Resrouces
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
  • National Suicide Prevention Line: 1-800-273-8255
  • Los Angeles County DMH Access Line: 1-800-854-7771

Parenthood Prep Presents Sexy Self-Care: Mindfulness for Parents and Caregivers

Feel a little run down in your parenting or caregiving skills?  If so, Parenthood Prep has the perfect solution for you........

Sexy Self-Care!

You need it.  I need it.

Let's get it on!

I am so happy and honored to have been a part of this video series to help inspire parents to get their sexy back.  In my episode we talk about mindfulness and how this can help caregivers to manage their stress and difficult emotions so they can increase awareness and be fully available for their loved ones.

Here are some of the tips we discuss further in the video:

- connect with your breathe and physical body

- less doing, more being

- practice self-love

- make mindfulness a daily practice

- present moment awareness can increase the quality of life and improve relationships

Mindfulness 101: Mindfulness Jars

Mindfulness is paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally, to the unfolding of experience moment to moment.
— Jon Kabat-Zinn

I feel there is a lot of confusion about mindfulness out there, but this quote by Jon Kabat- Zinn sums it up best.  Don't think about it too much, just remember that mindfulness is more of an experience rather than a concept.  If you are willing, mindfulness doesn't have to conflict with any of your beliefs, schemas, perceptions, or opinions in any way.  Mindfulness can be a gentle addition to any and all of these and, when given a chance, is likely to enhance your life in a positive way, particularly if you or your children struggle with high stress, overwhelm, inattention, hyperactivity, impulsivity, physical pain, ruminating thoughts, anxiety and worry, addiction, poor motivation, and/or mood instability.

I guess what I am trying to do here is to get your 'buy in,' so to speak. 

My number one difficulty in teaching mindfulness to clients is just helping them to be open to the experience.  I find that many people fear that mindfulness is a kind of cultish ritual, or hippy religion that they are going to have to adopt by abandoning their beliefs and completely changing their outlook on the world.  I mean, I guess you could use mindfulness in this way if you wanted to, but this is certainly not my intention when teaching mindfulness to clients, nor my intention when I use mindfulness in my personal practice.

I invite you to open your mind and consider the possibility of mindfulness being a sweet and gentle tool that you can use to improve your health and wellness.  Try this on for size and see how it works for you.....

So to get started, let's use a simple metaphor and DIY craft to help you grasp the intention of mindfulness in a cerebral and visual way. 

Anyone who knows me well, know how much I love crafting, so these Mindfulness Jars are a marriage of my two favorite things, crafting and meditation!   Also, this craft is super easy to do and a great way to introduce mindfulness to your kids.  In this way you can promote wellness for the whole family!

Materials:

  • One mason jar of any size (I used the half-pint size here)
  • Hot glue gun and glue sticks
  • Small figurine, something that will fit inside of the mason jar with room to spare on all sides.  I used this fun little gnome!
  • Glitter of any color
  • Tap water

Instructions:

First begin by filling your mason jar with regular tap water.  Test out how much water you will need by placing the figurine (the gnome) inside the water, as the water will rise when you do.  Make sure to leave some space in the jar because you will also add quiet a lot of glitter.

Once you have the right amount of water, you will then use your hot glue gun to glue your figurine to the underside of the mason jar lid.   Place a good amount of glue at the bottom of the figurine.  Then gently place the figurine in the center of the underside of the lid.  Hold in place until the glue has cooled.  Set aside and let dry completely.

Now you will add the glitter to your mason jar filled with water.  Pour glitter into the jar, on top of the water.  You will use quite a lot of glitter.  I used about half a bottle, until there was about an inch and a half of glitter sitting on top of the water.

Once the figurine is completely dry and cooled, you are going to place the lid onto the mason jar, as you regularly would.  Be careful no water or glitter spill out.  If so, you will need to pour some out to make room for the figurine.  Make sure the lid is securely fastened and then tip your mason jar upside down and voilà!  Mindfulness Jar complete!


Now let's pretend the mason jar is your mind and the glitter is the thousands of thoughts, feelings, and emotions that swirl around in your head all day.  When these thoughts, feelings, and emotions (glitter) start swirling around your mind (mason jar) you may feel stressed, overwhelmed, fearful, confused, depressed, agitated, distracted, or a combination of any of these things.  Also, notice that when these thoughts, feelings, and emotions (glitter) are swirling about, it is really hard to stay focus on any one thing (the gnome) as these cloud your ability to focus on what really matters, such as your work, tasks, relationships, wellbeing, etc.

When you engage in mindfulness and pay attention to what is happening in the moment, gently watching the thoughts, feelings, and emotions (glitter) swirling, noticing your breath, sitting in stillness, becoming aware of the physical sensations in your body, allowing things to unfold naturally without trying to change anything, suspending all judgment, you may begin to notice that the thoughts, feelings, and emotions (glitter) start to slowly settle until you are able to see more clearly and your mind (mason jar) becomes calm.  With a calm mind you are able to focus on what is important so that you may feel more relaxed, improve your concentration, be able to make better decisions, and feel a sense of peace or wellbeing.

 

Try it out now.  Take a minute to watch the very short video below for a brief demonstration of the basic principles of mindfulness...