Advice From the Trenches

A Helping Hand: When thoughts turn dark

Dear C and Dr. B;

Since the start of the pandemic, I’ve been having a hard time keeping it together. Knowing that nearly everyone is suffering hardships makes it easier to get through. But as the situation wears on, my sense of connection to the world feels like it’s slipping. With no idea what the future is going to bring, there’s no context or meaning to anything. Last week, I found myself wondering why I even should go on … for an entire dark day, I struggled with thoughts of pills, or just jumping off the damn roof. But the thought of how it would affect my family stopped me. I called a friend and told her how I felt, and she understood so well, I felt a sense of connection return.

It made me wonder about the people who don’t have anyone to call. And the people who just can’t call, because there’s no one they trust. If life felt so hopeless to me that I was considering an out, there must be people who have been so beaten down by this pandemic, and who have nothing and no one to turn to, that they HAVE ended it all. I know that talking with a friend made a difference to me, what can we all do to help each other through this?

Cal

Dr. B says: Excellent question – today, teen suicide is through the roof. Social media is like a drug that heightens one’s emotional state. In many people, especially adolescent females, this was a trend that existed prior to COVID, with the suicide rate rising due to negative self image and social comparisons, but COVID has markedly increased it.

Alcoholism and drug use is way up, also drunk driving and car accidents due to substance abuse. This isn’t unusual during any widespread catastrophe – the sensitive among us are very vulnerable when things aren’t going well. Their characteristic “black or white” thinking paints the world as all good or all bad. There’s not much good right now.

What can be done about it? If we as a culture are really serious about changing this trend we need to understand how internet and social media, like drugs, can exacerbate emotional problems. Suicide and substance abuse education is necessary – we need campaigns that emphasize that what you read and hear isn’t necessarily true. People need to learn how to question and research information and we need to provide professional support groups. The people you hang with affect the quality of your life, so weeding out negative people, and sites, is important. People are attracted to negatives, and as a culture we are not skilled at discerning truth from lies. We need to make choices that feed a more positive intent. It is great you reached out and connected, but to help systemically is difficult; I think it’s a cultural policy issue. 

C says: What I find most sad are the teens who were never taught life skills at home for coping, and haven’t had time to acquire common sense through experience. They give up, feeling worthless, helpless, with no sense of a future. We can all have moments of weakness, but the not-yet-developed adolescence brain lacks the ability to fully understand consequence. If teens live, they generally learn, but some will never have the chance to do that. We need to pay careful attention and look out for those around us. This website details the warning signs we should be aware of: https://texassuicideprevention.org/how-you-can-help/how-to-help-know-the-signs/ 

Unfortunately, some people give no warning. Two years ago, a friend’s husband committed suicide after starting an antidepressant that can cause suicidal thoughts. He’d had NO previous history of such impulses; his death was an utter shock to his family. If you, or someone you know, has been prescribed an antidepressant and are experiencing suicidal thoughts, report it RIGHT AWAY, and seek professional help getting off the drug. Doctors say that research shows antidepressants prevent suicides, but if suicidal thoughts are such a common side effect that there are warnings on the prescription labels, I would not take those warnings lightly.

If you hear ANYONE express thoughts of ending their life, please take it to heart – do whatever you can to get them help. An ER is best for serious emergencies, but you can call The National Suicide Hotline at 800-273-8255, 24 hrs a day. The RI website for state assistance numbers and other resources is sprc.org/states/rhode-island. If you suspect there is a problem, contact someone NOW. Tomorrow is too late.

You can visit Dr. B’s blog at drbrilliantcliche.wordpress.com

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