Category Archives: Personal Reflections

Wanted: A Conservative Candidate for President

John Prof 2018Not long ago, on This American Life, Bill Kristol, conservative journalist and #NeverTrumper (not to be confused with the comedian Billy Crystal), touted the benefits of having a legitimate contender in the republican primaries. He acknowledged former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld’s candidacy, but I’m guessing Mr. Kristol was hoping for someone with more firepower, and maybe someone not named Bill. Naturally, after engaging in self-reflection, I immediately concluded that Bill Kristol must be thinking of me.

But why me?

Because watching me dance around Donald “Old Man” Trump in a debate, would be a #NeverTrumper’s fantasy. I’d be floating like helium and stinging like a scorpion. Because I’m a shrink, it would take me an estimated microsecond to get under Trump’s microscopically thin orange skin to reveal his huge—never seen bigger—INSECURITIES.

I’m already practicing a coughing routine; at this point, I automatically cough whenever I hear his voice. Just ask Mick Mulvaney how much Trump likes people coughing while he’s talking. I can see Trump responding to my coughing fit like an old man with uncontrollable tremors.

Speaking of Trump being an old man, I’d casually and repeatedly make note of the fact that I’m younger, stronger, fitter, and a better golfer than he is. Me being a better golfer than Trump might be a lie, but I’d still challenge him to a televised round of golf (if only to have America watch him cheat). I’d also challenge him and his sagging body to be video recorded as we meet with his physician to undergo simultaneous physical exams.

Although it’s probably unnecessary, I’d show off how much BIGGER my IQ score is, first by pointing out that anybody who knows anything about IQs, never says IQ, they always say “IQ score.” Duh, Donald! Then I’d challenge him to a spelling bee, wherein the first word would be “conservative” and the dunce that is the Donald won’t even be able to spell it, let alone act like one. Just in case he’s lucky and gets it right, the second word would be “unprecedented.”

My conservative street cred dwarfs Donald’s. He’s a weak old man who knows more about bankruptcy than he does about balancing budgets. That’s not conservative. During the debate, just before dropping the mic, I’d drop the fact that I’ve never declared bankruptcy, that I don’t live on debt, and that I’ve proportionately made way more money than he has (and I’m way younger than he is and so I’ll just keep on making money and paying taxes for far longer than he’ll be making money and not paying taxes).

Sadly, Trump puts his mental weakness on display daily. That’s not a conservative quality. He can’t resist lashing out at anyone who doesn’t worship his beautiful bleach-blonde hair. Trump insults everyone from Gold Star families to porn stars to people who suffer from mental disabilities. Strong people don’t do that. Real conservatives don’t do that. He’s. Not. Even. Close. To. Conservative.

Growing up I learned of conservative principles of integrity and self-discipline. Conservative people have excellent self-control, and lead by example.

Lead by example? Trump is every parents’ nightmare role model. Can you imagine having an Uncle Donald Trump? You’d be hiding the kids when he came to visit. Who wants to raise a weak-minded bully who cheats on his wife and whose buddies are mostly criminals? Trump’s whole behavioral palette is the antithesis of traditional conservative values. Anybody want to argue that one? Anybody? Kristol?

How about me?

I’m an old-fashioned conservative. I believe in practical solutions to personal, national, and world problems.

I live by conservative values, including honesty, respect for others’ freedoms, and a commitment to fairness and the rule of law. I want a level playing field for everyone, recognizing that for too long the field has been tilted in favor of white, wealthy, and the politically connected. Speaking of playing fields BTW, I played college football, the sport of conservatives. What sport has Trump ever played, besides golf on the taxpayer’s dime?

I’m all about Christian, Jewish, and Eastern religious values. I attend church more often than Donald. My favorite Christian value is “Love thy neighbor as thyself” . . . which is clearly NOT Trump’s favorite Christian value; he doesn’t believe in loving thy neighbor, unless the neighbor happens to be a playboy bunny or porn star.

