A few decades ago the American Health Association published a report proclaiming that there was a drastic increase in neck injuries and whiplash. I was a passenger in a car and the driver turned his head to the left to look for oncoming traffic. Somehow he hurt his neck. He pulled over and I drove him to the hospital where the doctor told him that he had whiplash. So what is the cause for all these new neck injuries? I blame the legislature. To understand the answer, we should first consider the elephant.
My mother grew up in a traveling circus and she told me how they would tie a rope around the leg of an elephant and then tie the other end off onto anything. A fence, a pole, a traffic cone, a bike, a bale of hay or a simple post in the ground. The elephant would think that he was tied up so he would not attempt to go anywhere. The horses were the same. Just drape their reins over a fence and that is where they would remain because in their minds, they were tied up. Despite the fact that the elephant could probably drag a Hummer behind him, he didn't try to go anywhere because in his mind he knew he couldn't.
When New York State passed a seat belt law, the same psychological effect which tethered the elephant in its place also affected people in the same sort of way. People began to move incorrectly or, failed to move correctly. The seat belt wasn't hampering ergonomic movement but psychologically, it was hampering ergonomic movement. So how are we supposed to turn our heads even with an innocuous seat belt on?
The body is designed to work most efficiently in its mid range of motion. Just because you can move a certain way, doesn't mean you should. At least not repetitively and not to the extreme. Since every part of the body is connected to every other part of the body (The knee bone's connected to the - hip bone. The hip bone's connected to the . . .), our body parts are designed to work sympathetically.
Don't do this, but from a sitting position, turn your head as far back as you can. Make note of how far you can actually go. You can mark your spot by picking an object to look at. You probably only turned your head approximately 90 degrees. If you moved to your extreme range of motion, you probably felt discomfort, pain or gave yourself whiplash.
Now, working with your shoulders, stomach muscles and hips; turn from your hips, then add the shoulders, then the neck and you should be able to see about 180 degrees or, almost directly behind you. Keep in mind that every motion has an equal and opposite motion. While turning, if you were turning to your left, as your right shoulder moves forward, your left shoulder must also pivot backward. Don't anchor it. That sympathetic movement should be natural for most people but it isn't. Whenever you isolate any part of the body, you run the risk of injuring a sympathetic part. If your right and left shoulders don't work together in the turn, you will not be able to turn as far, or, you run the risk of straining something.
Now, stand up and add the knees and ankles to that mix. If you were looking to the left, keep your left foot anchored flat to the floor and pivot on your right toe. You can probably see at a 270 degree angle by turning and using all your body parts (of course, you could just turn your head to the right).
All those movements as I dictated probably have you moving at your extreme ranges of motion. You should only turn you neck about 40 degrees, then your hips aiding you to about 90, then your shoulders about 130, and your ankles and knees to about 170. Your eyes can do the rest.
Because we are all forced to wear a seat belt, some of us let our brains trick us into thinking we can't move so we only look with our necks when in reality, while sitting in a car, we can still pivot with our hips and shoulders while driving. I have also noticed that because of this seat belt phenomenon, many drivers are not turning to look but relying solely on their mirrors for looking behind them. In many instances, this is less safe than actually turning our heads and looking. Even our laws and legislation can have equal and opposite reactions. Seat belts may save lives, but by stifling good driving habits, they could take lives, also.
By working on full body motion, one can mitigate or palliate the pain and lack of motion due to arthritis, stiffness or tendonitis. In a few days I will talk about preventing and curing median nerve entrapment (carpal tunnel syndrome) and tendonitis by teaching you how to ring a doorbell. Most of us do that incorrectly, too.
