Is There More to the Story?
With the recent loss of two precious lives in my surrounding community, this topic is still heavy on my heart. This message is one I continue to feel compelled to share. I believe that our society’s perspective on mental health, suicide, and the stigma that surrounds it must change. We need to deal with it out in the open. This complex problem is all around us and we cannot continue to deny it or try to hide it any longer. The things we try to hide because we feel ashamed often end up holding us captive. The stigma of mental health and suicide is no different and if we ever hope to make a difference, we need to take a stand against it together. We need to take off the masks and get real with one another. We need to put our minds together and think outside the box if we want to overcome this daunting mountain.
I fully intend to give a voice to this topic by sharing my story, but my mission is to help find a way to reach people before they ever get into a crisis. Although losing my son to suicide is a big part of my story, it is only part of my story. For those who are struggling with mental health issues or difficult life circumstances, please remember that this is only part of your story. It is easy to allow it to define you, especially when your pain is overwhelming.
If prevention efforts are only aimed at recognizing those in crisis situations then those that may be well on their way may shrug it off thinking “well that doesn’t apply to me, I’m not in a crisis.” I believe our prevention methods need to be broader, responding to the way we think instead of just reacting to the warning signs of someone who may be suicidal. I believe our target audience needs to be all inclusive because this affects everyone, everywhere. I believe prevention needs to begin much sooner, well before a life-threatening situation is about to occur.
If the focus of suicide prevention is only on those who are in crisis, then I believe we are only looking at part of the issue. There is more to this story and we must step back, adjust our lens to see the whole picture and look at this mountain from a different angle. I believe we need to look at this with a panoramic lens if we want to rewrite this story. The warning signs we currently focus on are to help recognize red flags when someone is about to attempt to end their life. While this is a very important and necessary part of preventing suicide, I believe it is only a part of the story. What if we were able to recognize red flags before thoughts of suicide even entered into the picture? Is that even possible?
Brain research on neuroplasticity is revealing that our thoughts actually carve inroads into our minds as we allow them to continually travel down certain paths. Once they become well-worn paths it is easier and easier to remain on that pathway. It can be extremely dangerous and even deadly when we act on strong emotions fueled by faulty thinking. But what if the inroads made by unhealthy thoughts are laid well before suicidal ideation ever arises? Would it be possible to recognize this and then teach someone how to “carve out a fresh and unworn path for your thoughts to travel upon”? (1)
We must all be aware of the power of our thoughts. We must learn to recognize unhealthy thought patterns and proactively create new, healthy pathways in our brain. We must understand that the process of changing our thinking does not just happen; it takes effort and persistence. We must take hold of thoughts that lead to darkness, thoughts based on lies that are cleverly interwoven amongst the truth, disguised as solid ground. We must understand that our thoughts can be like a pit that has been dug out and camouflaged in the jungle to trap unsuspecting prey. Once you are caught in the snare, it is difficult to climb out on your own. Once you have fallen in there may be no one within earshot to hear your cries for help.
The truth is that we can change the way we think and build new roads, roads that are filled with light, roads that lead to a life filled with purpose, roads that lead to freedom and joy, even through life’s darkest storms.
Please know that I am not suggesting that recognizing lies we are believing and purposefully replacing them with truth is easy or simple because it is not. It is a daily, and sometimes minute by minute battle. I am not suggesting that this is the answer to a multifaceted problem, rather it is another part of the story. It is an avenue that I believe we should continue to explore further. Given what we are learning about the brain and our thoughts, it could be a powerful part of our weaponry against an enemy that is stealing our loved ones.
We must understand that we do not have the power to make someone else take hold of their thoughts. Losing someone to suicide brings a flood of “what-ifs” and “if onlys” to those left behind. These thoughts wage war against your mind and will rage mightily for a long time. My friend, these are lies that seek to harm you and rob you of peace. Fight those thoughts with all your might. Replace them with the truth as quickly as you are able. Do not allow them to overtake you. Those thoughts will not bring you any answers, they only bring emptiness and fan the flame to intensify your deep pain.
How I wish I had answers for those who are trying to help a loved one who is struggling. I do not have answers, but I can promise that I will continue to ask questions to provoke discussion and action on this topic in hopes that one day we will have better prevention, better care, and better outcomes.
God Bless you, my friend!
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(1) Bergland,Christopher. “How Do Neuroplasticity and Neurogenesis Rewire Your Brain? New research identifies how the birth of new neurons can reshape the brain.” Psychology Today. Feb 06, 2017