To the best of my knowledge, which, during our debate, I would quickly point out is better than the best of Donald’s knowledge, Jesus said something about treating children with great care and compassion. Maybe Trump didn’t get the memo about Jesus loving the poor or the story about the Good Samaritan? Maybe he never listened to the voice mail Jesus left for him about not separating children from their parents and putting them in cages. In case the debate audience didn’t get the point, I’d make it clear: cages aren’t Christian, and cages aren’t conservative.

Unlike Trump, I’ve got a plan to reduce abortion rates (hint: it involves education, career opportunities, and libertarian values, not degradation of women and their personal freedoms).

Unlike Trump, I’ve got an environmental plan for an economic stimulus. Even Ronald Reagan knew you couldn’t tax cut the country to prosperity. Believe me, my economic policies would be more sophisticated than giving tax breaks to the wealthy, slapping on tariffs to raise prices for Americans, and pissing off our allies.

Unlike Trump, I’m pro-education. I wouldn’t appoint a wealthy, dull donor who hates education and has never stepped into a public school as my Secretary of Education. I’d follow the guidance of John Adams, a white, Christian, who also happened to be the second U.S. President. President Adams said that when it comes to the education of low income youth, “no expense for this purpose would be thought extravagant.”

Unlike Trump, I’m not racist, I don’t call countries “shitholes” or Tweet weird statements about “pig’s blood” or pitch my tent in white supremacist territory. I think most Americans and conservatives would appreciate a straight-up conversation about racism. We’re not a racist nation, and I’d make that point, and then make it again, and then I’d make it again.

Unlike Trump, I’ve got a foreign policy that involves something other than slumming with dictators. That alone should be a relief to bona fide conservatives. Because I’ll be taking a conservative approach, photo ops in North Korea and off-the-books meetings with Putin will not be part of my presidential foreign policy agenda.

In conclusion, let me say:

“Hey Bill Kristol, if you’re reading this, give me a call. I’m ready to be Trump’s biggest nightmare (next to you, of course). I’m happy to volunteer; it’s an easy job, especially because Trump is so old, weak, feeble, and liberal.”

Interested in Exercise for Treating Depression in Adolescents? Check out the DATE study!

Half Marathon 2019

Common sense, clinical intuition, non-experimental research studies, and most sentient beings all support the likelihood that physical exercise can reduce depressive symptoms.

But, to the best of my knowledge, only one, very small, randomized controlled study of exercise for treating major depressive disorder in youth has ever been conducted. This study was nicknamed the DATE study (the Depression in Adolescence Treated with Exercise study by Hughes, Barnes, Barnes, DeFina, Nakonezny, & Emslie, and published in 2013 in a journal called, Mental Health and Physical Activity).

A brief review of the DATE study provides a glimpse into the potential of exercise as an intervention for treating depression in youth.

The DATE study randomized youth ages 12 – 18 years into an aerobic/cardio group (n = 16) vs. a stretching group (n =14). Although participants exercised independently and were given a variety of exercise alternatives (they could use Wii or Jazzercize, that’s right Jazzercize), both groups were involved in 12 weeks of rigorously monitored three times weekly exercise treatment protocols.

The results were statistically and clinically significant, with the aerobic condition showing remarkably fast responses and achieving a 100% response rate (86% complete depression remission). The stretching group improved more slowly, but also had a significant positive response (67% clinical response rate; 50% complete depression remission).

Now you might be thinking, that sounds pretty good, but how do those results compare with response rates from established medical treatments, like Prozac?

The authors shared that information. They reported that documented response rates in comparable fluoxetine (Prozac) studies with youth, showed, on average, about a 52% (Prozac) and 37% (placebo) response rate. Just to be clear, let’s put those results in order of which treatment looks best:

  1. Aerobic Exercise = 100% response rate
  2. Stretching = 67% response rate
  3. Prozac = 52% response rate
  4. Placebo – 37% response rate

But the authors didn’t stop there.

