I spent the latter part of last week at the American Association of Suicidology conference in Phoenix, my first conference since I handed the presidential gavel off to Bill Schmitz four years ago. I try to fill my days with creating, whether it be through writing, sewing, or other like projects. However, in the recent weeks between multiple suicides at my high school and the uproar of the Netflix television series, "13 Reasons Why," I've tried to stay out of any discussions, believing my time is best spent continuing to throw inspiration out there rather than sitting here typing opinions.
However, I found my soapbox and today I'm offering a little bit of my perspective before I put the soapbox away again.
I haven't seen "13 Reasons Why" and nor do I plan to watch it or read the book. Instead, I'm offering my thoughts about what I believe is missing in our culture– a message that hasn't changed in the four years since I became a past president of the American Association of Suicidology.
We've spent a lot of time and energy looking into why people kill themselves. Yes, it's important, absolutely, but in that same time we still know much less about how people cope and how we can help them cope when they think that the only way to end their pain is to end their lives. What I have learned from the twenty-some years since my sister ended her life and I was forced to face intense grief for the first time in my life, is that no one grieves the same. I also believe that to be true when we are faced with challenges in our lives: we're all going to work toward finding hope in different ways because we are, well, different people.
What I do believe is that we can do is help people find the start of the hopeful journeys. Give them ideas, help them begin to learn coping skills so that when life hands then a challenge, they know at least how to find hope. It might not feel like hope is there, but it is. Often it's just that the light is so dim we can't see it. We should allow them to express their pain, let them know that we know they are hurting. But then we should help lead them toward the light, even slowly.
We are all faced with challenges and difficulties, some of us seemingly more than others, but learning from them and using them as springboards for growth is what makes us stronger and helps us to someday look back at the road behind us, hands on our hips, and know that we have come a long way. And then continue forward on the road.