I live in an area that has a high suicide completion rate. Right now, a neighborhood high school has an epidemic of suicides. Not just attempts, but completed suicides. A week ago the epidemic reached the junior high, a feeder to this high school, a junior high where I work as a counselor. An 8th grade student died by suicide.
There is a trend, a popular movement to establish a suicide prevention program in the schools. In theory, it is a good plan. In practice, not so much. I know, I know. I'm being politically incorrect. My colleagues implemented a suicide prevention program in our school. Some of my criticism may stem from our adversarial relationship and my perception of their love of glory rather than their love of kids. Plus they were very cruel to me with their mobbing and bullying, scapegoating and double standards but that is another story for another time.
An analogy: Let's say I have a wound on my arm. It doesn't matter how it got there. It only matters that it hurts. A lot. In fact, it's infected and sometimes oozes puss. It is inflamed and I can't stop thinking about the pain in my arm. It's a constant throb. I turn to some trusted friends. They provide band aids but it barely covers it. I'm met with well intentioned advice; do something to keep your mind off it. Serve. Pray. Exercise. Eat gluten free. I see a doctor. He provides short term antibiotics which helps but I run out of antibiotics before the wound heals and it gets infected again. I want it to stop hurting desperately. Now I can't get into the hospital to get heavy duty treatment because there is a waiting list. It hurts so much. I'm tired of it always hurting so I decide to make it stop hurting.
I cut off my arm.
So now there is public outcry because I did something so permanent. I can never regrow my arm. It's gone. Was that the best choice? No. Was it a selfish choice? Probably not. But it hurt. So. Much.
What is the real issue here? It is tempting to concentrate on my shocking choice that I cut off my entire arm. But that was the solution I came up with considering nothing else was really easing the pain. I would do anything to not hurt all the time. Let's be honest, too. My body is systemic. If I had an infection in my arm, it was raging through my whole being. I'm not cured. I have a whole different analogy on phantom pain, fascinating phenomena regarding the connections we still have to an amputated limb, and a family history story of my great, great, great grandfather. Then I might tie in ghosts and spirits. Maybe another day because I am taking a different tangential path.
Back to my arm, let's assume a different scenario. I keep trying to heal my arm. At some point, with the best cocktail of medication for my body chemistry, the infection subsides. The flesh knits back together (assuming I did not sever it from the rest of my body). Perhaps I will have to take these medications for the rest of my life because my arm will always be susceptible to infection. My arm will always be weaker than the other arm and the pain will flare up periodically. It still hurts but I know it is bearable and it gets better at times. We realize that all people live with some sort of infirmity. Including the great teacher and author of much of the New Testament, Paul. He prayed to God to heal his physical infirmity over again. His request was denied. Why? Perhaps it kept him humble, teachable, and approachable. He learned empathy and love of his fellow men. But again I digress.
The issue is not the solution I chose for myself; severing my arm. It hurt. A lot. Maybe I wasn't getting the best help or maybe I got impatient. Or maybe I lacked the maturity and experience to understand the ramifications of my solution.
So my analogy is not really about an arm that is sick. It is about a young person suffering from deep depression, angst over past decisions, questions about their own sexuality, battling drug abuse, bipolar disorder, or any number of painful infirmities. We are yelling, "Suicide is not an option!" Yet we are not arming (pun intended) our youth of the basic truisms of life. I've broken them down from easiest to hardest to swallow:
- It will get better. By virtue of simply growing into oneself, stabilizing hormones, and leaving adolescence makes it better.
- It will be a journey to find the right combination of prescriptions and behavior changes in order to heal. Keep trying. You learn a lot in the process and will actually someday be grateful for the wisdom the experiences provided you.
- You do not have to have an attitude of gratitude for the actual suffering.
- Be patient and keep trying.
- Happiness and sorrow are both fleeting. Soak up the happiness. Learn to cope with the opposite.
- Life is full of emotion. All emotions make up a full life. Accept all emotions as such. If the sadness becomes too much, be prepared to implement strategies that make up a mentally healthy you. But remember that if you are feeling, you are living. And tomorrow or next week you will feel differently.
If we, as adults, in the schools, communities, parents, church leaders are modeling and actively teaching how to be mentally healthy, listening to one another regardless of age or whether or not we deem it as important, accept one another regardless of actions that may not be the same as our own standards, THEN I think we have a suicide prevention program that will make an impact. It won't be perfect because of a thing we call free agency, but the concentration will be on mental health, physical health, emotional health, and spiritual health instead of what not to do. We teach hard work, perseverance, resilience, faith, patience. It takes time and creativity. There is no quick fix or one single curriculum. It's a community arming the youth for the long haul.
Because, in truth, that's what's life is all about.