They noted that although Prozac shows beneficial treatment effects, clients who take Prozac and other antidepressants commonly experience uncomfortable side effects and occasional health-threatening adverse events. How do you suppose the exercise and stretch groups compared?

No big surprise here: They experienced ZERO side effects and ZERO adverse events.

In summary, the DATE study authors reported that, compared to antidepressant medication treatment with adolescents, exercise resulted in (a) a faster response rate, (b) a better response rate, (c) fewer relapses (n = 0) at six and 12 month follow-ups, and (d) zero side effects or adverse events (Hughes et al., 2103).

But here’s the kicker. Who exactly were these researchers?

This is my favorite part. The researchers were extremely high level and prestigious academics who primarily conduct pharmaceutical research. One of them was the guy responsible for the clinical studies that led to FDA approval of Prozac for treating youth with depression (Graham Emslie). The two biggest names on the study have repeatedly been funded by Eli Lilly, GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer, and many more. The DATE study was funded by NIH.

Sadly, the DATE study hasn’t been replicated. I can’t find any new RCTs on exercise for  depression among adolescents. When I told this to Rita, she just quipped, “That’s probably because the authors were murdered by pharmaceutical companies in some back alley.”

I hope not. Because, to summarize, the DATE study supports the systematic use of exercise in youth with depressive symptoms OVER and INSTEAD OF antidepressants.

Who knew?

Just about everyone.

Inspiring Cooperation in Your Children

Moose

**Photo courtesy of the amazing Dudley Dana**

As Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong sang in 1957, it’s “Summer time and the living is easy.”

In fact, if you’re a parent living on planet Earth (or the Missoula valley) and you’re trying to regulate your children’s access to electronic devices, the living may not be easy; it may be infuriating.

Way back in 1998-2000 I had a biweekly Missoulian parenting column. One of the most popular columns I ever wrote was about a popular and challenging phenomenon among children in 1999. It started . . .

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Here’s a quick parenting quiz.

Question: “How do you spell opportunity?”

Answer: “P-O-K-E-M-O-N.”

As if you didn’t know, Pokemon paraphernalia – the movie, action figures, and yes, Pokemon trading cards – are red hot items among many grade-school children.  Some adults question whether Pokemon obsessions are healthy.  Others contend that Pokemon monsters are evil.  Still others fuel their children’s Pokemon desire through unchecked spending.

When parents ask for my professional opinion about the Pokemon phenomenon, I put on my psychologist face.  I cradle my chin in my hand and look upward in a sort of reflective way.  Then I slowly speak Latin (not bothering to mention that I’m using ½ of my Latin vocabulary).  I say,

“Carpe Diem!”

Then, just in case the person I’m talking with speaks even less Latin than I do, I repeat myself in English.

“Seize the day!”

This is a precious moment in history.  We have at our fingertips – thanks to Pokemon monsters – frequent, repeating, and unparalleled parenting opportunities.

It doesn’t matter whether your child is into Pokemon, Furbys, Heavy Metal music, whining, or chocolate, limit-setting issues will undoubtedly arise.  And limit-setting is absolutely essential.  Parents must set limits — because their children won’t.

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Here’s the new question: If Pokemon monsters were all-the-rage and immensely challenging back in 1999, what monstrosities are plaguing Montana parents THIS SUMMER??

Cell phones and other electronic devices!

Even though your children’s relationships with their electronic devices is filled with crazy-making energy for parents, I deeply believe that my carpe diem advice from the 1990s still stands. All this points to using knowledge about your child, limit-setting, and logical consequences to transform the pain of dealing with electronic devices into the pleasure of having well-adjusted children.