I haven't blogged in a while because I've been busy but, recently an event that happened which perturbed me enough to pick up my sententious and pugilistic pen. The 20 year old son of a friend was recently arrested with drugs. Drugs are scary. Just as a drunk driver can hurt or kill themselves or others, drugs can hurt and kill. Well, most drug users use them in the privacy of their own home and are less likely to harm others but, they do run the risk of damaging their own bodies and creating issues in their normal day to day living. If someone has a drug problem, arresting them does nothing to assuage their addiction. It will be far from mollifying but intensifying any problem they may have. Punishment takes away his life. Only treatment and support from family, friends and the community will help unencumber him from the appetite of chemical dependency. People with support, mercy, compassion and purpose are more amenable to discipline and healing.
Take the scary and often moniker-ed "gateway drug" marijuana. Most everyone I know uses it or has used it and I bet that most everyone you know falls into the same category - or they're lying. So why isn't most of our population drug addicts? Because they don't have that addiction gene? I have alcohol in my house and I rarely consume it. I do drink but I don't have to. I have no need or strong desire to imbibe in it. I'm not a drinker but I enjoy the product on occasion with friends.
I have several fiends who admit to doing cocaine, heroin or ecstasy in their pasts (I work in the church. I run across these people a lot. What is the church for if not for sinners?). Once they got the fad of drug experimentation out of their systems, they went on to lead productive and professional lives, raising families and leaving drugs behind them. Would they like to indulge again once in a while? I'm sure but, they "grew up" and recognized that it affects their productivity and living a real life.
Many of our politicians and technological geniuses have indulged in temporary drug use: Clinton, Bush, Obama, Steve Jobs. If any of those men were ever caught and thrown into prison, none of them would be the men they are today for they would be convicted felons and not eligible to work in the professions they have chosen. Can you imagine what our world would be like if Steve Jobs was given a forty year prison sentence instead of freely practicing his craft in pursuit of genius and perfection?
Assemblyman Steve Katz (R) who is an outspoken state assemblyman who serves on the chamber's Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Committee — and had the effrontery to vote against medical marijuana — was recently busted for possessing pot. He was pulled over on the state Thruway for going 80 miles an hour in a 65 mph zone when a trooper detected a palpable odor redolent of pot wafting from his car. Katz was on his way to Albany to vote on legislation while under the influence, BTW. All charges were dropped against him. Hmmph. Membership has its privileges.
Even our best athletes in the world have smoked weed. "Disgraced U.S. Olympian Nick Delpopolo " is what the headlines read last summer after he failed a drug test. Why is he disgraced when so many other people use the drug with impunity? The Bureau of Statistics doesn't even research marijuana deaths each year because the number is so insignificant. Our government has lied and frightened the public for decades about this safe, natural medicine. Nobody beats their wife or kids, loses their job, gets in accidents, rapes or murders, or blows their paycheck on pot. Alcohol? That's a different story. Nick's life, career and dream of greatness in service to our country through sports is now ruined by societal prejudice due to the unjust prohibition laws of cannabis.
Here are just a few of the many highly motivated athletes who have used drugs:
* Usain Bolt, the 2008 World Record holder of the 100 and 200 meter sprint.
* Michael Phelps, the most decorated swimmer ever with 14 Olympic gold medals.
* Tim Lincecum, the National League baseball’s Cy Young Award winner for 2009.
* Santonio Holmes, the Super Bowl XLII’s MVP.
* Mark Stepnoski, two-time Super Bowl champion. "I'd rather smoke than take painkillers."
* Randy Moss, NFL single season touchdown reception record (23, set in 2007), and the NFL single-season touchdown reception record for a rookie (17, in 1998). Moss has founded, and financed many charitable endeavors including the the Links for Learning foundation, formed in 2008.
* Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the NBA's all-time leader in points scored (38,387), games played, minutes played, field goals made, field goal attempts, blocked shots and defensive rebounds. During his career with the NBA's Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers from 1969 to 1989, Abdul-Jabbar won six NBA championships and a record six regular season MVP Awards. He has a prescription to smoke marijuana in California, which he says he uses to control nausea and migraine headaches. He has been arrested twice for marijuana possession.
