Today, while at work, I turned on iTunes and had it playing through my CD collection. The Alan Parson Project’s “Oh Life, There Must Be More” among the songs. The song, purportedly based on a true story (although I could not confirm it) tells the story of a woman who has lost her passion for life and is standing on a bridge looking down into the water. It reminded me of all the work I have seen done and been a part of ever since I became a chaplain in the USAF back in 2002. There is no organization that knows the devastating impact of suicides more clearly than the U.S. military. But knowing it is a problem, and stopping it, are all together two different things. To use the image of the woman on the bridge in the song, how do we affirm to those on the edge that there is more, much more? How do we help them off of the bridge?
The barriers are high when tasked with suicide prevention. First, many people around a suicidal person do not have any idea they are suicidal. This comes from a host of factors which include: a lack of being aware of the warning signs, a belief that nothing can be done to stop suicides, and thinking that talking to someone about it makes them more suicidal. Another factor that raises the bar is that people tire of hearing suicide prevention talks, especially if they don’t think it is an issue in their immediate circle of family/friends/co-workers. You can see it on many people’s faces when the topic turns to suicide prevention. They look like they are in the dentist office about to have their teeth drilled on. The “I know I have to be here but I don’t have to like it” look. Couple this with the fact that the suicidal people themselves often thinks it’s ok for them to think about this, even regularly, as long as they don’t share it with anyone. They feel if they do, everyone will look down on them as weak or unable to cope through what most people cope through. But no one walks in their shoes but them.
On the positive side of the equation, there are lots of people now trained to help suicidal people (and I have seen such help make significant differences), the presentations get more and more polished every year, and interestingly – people who have had a suicide happen in their immediate circle of family and friends become passionate about helping others not to make the same decision. We also know more about depression and Post Traumatic Stress than in any generation. FYI – PTSD has always been around, we just haven’t always been talking about it.
The key to suicide prevention is getting friends to talk to friends on the topic. We need to get it out of the sanctuary/classroom/ briefing room and help folks be comfortable talking about suicides, what leads people to them, and the difference help can make. The supposed stigma of getting counseling can’t really be taken away by the helping professionals, parents, or even senior leaders. It can only come from friends and neighbors who people worry about the most in regard to what they think. They are the ones who can make talking about suicides and suicide prevention not such a forbidden topic. The people who influence us the most are the ones whoa re closest to us.
When people read the lyrics of “Oh Life…” they think it simply portrays a suicide. But in the lyrics is no mention of her actually jumping and these words are toward the end:
From the bridge she hears the voices
Turn into a roar
Oh life she cries
There must be more
I always took, “the voices” to be all the people who do care about her although in her depression she doesn’t realize it. She is not alone on that bridge. Others are there to help pull her back.
But will they get to her in time?
That’s up to us. I think the song’s ambiguous ending has a point.
Until next time,