If you want to take advantage of your child’s obsessions, consider making a short list of mutually agreeable rules (based on your family values or principles). For example:

  • Tell your child that rule violations will result in a warning or consequence
  • Follow-through and use empathy as appropriate
  • Remember that children need to learn from mistakes
  • If your child throws a fit or behaves aggressively, NEVER give in

Here’s an electronic device limit-setting example:

Let’s say you’ve talked with your son or daughter and decided that everyone in your family needs time free from all electronic devices. You make it clear that there will be no phones (or other devices) during family meals, during family chores, and during the hour before bedtime. The agreed upon consequence for violating this rule might be something like loss of phone privileges for 6 hours (if you make the consequence small, it will be easier for you to enforce and easier for your child to comply without completely freaking out). Then, if your child violates the rule, you can either give a warning-reminder (“I notice your phone is out. Please put it away or I will put it in our family phone lock-box”) or simply remind your child of the house rule and put the phone in the lock-box.

The cool thing about giving your children warnings is that it gives them a chance to change or improve their behavior. If, upon being warned, your child puts the phone away, you can praise the excellent decision-making by saying something like, “I noticed you put your phone away when I gave you the warning.” If your child makes a poor decision and temporarily loses phone privileges, then you can be empathic and encouraging, “I’m sorry you lost your phone for a while. That’s must feel upsetting. I bet you’ll make a better choice next time.”

Rather than droning on about the virtues of limit-setting to teach your children well, I’m stopping here to point out yet another fantastic opportunity.

The featured Practically Perfect Parenting episode of this week is creatively titled, Inspiring Cooperation in Your Children. And so, for more fun and entertaining information on this parenting topic, you can go to one of the following links.

On Libsyn: https://practicallyperfectparenting.libsyn.com/

On Apple: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/practically-perfect-parenting-podcast/id1170841304

As always, feel free to comment, share, like, or shun this blog and the accompanying podcast.

Four Suicide Myths (and Truths) — Part I

Let’s start with a myth and a truth.

Myth: Rita bought me a pair of “Joker” pants (as in Batman). I think wearing them will make me funnier.

Truth: Wearing them makes me look funny, but they don’t actually make me funnier.

Joker Pants

The word “myth” has two primary meanings.

A myth is a traditional or popular story or legend used to explain current cultural beliefs and practices. This definition emphasizes the positive guidance that myths sometimes provide. For example, the Greek myth of Narcissus warns that excessive preoccupation with one’s own beauty can become dangerous. Whether or not someone named Narcissus ever existed is irrelevant; the story tells us that too much self-love can lead to our own downfall.

The word myth is also used to describe an unfounded idea, or false notion. Typically, the false notion gets spread around and, over time, becomes a generally accepted, but inaccurate, popular belief. One contemporary example is the statement, “Lightning never strikes the same place twice.” In fact, lightning can and does strike the same place twice (or more). During an electrical storm, standing on a spot where lightning has already struck, isn’t a good safety strategy. . . and wearing “Joker” pants won’t necessarily make you funnier.

The statement “We only use 10% of our brains” is another common myth. Although it’s likely that most of us can and should more fully engage our brains, scientific researchers (along with the Mythbusters television show) have shown that much more than 10% of our brains are active most of the time—and probably even when we’re sleeping.

False myths stick around for much longer than they should, sometimes they stick around despite truckloads of contradictory evidence. As humans, we like easy explanations, especially if we find them personally meaningful or affirming. Never mind if they’re accurate or true.

Not long ago I was discussing sex education with a group of teenagers. Several of them reported—with great confidence—that if a woman is on top during intercourse she can’t get pregnant.

“How might that work?” I asked.

“Gravity,” the leader explained. The rest of group nodded in agreement. “Sperm can’t swim uphill.”

Immediately, I tried to dispute their gravitational theory of birth control. To me, their belief in a birth control myth would likely lead to unhappy outcomes. But the teenagers held their ground.

Historically, myths were passed from individuals to groups and other individuals via word of mouth. Later, print media was used to more efficiently communicate ideas, both factual and mythical. Today we have the internet and instant mythical messaging.

