Chelle Summer

How we've complicated the message

Michelle Rusk

Today– September 10– is World Suicide Prevention Day and I’ve been thinking about what kind of message I want to spread today. While there are many directions I could go, there is one aspect that sticks in my mind and it’s how we’ve complicated the message of helping people.

In the last year or so of Ed Shneidman’s life, the father of suicidology, I was lucky to have several phone conversations with him. He came off as a gruff man, although that must be prefaced with the fact that his body was failing him which made it harder for him to see and walk. But there is one important message I came away with from those conversations and his not suggestion but assignment that I read his book, A Commonsense Book of Death.

That message was that ultimately it comes down to two questions when we are trying to help people: Where do you hurt? and How can I help you?

How simple that is, yet we’ve complicated it so much, especially in this time of anger and animosity we have toward our fellow human beings. We have more suicide prevention resources (I’m not talking about hospital beds– that resource we have never have enough of and that’s another topic for another day), but the phone numbers to call, the billboards that remind people to reach out, newspaper articles that discuss the warning signs of suicide.

And yet our numbers keep climbing.

I don’t believe we will ever get to zero. It’s wishful thinking that we will eradicate suicide given the pain of both the terminally ill and the severely mentally ill and their constant struggle to find peace in just one moment in a day. However, there are still things we can do to minimize the pain for so many, help people see there is hope in the world, that hope still exists.

I know that life isn’t all warm fuzzies, but don’t be scared to ask someone where they hurt or how you can help. Maybe you don’t know what to do, but there is someone you can ask (there is Google and the national toll-free suicide prevention line is listed there right at the top when you type in the word suicide (1-800-273-8255).

When my colleague JoAnn and I used to do suicide prevention workshops around New Mexico, we always told people that if suicide were so easy to solve, we’d give them a piece of paper and send them on their way.

I don’t expect everyone to know everything about suicide, but I hope that if you are worried about someone– or yourself– that you’ll reach for help, that you’ll hold on for another day (just like the song) because you don’t know what tomorrow will bring. I often say that when the sun comes over the Sandia Mountains just east of my home in Albuquerque– as I’m walking my dogs Hattie and Ash– I have the sense that the slate has been wiped clean during the night and I get to start all over again, no matter what happened the day before.

When people are down because of the way they see the world today, I remind them that if I thought that way, I would just stay in bed rather than get up and attack a long list of things I’d like to accomplish. Whether I might be down about the world or about something happening (or not happening in my own world), I remind myself to reach inside to what does make me happy, what makes me tick.

The glass is half full. Life isn’t easy. Be courageous, I have begun to tell myself.