* "Most of the players in the league use marijuana and I have and do partake in smoking weed in the off season" - Josh Howard, forward for the Dallas Mavericks. Howard admitted to smoking marijuana on Michel Irvin's ESPN show.
* "You got guys out there playing high every night. You got 60% of your league on marijuana. What can you do?" - Charles Oakley (Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks, Toronto Raptors, Washington Wizards and Houston Rockets)
* "I personally know boxers, body builders, cyclists, runners and athletes from all walks of life that train and compete with the assistance of marijuana," —WWE wrestler Rob Van Dam
* Some of the best cricket players of all time, like Phil Tufnell and Sir Ian Botham, have admitted to regularly using marijuana to deal with stress and muscle aches. In 2001, half of South Africa's cricket team was caught smoking marijuana with the team physiotherapist. They were celebrating a championship victory in the Caribbean.
Where would any of those un-convicted criminals be today had they been caught and arrested before they achieved greatness? Yes, drugs are bad and I would not encourage anyone to take or abuse them. However, are they as bad as we have been led to beleive or are we just not able to make money off of them as well as say, alcohol which kills tens of thousands of people each year? Are those deaths acceptable to our predominately Christic society?
My biggest complaint here is not drugs. It is the arrest of this twenty year old. Millions of people before him, right now and in the future will do drugs and not get caught. They will then go on to lead normal and productive lives without incident. They either lead a life so boring that they are easily enchanted or they lead a life so full of stimulus that are are easily bored so, drugs were a temporary experiment. This twenty year old will most likely become a convicted felon, do prison time, have the stigma of a conviction on his record, have difficulty procuring housing because of background checks and drug registries, endure numerous desultory attempts at finding a job, he'll have zero credit and he will most likely live off the largess of the social services and the taxpayer's dime. He will be judged differently from normal, phantasmagorical good people with a prepossessing Christian artifice. He will be labeled with the delineating modifier of "criminal" and his productivity to society will be a patent waste. His life will be larded with more problems than an algebra textbook. Most likely he is no different than anyone else. He just got caught.
Nobody is the worse thing that they've ever done. A conviction and doing prison time will not help this kid if he has a problem. It will certainly not help him when he gets out and tries to put his life back in order. If he has a drug problem, then he should be treated for it, not punished. Our entire justice system is designed for punishment and profit. Prisons should be for people who are a threat to others and not a warehouse for politicians, judges, DA's and law enforcement people to win elections and win grant money.
A story I often like to tell is about a friend who as a teen would ensconce himself on a bridge and throw pumpkins onto a highway below. Fortunately he never hit a car and he was never caught. Had he been caught or had he hurt anyone, he would have done many years in prison. He wasn't caught, he went on to college, got married, became very active in his church, had kids and now works for corporate America as a manager of a nationally recognized chain. Should he have been punished? I don't know. Had he been caught, his life would be drastically different today. With a felony conviction on his record, he wouldn't have gone to college, probably not be married and his kids wouldn't exist. He does more good for society today than society would have gotten out of him by punishing him.
Winston Churchill once said that “One of the most unfailing tests of a civilization is how a country treats its criminals.” Most criminals return to the streets in a worse state than when they were arrested. Prison turns good people bad and bad people worse. A better solution for crime would be a restorative justice approach.
In The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness, and Peace, Jack Kornfield describes an African forgiveness ritual: "In the Babemba tribe of South Africa, when a person acts irresponsibly or unjustly, he is placed in the center of the village, alone and unfettered. All work ceases, and every man, woman, and child in the village gathers in a large circle around the accused individual. Then each person in the tribe speaks to the accused, one at a time, each recalling the good things the person in the center of the circle has done in his lifetime. Every incident, every experience that can be recalled with any detail and accuracy, is recounted. All his positive attributes, good deeds, strengths, and kindnesses are recited carefully and at length. This tribal ceremony often lasts for several days. At the end, the tribal circle is broken, a joyous celebration takes place, and the person is symbolically and literally welcomed back into the tribe."