Unfortunately, some myths are used for political or financial gain. Other myths, like the gravitational theory of birth control, lead to unplanned and adverse outcomes. Today, primarily through the internet, people are pummeled with information, misinformation, and outright lies. Despite amazing scientific, psychological, and technical progress, sorting fact from fiction remains an enormous challenge.

Suicide myths weren’t and aren’t designed to intentionally mislead; mostly (although there are some exceptions) they’re not about pushing a political agenda or selling specific products. Instead, suicide myths are the product of dedicated, well-intended people whose passion for suicide prevention sometimes outpaces their knowledge of suicide-related facts.

In some cases, people believe so hard in certain suicide myths that they cling to and defend their myths, even when the myths have become dysfunctional and even in the face of substantial contrary logical and empirical evidence. Thinking back to the teenagers and their gravitational theory of birth control, I recall their response to my scientific rebuttal. One of them said, “Well. Maybe so, but that’s what I heard, and it still makes sense to me. Even if sperm can swim uphill, gravity must make it harder to get a woman pregnant if she’s on top.”

When suicide (or birth control) myths take on a life of their own despite contradictory evidence, it’s usually because the myths have deep emotional roots or because people have an incentive that motivates them to hang on to their mythical beliefs.

Depending on your perspective, experiences, and your knowledge base, it’s possible that my list of suicide myths will push your emotional buttons. Maybe you were taught that “suicide is 100% preventable.” Or maybe you believe that suicidal thoughts or impulses are inherently signs of deviance or a mental disturbance. If so, as I argue against these myths, you might find yourself resisting my perspective. That’s perfectly fine. The ideas that I’m labeling as unhelpful myths have been floating around in the suicide prevention world for a long time; there’s likely emotional and motivational reasons for that. Also, I don’t expect you to immediately agree with everything in this book. However, I hope you’ll give me a chance to make the case against these myths, mostly because I believe that hanging onto them is unhelpful to suicide assessment and prevention efforts.

In this chapter, I list the four myths and provide brief descriptions. Read them, see what you think, and notice your reactions. In the next 4 chapters, we’ll dive deeper into evidence against these myths, why they’re potentially destructive, and alternative ways to think about suicide and suicide prevention.

Myth #1: Suicidal thoughts are about death and dying.

Most people assume that suicidal thoughts are about death and dying. It seems like a no-brainer: Someone has thoughts about death, therefore, the thoughts must be about death.

But the truth isn’t always how it appears from the surface. The human brain is complex. Thoughts about death may not be about death itself.

Let’s look at a parallel example. Couples who come to counseling often have conflicts about money. One partner likes to spend and the other is serious about saving. From the surface, you might mistakenly assume that when couples have conflicts about money, the conflicts are about money—dollars, cents, spending, and saving. However, romantic relationships are complex, which is why money conflicts are usually about other issues, like love, power, and control. Nearly always there are dynamics bubbling under the surface that fuel couples’ conflicts over money.

Truth #1: Among suicidologists and psychotherapists, the consensus is clear: suicidal thoughts and impulses are less about death and more about a natural human response to intense emotional and psychological distress. I use the term, excruciating distress to describe the intense emotional misery that nearly always accompanies the suicidal state of mind.

Continuing the Trapper Creek Job Corps Magic

The RoadLast night’s (6/19/2019) news that Trapper Creek and the other Civilian Conservation Corps Job Corps will stay open is good news for everyone. Cutting Trapper Creek would have made little sense. Job Corps builds on common sense and conservative principles: Young Americans experiencing poverty need what Job Corps offers, “A hand up, not a hand-out.”

For 11 years I dodged deer and Bitterroot drivers on the 140 mile round trip from Missoula to work as a mental health consultant at Trapper Creek. From the moment I started back in 2003, I was hooked on Job Corps. I got hooked the same way most Job Corps employees get hooked. Helping young people turn their lives around is deeply fulfilling. I’m thrilled that the Trapper Creek magic will continue.

