Self-love in a Time of Upheaval


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More clients have had thoughts of suicide this year in my psychotherapy office than in the last five years. I’m not scared for them, but as a fellow traveler, I grieve for those contemplating suicide. One woman comes in and clutches a peacock pillow. In the early Spring a depressed client comes and sips chamomile/ginger tea. I want them to enter the door and curl up in comfort on a sofa. We talk about their losses, gratitude, and personal strengths in a warm den of softness.

Climb Away from Danger

Suicide behavior is an act of desperation.

Fear of the future and hopelessness grip our young people. Many don’t expect to raise children, many can’t plan the next 10 years. “I would go off of birth control tomorrow, but will my children end up living in some kind of dystopia?” Because of climate change, the Earth is becoming more and more inhospitable and disaster looms more imminently.

I’m remembering two graduate students who bravely came into therapy. They resiliently crawled away from the suicide precipice. Some of their symptoms included head banging, sleeplessness, despair, nightmares and test phobia. Both are alive today, walking with intention on the path to health. One young student took a leave of absence, the other changed her job and housing. Young adults are often experimenting and exploring. They take risks with drugs, extreme sports and absurd reasoning (I can jump off this ladder, no problem). Some give up and don’t want to face the consequences of their poor choices. College counselors have a hard time helping young people, because the students’ health information rarely travels with them when they leave home.

MIT in Cambridge, MA has a high suicide rate among students, and Harvard University isn’t far behind. From 2000-2015, MIT reported 12.5 suicides per 100,000 students. The national average on campuses is between 6-7 suicides for 100,000 students.  In England, the number of students dropping out with mental health problems has more than trebled recently, while the number of suicides among students jumped from 75 in 2007 to 134 in 2015. The system, including the schools and health clinics must be more vigilant of suicide.

In therapy I look for glimmers of what is going well, what would be a reason to live. We reduce stress, create self-empathy, and learn to forgive oneself. When the acute desire to disappear or to escape the pain abates, we do strategic planning to stay focused and optimistic.

A sense of humor helps–it helps us mortals to get out of our skulls. Bill Maher says this, “Suicide is a way of telling God, ‘You can’t fire me, I quit!’ “

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