Too bad for those of us who profess to be Christians, that Jesus didn't show us another way. Maybe those of us with eyes to see and ears to hear, know that way. But, not to act is to act.
A library recently asked me to present a workshop about being a volunteer answering a suicide hotline. There were almost 50 people in attendance ranging in age, race, economic diversity and motive for being there. I transcribed some of the questions people asked of me.
Why did you decide to answer a suicide hotline? Having been raised in a private rest home for the elderly, which my parents ran out of our 19 room house, caring for and helping people has always been part of who I am, it's in my DNA. I spent 25 years volunteering at the Stratton VA hospital and since I wasn't doing that anymore, I wanted to find another way to reach out to people who were in pain. I also volunteered at a homeless shelter.
How many volunteers were there answering the lines? There were at the most, five us us who were paid during the day and at night there was usually only one volunteer on duty. There were about thirty volunteers in total. We were open from nine in the morning to ten at night. Now that the center has lost their funding, the lines are only open a few hours each day.
What happens if you were on the phone with someone and your shift was over? We all took a pledge that the caller would come first and if we were on the phone with them at the time of closing, we would remain there to finish the call for as long as it took. I was covering for a volunteer one evening and a call came in minutes before ten. It was a long call. After hanging up and writing out my report, it was well after midnight.
What was the longest call you've had? Calls can range from five minutes to two hours. There are many variables. My longest call was about an hour and a half. We also had an internet chat line. One time my supervisor was chatting with a person for two hours when she had to leave. She discreetly passed the chat off to another staff member who chatted with the person online for another two hours when she had to begin a training class for new volunteers. I was about to leave and she asked me to stay and continue the chat. I was there for about two hours when the person finally decided to end the chat because they felt that they were going to be okay. That was a difficult chat to take because I had to read the entire chat log and continue the current conversation at the same time. That sort of thing rarely happens.
What kind of people were the volunteers and what was their motive for doing that kind of work? There were many reasons people answered the phones. Some volunteers knew someone or had a family member complete suicide so they wanted to answer the phones to help others and, to honor the memory of their loved one. One volunteer's son completed suicide so as a pseudonym she took on the feminine version of her son's name in remembrance of him. Others where college students looking to get something impressive on their resumé. They usually didn't stay long. Some were retired people looking to do something to keep busy or give back. Some were people who were unemployed hoping that if they could prove themselves, they may get hired if an opening presented itself. One woman was arrested for drugs and prostitution and was required to perform community service so she chose this. Regardless of motivation, everyone found it rewarding on many levels and most of us cared deeply for the callers. There was only one person I couldn't figure out. He used to surf the internet during calls and grumbled when a call came in. We were both given the task of verifying referrals and in one day I had called over a 100 people and he called about 25. He said it was because he got a lot of calls but I checked his call log, plus, I was first in the queue that day. He kept an iPad discreetly tucked into his employee handbook and had an earphone tucked into his headset. He spent most of his time watching movies online or playing video games. He was the exception. Ironically he got a big promotion.
Did anyone who called in actually take their life? There is no way to know that. I don't know. We do know about some of the people whom we have saved because they call back.
Why do you say "complete" and not "commit?" I had an English teacher who taught us Latin roots. COM means "with" and MIT means "thread." So for me it means to follow through with something with no indication of outcome, and it also has negative psychiatric connotations such as committing someone. COMPLETE means "with" and "full." It means to fully perform the task rather than follow a thread. It is just my preference.
Have you ever answered the phone and known the caller? Six times. That's why some of us with unique names take on a pseudonym. I also answered the phone three times and saw that the callers lived a few blocks from my house. The first thing I do when a call comes in is to type the number into our program. If the caller has called before, a record of their previous calls will come up. That way I can better help them by reading about their call history. I also reverse search their number in an attempt to get an address in case the call becomes a medical emergency.