At Trapper, many students told me grim stories of their lives before Job Corps. These stories included school failure, chronic delinquency, gang and family violence, residential treatment, alcoholic black-outs, psychiatric hospitalization, foster care, parental suicides, and desperation so disturbing that teenagers regularly talked of putting the barrel of a gun into their mouths or a bottle of pills into their stomachs.

Trapper Creek magic often worked quickly. Students who came in on heavy doses of psychiatric medications were often medication-free in 3-6 months. Somehow, three meals a day, a safe place to live, being around adults who set limits and provided encouragement, opportunities for education, vocational training, and recreational pursuits accomplished the unlikely: mental disorders simply went away.

In one (of many) cases I treated a young man whose nightmares of a violent past were keeping him up at night. He showed up. We got to work. After 10 minutes, I stopped and asked him to reflect on his experience.

He turned his head back and forth and said, “My neck doesn’t hurt anymore.”

Then he grinned, “I feel like I can breathe again.”

And then, “I wish I’d known about this ten years ago.”

My favorite Job Corps scene was at an evening recreation event. I invited two counseling interns to stay late and attend “Trapper-Idol.” A man named “Fergie,” the recreation director, organized a talent show like you’ve never seen.

A short, stocky blonde girl stepped up to the microphone. She squeaked through a solo singing performance. She was completely vulnerable. My interns and I ached with anxiety for her. But we didn’t understand how Trapper-Idol worked. As she finished, the crowd of about 50 Job Corps students leapt to their feet, shouting and clapping in support. She bowed, walking off the stage to a series of hugs and high-fives.

On the drive home my interns and I couldn’t stop replaying the event. None of the performers had much talent, but they stepped up, performed, and were greeted with enthusiastic acceptance. We marveled at the therapeutic magic. These young people—young people who were never cool in school—got to have a health experience of social support and acceptance.

The Trapper-Idol experience is a microcosm of Trapper Creek magic. Students don’t have to be perfect—and they aren’t. What they have to do is show up, stand up, face their doubts, manage their behavior, and get to work.

I’m ecstatic that Trapper Creek didn’t die a cruel bureaucratic death. I’m happy for the community and for the Trapper employees. But mostly, I’m thrilled for the current and future students. Trapper Creek isn’t perfect, but for many students who have experienced poverty, it’s a balm of opportunity . . . and it’s one of the ways we can invest our tax dollars in America’s future.

Now I’m hoping for more Trapper Creek magic for decades to come.

What Is a Strength-Based Approach to Suicide Prevention?

Sommers FB 44

Suicide—as a thought, word, or action—usually triggers fear and judgment. Even though suicidal thoughts are common and suicidal behaviors have been part of humanity from as far back as anyone can recall, to think or talk of suicide is saturated with shame and judgment. A strength-based model for suicide prevention is about shifting attitudes toward suicide from negative judgment to compassion and lovingkindness.

Most people who think about suicide are sensitive, intelligent, and self-critical. Typically, they’re judging themselves in negative ways; sometimes they experience self-hatred. All this adds up to the main proposition underlying a strength-based approach to suicide prevention: Because individuals who feel suicidal are already burying themselves in harsh judgments and negativity, what they need from others is empathy for their pain, reassurance that suicidal thoughts are a nearly universal part of human experience, compassion, help for coping with their excruciating psychological distress, and a more or less relentless focus on the positive.

No More Mental Illness and No More Moral Shaming

In 1973, Edwin Shneidman, wrote the Encyclopedia Britannica’s definition of suicide: “Suicide is not a disease (although there are those who think so); it is not, in the view of the most detached observers, an immorality.” Shneidman—often referred to as the father of suicidology (the study of suicide)—capture two harsh judgments popularly linked to suicide: Mental or moral illness. As advocates for suicide prevention, we need to doggedly follow Shneidman’s lead, and show acceptance of the mental and moral condition of people experiencing suicidality.

