Written by Kevin Briggs, Affinity Speaker with the Active Minds Speakers Bureau and “Guardian of the Golden Gate Bridge.”
It has been two and a half years since I retired from the California Highway Patrol. Almost all of my professional career has been in government service. When I retired in November 2013 to start Pivotal Points, I really had no idea how to proceed, but I did find out that the following items were a must: business license, web page, meetings with my tax professional, listening to my mentors. Quite overwhelming I would have to say.
I have learned so much since retirement, and have presented around most of the United States, and also in Mexico, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Germany. Presenting on the subject of suicide prevention and intervention has been an awesome and humbling experience for me, and to be honest…a hell of a lot of work.
When it comes to mental health, the question I am asked the frequently is: “How can I help someone who may be suicidal?” This is a key question that we need to continue to collectively think about.
We should and must continue to educate our societies, families, friends, and loved ones to recognize warning signs that someone has lost so much hope they are do not want to live. Let me share this with you, in 2014 we lost over 42,000 people to suicide–just in the United States. Nearly one in five people suffer from mental illness each year. There are very few people who have not been affected in one way or another by suicide.
Could we have helped those folks? Possibly.
I have heard time and time again, “I saw the signs,” “They talked about it, but I never thought they would go through with it,” or “I thought someone else would have talked to them.” When you really stop and think about it, writing or speaking about suicide is a cry for help.
So what can we do?
For starters, if you even think someone is suffering, sit down with the individual. Let them know what you’ve seen or heard that makes you think they are suffering or in distress. Remember, listening is the key to understanding.
I have had psychiatrists tell me they wish more peers in their occupation would really listen to their clients. They hear symptoms and prescribe medication. The person comes back in a month and if they feel even slightly better, then the medication is doing its job.
My personal and ongoing treatment with my psychiatrist and counselor have been very good. Both listen intently and together we work out a plan for my continued success.
So back to the question, “What can we do?” In my experience, those who have been suicidal feel very alone, in pain, and think they are a burden to their families. To sit down with that person, tell them how important they are in your life, that their life has value, and you’ll be there for them, is a great start.
In my contacts with several hundred people contemplating suicide on the Golden Gate Bridge, loneliness was a main contributing factor. Whether it stemmed from a broken heart, abuse/neglect, aging, social media or feeling rejected by others, social isolation can cause very serious health effects. Chronic loneliness can affect your heart, brain, life expectancy, and as a matter of fact, it is a major contributing factor to depression and alcoholism.
How difficult would it be for you to take a bit of time from your day to sit down and have a heart-to-heart with someone you think may be suffering? What if it was you on the other side? You probably won’t be able to solve their problems/concerns, but just taking a bit of time to be there, to listen to understand, and to say, “I’m here for you whenever you need me,” may be just what the person needs, and you may have just saved a life.