Have you ever gotten any prank calls? All the time. Mostly teenagers. I listen carefully to the background sounds of every call because those sounds can reveal a lot about the caller. If I hear a dog or cat for instance, I can use that knowledge later in the call as a "Protective Factor." I also listen for giggling or someone else whispering in the background. Many prank callers aren't prepared to answer questions and you can hear a friend in the background helping with the answers. After a while you get to know when someone is truly depressed, in crisis or prank calling. Their tone and answer content doesn't lie. Despite that, we treat every call as a real call. Once we discern that it is a prank, we politely end the call because a real caller may be trying to get through. As much fun as some of them are, we have to keep the lines open.
What is a protective factor? A reason to live. A person who owns a pet may not kill themselves because they are concerned about what would happen to their pet if they were no longer around to care for them. Other protective factors are family, friends, someone who is with them at the time of the call, the fact that they called, plans for the future or even religious beliefs that forbid suicide. Listening carefully to the caller is important to help identify these factors for and to them. It is also important to weigh these against any existing "Risk Factors" such as previous attempts, the means are there, the intent is strong, any kind of loss the caller is concerned with such as a relationship, job or poor health. Many callers will consider suicide because of seemingly insignificant concerns but,those are usually the "final straw" and not the real problem.
How do you know the identity of the person calling? We have caller ID but we also ask the caller for their first name. If they don't want to give one, we tell them it is okay but I then ask for a fake name. I like to call a person by a name throughout their call. I think it is important to call people by name. If they block their caller ID information, that is okay. I once had a woman use a fake name and before she ended the call, she shared with me her real name. That was very touching to me.
Do you ever call 911 on a person contemplating suicide? It was our office policy not to. Other suicide hotlines may vary. We would call 911 if we had permission or the person lapsed into a non-responsive state. We call those "medical emergency" calls.
Do you ever get depressed after talking to people and hearing about all their problems? I don't. I have the ability to drop and forget everything after each call. I can answer each call fresh and new with every person who reaches out to us. Our supervisors are always available to talk and debrief us if needed. Once my supervisor was listening in on a call, for quality control, and after the call she came over to ask if I wanted to talk about the caller. She was even teary eyed. I have a good genetic self defense mechanism and can let things go. It has always been easy for me to forgive and forget. In "Star Trek: Into Darkness," Spock elegantly waxes about how his choice not to feel does not imply that he is cold. On the contrary, he chooses not to feel because he feels too much. Maybe that is me.
How come you lost your funding? People don't think suicide is important or is as pervasive as it really is. Write your congressman! A suicide center is not a money making business and our office was unable to sustain itself in this economy. You need space, phones, computers, internet, IT personnel, heat, electricity, software, supervisors, people to train volunteers, people to seek and screen volunteers. There is a lot of overhead that most people are not aware of. It is not just a phone line. Although, I do currently answer a hotline for a prison organization and they provide the phone. It is more laid back, the calls are not recorded and no records are kept. I am just there to offer support and listen. Write your law makers asking them to support these services. There is a large portion of our population who are either depressed, struggling, thinking about suicide, or wish they were dead. It's a sin that we are not there to help them while congress can vote themselves raises.
Why would you record a call? Quality assurance and training. Each and every call is totally confidential. No data, information or recording leaves our office. Supervisors listen to the recordings so they can provide feedback to us in an effort to improve our service to the callers. We also write up reports about the call so that other people who answer the phones can read the reports both for learning purposes and in case that person ever calls back. The information from previous calls can help to steer the conversation especially if the caller is quiet and reserved.
If someone calls after ten pm and you're not there, what happens? It gets routed to another suicide hotline office. It is all automated. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 24/7.
Do you ever get a caller who doesn't want to kill themselves but needs to talk? All the time. Most callers have ambivalence (both + strength), that's why they call because they don't want to die. All of our callers are going though some kind of emotional pain and don't know how to make it stop. They do have the strength and courage to call for help. We are there to get them through the moment.