I like this next quotation from Nanea Hoffman. I’m not sure it fits here, but because this post is about being strength-based when thinking and talking about suicide, and this is my blog and I can include what I want, here it is:

“None of us are getting out of here alive . . . so please stop treating yourself like an afterthought. Eat the delicious food. Walk in the sunshine. Jump in the ocean. Say the truth you’re carrying in your heart like hidden treasure. Be silly. Be kind. Be weird. There’s no time for anything else.” – Nanea Hoffman

Shame surrounding suicide has a long history. By 1000 B.C. most ancient city-states had criminalized suicide. People who died from suicide were sometimes dragged through the streets to enhance their shame and possibly as deterrence for others. Around 400 A.D., Saint Augustine declared suicide an unrepentable sin. I’m not quite sure how that works because I’m guessing that Christian theology would hold up God as the authority on what’s repentable and what’s not repentable.

Contemporary suicide-related policies continue to link shame and suicide. When students die from suicide, many U.S. schools follow a “no memorializing” policy. In New Zealand, the media is prohibited from using the word suicide when reporting on suicide deaths. Most families, when struggling to write obituaries for family members who died by suicide, replace the word suicide with “died suddenly” or some other vague explanation. In an online article, Charlotte Maya wrote of the first time she was able to speak of her husband’s suicide:

“The first time I spoke publicly was about a year and a half after Sam’s death. In many ways, I think Sam would have been appalled. After all, he did not speak a word of his struggles out loud – not to a therapist, not to his friends, not to me. There is so much shame.”

Charlotte is right; there is so much shame. To avoid shame, many people, institutions, and nations have decided that—like Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter series—suicide is the thing that must not be named.

But it should be named; if we don’t talk about it, the shame linked to suicide grows more powerful, more frightening, and less well understood. It should be named because, hundreds of thousands of people around the world are dying by suicide every year, perhaps dying in shame, perhaps dying unnecessarily, and always leaving loved ones behind who pick up on the theme of shame and begin experiencing it themselves. If we don’t talk openly about suicide, we cannot address it effectively.

Shaming people for thinking about suicide, or for making a suicide attempt, or for completing suicide, magnifies the problem. Shaming people for their suicidal thoughts only makes them less likely to speak openly about their thoughts. And, as in the case of Charlotte Maya’s husband, remaining quiet about emotional pain is linked to tragic outcomes. When people who are suicidal shutter themselves in their private worlds, the suicidal pain and distress doesn’t diminish or evaporate; instead, being alone with suicidal thoughts usually deepens hopelessness and grows desperation, both of which contribute directly to death by suicide.

Shaming individuals who are suicidal is like pouring fuel on an open fire. Suicidal people already feel immense shame. There’s no need to add more. Besides, shaming isn’t an effective deterrent. Further, as I’ll elaborate on later, suicidal thoughts aren’t primarily about death anyway. If our goal is to save lives, there’s a different and more useful emotion to link with suicide.

Instead of shame, the word suicide should evoke compassion—compassion for people who were or are so distressed that they have contemplated or completed suicide; compassion for people who lost someone they loved to suicide; compassion for ourselves, during times when we’re in psychological pain and naturally have thoughts about suicide.

I’ll be writing more about this in the future and so I’ll summarize here. What people who are suicidal need from others includes:

  • Empathy for their pain
  • Reassurance that suicidal thoughts are a nearly universal part of human experience
  • Compassion
  • Help for coping with their excruciating psychological distress
  • A more or less relentless focus on the positive (to help counter their feelings of hopelessness)

Last night I had a chance to engage in a delightful discussion of the strength-based approach with a small group of amazing people at Big Sky, Montana. Thanks to Robin and Jacque for setting that up. As a part of our time together, I flipped through a set of powerpoints. Here are the powerpoints, in case you’re interested: Big Sky Public Lecture 2019