Is there a Millennial who survived teenage angst without Linkin Park?
The world is currently mourning the loss of the talented Chester Bennington. I am, too. And, ironically, last week I completed suicide prevention training.
The question feels as urgent as ever: How can we prevent suicide?
I work with college freshmen, and this population challenges me every day to look for signs and respond accordingly. But, if I’m honest, it feels like fish in a barrel: Suicide is the second leading cause of death on college campuses for individuals aged 18-24 years.
We all know that the transition to higher education – and adulthood, in general – is emotionally, physically, and spiritually complex. But the people we see every day in our jobs, neighborhoods, and activities? Not so easy.
First, humans are really good at keeping up appearances – pretending they have it all together. Admit it, you are just as guilty. It’s easier to hedge pain than confront it with other people, even when they care for us.
Second, we rarely go deep with people anymore. Social media and other digital-mediated relationships ensure we know the basics (even if only a polished version). As a result, we only act on what information is provided.
“I saw you changed jobs.”
“Your sweet girl is precious!”
“I’m sorry to see that your father passed.”
And, truly, we are increasingly busy and unable – or, worse, unwilling – to take the time the most rich relationships require.
Third, we have learned to value quantity over quality in relationships. If we buffer ourselves with abundant human resources across different spheres (work, community, church, hobbies, etc.), then we (1) maintain enough surface-level connections to help us in a future time of need and (2) prevent ourselves from the need to be accountable to any one person or group.
As a result, we can easily miss or misinterpret a cry for help.
But I do believe there is hope for turning the tide.
Here are 4 ways we can help prevent suicide in friends and family:
- Listen. Has there been a drastic change in behavior, mood, or language? Is there an overwhelming sense or withdrawal and resignation? Look for any sign of intent.
- Ask. When we respond to irregularities, we show that we care and that we love. As a college professor, it takes me at least one hour (on average) to penetrate the underlying struggles with which my students wrestle. For many young people, untreated depression is the driving force behind dark thoughts. Luckily, excellent treatment is available and most often within reach.
- Don’t fear the S-word. There is the widely-held belief that discussing “suicide” will only give fuel to the fire, but asking about suicidal thoughts doesn’t actually increase the risk. According to the QPR Institute, “[t]he vast majority of people want to live, if only they can be shown a way”. We can be that gateway.
- Assist. Hope in ANY form can prevent suicide. Remind the individual that they may feel or be physically alone, but not relationally. There may already be counselors and mental health professionals active in the person’s life, but there are also national resources available:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (24/7): 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Suicide Treatment Advocacy Center: 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433)
I think the worst we can do is fear, turn away, or remain silent.
But the best we can do is save another life.
One Year Ago: Frozen Joy