Tonight, the tragic deaths by suicide of two coworkers and friends has led me to really think about what could occur in a person’s life that would lead them to make that choice. While there can be obvious precipitating factors such as terminal illness these factors were not apparent in either of these cases and both were widely described as “shocking” even by those who had worked with the two men closely for years. As a mental health therapist, these events seem especially unnatural as we are regularly called upon to assess the risk of suicide in those in our care and to respond accordingly by treating the underlying distress.
That we could be blindsided by these events is, to say the least, a sobering reminder of the complex and turbulent nature of suffering and the dazzling ability of many to obscure it in themselves. It remains extremely difficult to predict who will make this choice despite the fact that several common factors have been identified. This post is in no way meant to be an attempt to devalue any risk assessment or protocol based upon identification of and response to these common factors. Such evidence-based protocols are an invaluable tool for clinicians and no doubt save many, many lives.
Tonight I just feel compelled to share my thoughts about the concept of resiliency. It seems to me that this characteristic is so crucial to each person’s ability to survive and to thrive and we must find ways to connect with it. To me, resiliency is that primal force in all of us that allowed us to endure our darkest days and to not lose hope. I believe it is something we are born with and may well be the thing that separates a person who ends his or her life or the person who faced with similar circumstances does not. I believe a stronger emphasis should be placed on resiliency in providing treatment. However, as this seems to be largely a genetic trait, how can this be done effectively? My inclination now is to work to connect with that resiliency in others and to eliminate those defenses and distractions that only serve to isolate the person further. The world will drag you down, it will degrade and demean you. It will take everything you have find ways to take more. There have been tragedies and will be yet others. However, as Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote “what lies behind us and what lies before us our tiny matters compared to what lies within us”. That is what can never be taken from you. If only we could all find ways to tap into that when we needed to. It can be done and I believe it is worth it. Not only that, but I believe it is truly a matter of life and death.