Do you get people who harm themselves in other ways such as cutting? All the time. Especially teenagers. I don't know where they get this idea of cutting. Many people think that the pain of physical cutting will take away their emotional pain. I ask many of these callers that the next time they want to hurt themselves, instead of hitting, cutting or biting, try holding an ice cube in their hand. They will get the pain and not scar or bruise or bleed. It does not solve their problem but ameliorates the symptom of wanting to feel pain without doing permanent damage. We often ask people if they want referrals to support groups, counselors, hospitals or mental health agencies.
I used to answer two suicide hotlines in both a volunteer and paid capacity. Because of this experience, I often get many people in various social circles asking me questions about suicide. Usually it is about "a friend" but I have sometimes found that third party queries can be personal. In those cases, I would quickly turn the question around and ask the person questioning me if they have ever thought about suicide themselves, then, take their question from there as it pertains to the "friend."
When I first began my training, I was asked if I knew anyone who attempted suicide and I didn't. After the training, I realized that I had indeed known over 15 people who attempted suicide or completed the act. How quickly the living can forget. That is something the people contemplating suicide are rarely aware of. One of them was a priest friend whom I had lunch with every Sunday for 25 years as I went in to do volunteer work at the VA Hospital. He had written some not very flattering anonymous letters about the sexual proclivities of our Bishop, who then found out who wrote them and called my friend, Fr. Minkler, in from his vacation to sign documents stating that he didn't write the aforementioned letters. As I met with Fr. John that Sunday afternoon, I was running late and we skipped lunch. He told me that he was having problems and he asked me to pray for him. I told him that I would and then went on my oblivious and preoccupied way. He completed suicide that night and I was most likely that last person to speak with him.
There are many reasons people think about suicide. Here are just a few.
A teen who identifies as homosexual and has homophobic parents; or he discovers that his religious faith forbids and condemns it or him; he may witness or is the recipient of bullying and persecution at school. Ironically, our mainstream society is indeed very tolerant and unflinching about the topic. It is the intolerant religious groups, media, politicians, parents worried about their child's future happiness and people who protest too much who are the real problems.
There have also been parents who lost their job and they see no hope of obtaining employment in the future and they think that the only way to provide for their children is to kill themselves for the insurance money. Some people think they are a burden and their family would be better off without them.
Someone who was hurt and betrayed by someone they love and thinks that completing suicide will "show them" or get even. Teens think this way quite often. Sometimes a call for help can go unheard one too many times.
There are many people who are intolerably lonely and may feel friendless, lost or ostracized. Each long day is a struggle to get through. Sleep is their only relief from the pain of loneliness.
Another caller may be someone who was arrested. It isn't the remorse for the crime which can make them think about suicide. Restorative justice can easily resolve any wrongs they've committed and they know this and would gladly put things right given the opportunity. It is the shame of getting arrested. Then, maybe losing their job because of it, losing friends, the feeling that they've shamed their family and are facing an uncertain future with expensive courts, lawyers, prison and legal proceedings. This is our punitive and unforgiving society at its best.
There are many people who suffer from biological, prescription or event created depression. I've had many people who witnessed something horrific such as military personnel, who then don't know how to deal with their experience.
Some people are in tremendous physical pain and see no relief or hope in their future. Many of these people are trapped in a downward spiral of addiction to prescription drugs where either the drugs have no effect anymore or weaning off of them is intolerable. Doctors are quick to try other drugs or mix and match a cocktail of them. This doesn't always resolve the dependency.
The one thing to remember is when someone calls, they are not looking for somebody to fix their problems or give them a solution or tell them what to do. They are looking for someone to be there and to listen. To help them get through the moment. To be a friend.
During my first few days of answering the phone, every time it rang I was terrified. The key though, was in remembering that the caller was looking to get through the moment. To live another day. And, I was there to only listen. To steer them into their pain of the now.
