During my final year of college I was a research assistant on a longitudinal suicide research project. Each week, between studies, gymnastics and guitar practice, I would drive to the San Bernardino, California, county coroner’s office where a stack of files awaited. They sat me in a corner area where I’d dutifully fill out my professor’s customized forms collecting data on completed suicides.
The U.S. suicide rate is more than the auto fatality and murder rates combined. Rates are highest in construction and excavation while lowest in education and training. Dentists, veterinarians and physicians are struggling to explain and reduce rates of self harm. I began work with an international organization mandated by its board of directors to reduce suicides in the profession. The project stopped cold when the marketing department announced it could not market a program with that “word” in the description. Teenagers who take their lives should be a call to duty for every member of a society.
Publicizing hotline numbers, creating 3-digit (988) short cuts and spelling out the usual “signs of suicide” lists hasn’t kept the crescendo from building — we have a silent and deadly menace among us. I’m convinced these next four suggestions will help save lives.
Speak up with “weak tie” contacts: Malcolm Gladwell writes about how we expect our close (strong) ties to give better support and referrals during times of need or want. “Weak” or distant connections tend to offer more objective and useful tools. Since the inclination is to hide destructive thoughts and plans from family and friends it may be useful to speak with someone who won’t overreact. Make the change.
Do the “Exercise-Sleep” tango: Researchers don’t know exactly why humans need sleep. Aside from the homeostatic need to simply rest and replenish, they cite 24-hour circadian rhythms, cleansing fluids in the brain, and memory consolidation as other partially understood sleep factors. An ideal way to get the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep is to wear yourself out during the day. Exercise is the magic pill. The point is not whether or not you feel like getting some activity, but to take action with one good habit that positively influences a second good habit. It takes two to tango. Make the change.
Read biographies: We have a temporary cultural glitch that celebrates “flash-in-the-pan” influencers and shallow celebrities. I believe this is dangerous for adults and a disaster for teenagers. I would suggest reading about well-known people (and some not) who passed the test of time. Their humbling setbacks, disasters, depressions, accidents and financial and health fiascos will help you calibrate your current circumstances. They too thought of giving up — but didn’t. Make the change.
Seek beauty: When you’ve had enough and the world keeps punching, fight back by deliberately finding beauty. A recent article by Sari Harrar explores several ways to seek happiness. Music stands out for its accessibility. Suggestions include What a Wonderful World; Don’t Stop; Here Comes the Sun; Lovely Day; I Will Survive. Your brain is wired to adjust its “mood” based on the stimulation you provide. Go find beauty and see what happens. Make the change.
Professional help is waiting — use it. You must also make the change, or life will make it for you. Step back and reflect. Your actions give other adults, teens and children “permission” to do the same. If you choose to speak up, exercise/rest, read, and seek beauty, you might be clear headed enough to fight your way through the despair and hopelessness too common in our world.
My time on that research project drew to a close. I opened one of my final cases and immediately recognized the head coroner’s name — he signed off on most of the cases I recorded. This time his name was not on the signature line at the bottom but on the subject line at the top. His time to change must have run out — yours hasn’t.
Rick Griggs is a former Intel Corp. training manager and inventor of the rolestorming creativity tool. He runs the 10-month Leadership Mastery Academy. firstname.lastname@example.org or 970-690-7327.