Many of us find it inconceivable that a person could choose to take his or her own life. But recent reports of suicides on the Astoria-Megler Bridge and elsewhere have made this issue more immediate. For many of us who have had suicidal thoughts or lost someone we loved to suicide, this is an uncomfortable time. How can we address these situations? Can we think and talk about this issue in ways that go beyond mystery, shame, or guilt and move toward knowledge and healing?
I don’t pretend to have all the answers to stop people from killing themselves. , But as someone who has lived with this issue for many years, I offer some thoughts that may be helpful.
First, new brain research has revealed an area in the midbrain, the lateral habenula, which appears to act as a tipping point after repeated stresses and emotional pain. The trauma may be from losses, abuse, and attacks, including those in early life. The response within the brain is something like, “I can’t stand this any longer.” Those with bipolar depression appear more likely to have this link with suicidal thinking or action. Hard as this is to think about, I see it as hopeful information. Suicidal thinking is not a personal failing but an actual brain phenomenon. Further research on the habenula and related parts of the brain offers prospects for helping to prevent suicide at the source.
Second, the story of Kevin Hines gives a unique perspective on suicide from a survivor. At the age of 19 Kevin jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge, September 25, 2000, and he survived. He is now a widely-known speaker about suicide prevention, illnesses such as bipolar disorder, and the obstacles people face in asking for help. His experience is shown briefly on Youtube. Locally, the Julie Brown Foundation has made available the 90-minute 2018 documentary “Suicide: The Ripple Effect,” to be used for educational purposes. The DVD includes a long and ultimately successful effort to install the net below the Golden Gate Bridge.
Also included are extensive reports of various suicide prevention projects in Australia, where suicide is the #1 cause of death for males ages 14 to 44. To arrange for a showing of “The Ripple Effect,” contact Lorraine Brown at 503-779-9676 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Third, another young suicide survivor and advocate is Ali Borowsky, a graphic designer from Chicago, who decided to make and send out little blue boxes for healing and hope. Her project, FindYourAnchor.us/boxes, has become a national effort to get little blue boxes into libraries and other public spaces, totally with the help of donations. The boxes are full of items to encourage and inspire a person who may be depressed or suicidal. One of the posters in the box says “You are not weak.” The words are a perfect fit for the many Americans who have been trained to suck it up and hide their vulnerability.
So, what to do?
The answer will be different for different people. It’s helpful to assume that most people are struggling in some way, including children and youth. Each of us wishes to be heard and known safely and without judgment or quick fixes. Ironically, in hard times some of us may be more open to sharing and listening to someone around us. It can bring relief to both. And who knows? You might save a life, including your own.