First off, thanks for welcoming me. I’m so happy to be here. I’ve advocated for mental health for years now after realizing my own struggle and for empathetically stepping into the shoes of those who don’t quite know how to find their voices yet. Paul has done such a wonderful job with these things on Dear Hope. You all have done a wonderful job in fighting your own struggles and doing what you can to find your places and raise awareness. For this, I thank you immensely. Change starts with emotions and ideas. Fires start from sparks. The smallest seeds grow into the largest trees, and you are all much larger seeds thank you actually think you are. Your potential is endless and I hope that we here at Dear Hope can help you realize that.
On that totally hopeful and optimistic note, let’s discuss something I’ve dealt with lately-suicide.
Now, the intent of education is not to sugar coat. The world is unfortunately not covered in chocolate frosting. Negative and detrimental issues exist both in our society and on a global scale.
Suicide is one of these issues.
Helping lead the attack against mental health stigma on my campus as an officer in Active Minds, I’ve been reading vastly about the correlation between college students and suicidal ideation this past month, given that it was Suicide Awareness Month. This has been such a tough subject to tackle both personally and as a campus. Even for those of us who do not struggle with suicidal ideation or are triggered by the topic, it is never something emotionally easy to ponder. Many of us have struggled. Many have family or friends that have struggled. Many like to take the subject and push it out of conscious thought because well, let’s face it, it’s not an easy subject to think about heavily.
Unfortunately, ignoring it won’t make it go away. Speaking specifically for the college population, suicide is the second most frequent method of death. According to recent studies, somewhere between seven and eight percent of both undergrads and graduate students have seriously considered suicide. Counting in the students who were probably too afraid to answer truthfully (this is speculative, of course), we’re close to a one in ten statistic. Take my campus for example-about 7,000 students including grads. That’s 700 students within one calendar year. Imagine a larger campus, a campus where the numbers are above average, or even more horrifically, a campus without proper resources. Unfortunately, this isn’t over exaggerated nor embellished on my part; this is a real issue that plagues people on a daily basis.
So the obvious next question is, what can we do to stop this?
Education is always the most effective way to start any movement. If we are aware, we can work forward effectively. But how do we tackle such a morose subject? Simply pushing imagery of students tackling their respective stresses and mental illnesses is a good start, but it is not sufficient. Stories are important to tell to gain insight and perspective, but it is not the ultimate solution in terms of amelioration.
The research is very encouraging that our answer is optimism. Hirsch’s 2012 study comparing the Life Orientation Scale with the Beck Inventory on Suicide showed us this. Controls were set for gender, exact symptoms, hopelessness, and more. The results were very clear; levels of suicidal ideation and education by improvement and optimism were extremely negatively correlated.
Telling stories of those who have spent days in bed pondering death, those who have swallowed that bottle of pills, those who have tied the noose and lived to breathe another day are the most effective stories to tell because they provide a level of hope that is so often absent in those struggling. It gives us the message that it can get better even in the worst, most hopeless of situations. Rather than hearing it and letting it pour in one ear and out the other, we see a personal, living, breathing example of it, It’s profound when you think about. Stories of those who happened to lose the battle with suicidal thoughts are just as important; I really want to clarify that their stories matter just as much. We should always lend an ear to these stories of struggle for the purpose of education and more importantly, of becoming more understanding and empathetic human beings.
This optimism goes so much further than secondhand stories. How else can we reinforce education via survivors? We can acknowledge the many facets off therapy that encourage positive thinking, we can be a little more open minded to that scary new medication, and we can push our comfort zones a little past what we are used to.
I realize this is far easier said than done; I’ve been in that state of hopelessness and despair and at the worst times, who has the energy to be this positive?
My response to that is that the tiniest glimmers of hope are worth acknowledging, and worth acknowledging well. I remember one night where I was so horribly depressed and there was a lightning storm outside. I thought about the rain pouring and the birds chirping outside by the time dawn came, and while I did not see a decrease in my suicidal thoughts nor an increase in mood, I was able to hang on to the hope that these birds and the simple sound of rain could lead to something better. And sure enough, they have.
The bottom line is this-suicide is a tough subject for anyone, even for those of us who are comfortable on the topic. If we can begin to the talk on the small slivers of light in the seemingly omnipresent darkness, the birds in the rainstorms, and the infinite potential for things to get better on top off acknowledging all of the struggle and darkness, we can begin to destigmatize this topic that desperately requires discussion and acceptance. That is the path to a decrease in these numbers, both on college campuses and outside the university setting.
Please, feel free to share your thoughts, your experiences, your stories, or anything about your wonderful selves. There’s shelter from the storm my friends. We just can’t fully see it through the rain yet.
Peace and Love,
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