Self-love in a Time of Upheaval

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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