I had a caller who had a gun and was intent upon shooting himself. I asked him to put the gun down so that we could talk. He did. Later in the conversation I asked him to take the bullets out. He did. I then asked him to place the bullets in another room and put the gun away in a separate room, which he did. We then had a very long conversation. At the end of the call, I invited him to call back tomorrow to let me know how he was doing and he said he would think about it. He did call back the next day but got a different suicide specialist. He wanted to thank me for saving his life and told the other suicide specialist that after he hung up with me, he was going to follow through with killing himself. What saved him was his promise to call me back the next day. His word and promise was more important to him than all the problems he was going through. Making dinner, getting a full nights sleep and getting up the next morning was enough for him to be glad he was still alive. I didn't fix his problems, but I did get him through the moment and gave him something to look forward to.
I had a frequent caller who kept a bottle of vodka and prescription pills under her bed. That was how she was going to do it. Her problems were many and she didn't want to complete suicide, but she did want to die. Her life held no joy. I once convinced her to pour the Vodka down the drain. She continued to call to both check in and to make sure we were still here for her. She would call sometimes just to say hi. I would ask her if she was thinking about suicide today and she said yes, but wasn't going to do it. Then, on cue, she would tell me what she was going to do for the rest of the day to get through it and we'd hang up. One day she procured a new bottle of vodka and called us. She got a new person on the phone who panicked at the fact that she had the means and the intent so, he called 911. The police went to her home, broke down her door, put her in handcuffs, the neighbors all came out, the lights were flashing and they then transported her to a mental institution where she had to remain for three or four days of observation. We never heard from her again.
There are many right and wrong things to say to a caller. Trust me, some callers will let you know when you say the wrong thing. They can either blow up at you, insult you, or hang up the phone. The irony is that all the wrong things to say are very natural to us. They include things like,
"Let me tell you what happened to me."
"I know exactly how you feel."
"The same thing happened to my sister."
"This is what I would do."
It is uncomfortable for many of us to not be able to help someone fix their problems. It is our nature and desire to fix people but in reality, it drives us further from the person seeking help. A caller calls because they want to talk. The more talking we do, the less they get to. The more we talk about ourselves, the less they get to talk about their problem.
Sometimes a caller is silent and that can be very uncomfortable for us because we feel like we have to say something to fill the void, when in reality, just being there is enough. One caller told me that she didn't want to talk. She just wanted to know that somebody was there. Some of my callers had their greatest breakthroughs in the silence. Silence was my greatest tool in my suicide toolbox.
Here are a few questions I would ask a caller to get the conversation started. The next time someone shares a problem with you, and it doesn't have to be about suicide, resist the natural urge to wallow in their complaints or fix them and their problems. The hard part is to just listen and steer them into their pain. When they can talk about what is bothering them, they can begin to heal. Try these and see where the conversation goes. Notice that these questions, comments and concerns get the other person to talk more and you, less. The key lies in truly listening and caring. Only then can you hear the subtle cues as to what to ask next for, one answer can open up a dozen more questions and comments from you. The questions may be:
What would you like to talk about today?
How have you been dealing with that?
You said that this problem has been bothering you, what is most difficult?
Tell me what happened when . . .
Say more about . . .
What is it that you want from . . .
It sounds like that is very difficult to deal with.
How did they make our feel?
Tell me more about how feeling ___ is like for you.
It is not always comfortable talking to someone about these things but take your time. I'm here to listen and support you (after a prolonged silence).
Have you told anyone how you're feeling?
What do you think you can do?
What may stand in your way of . . .
What support options do you have?
You sound like you are in a lot of pain (note, that's not a question).
Does anything trigger that?
Where do you direct your anger?
Have you been trying to stop?
How did you feel when . . .
What kind of coping techniques do you use?
What can you do right not to take your mind off of . . .
As you can see, those questions get the caller to talk about what is bothering them. But, that is just the tip of the iceberg. After establishing rapport, defining the problem, exploring their feelings, I would come right out and ask them if they were thinking about suicide today, if they haven't already told me. I would also come right out and ask them if they have a plan, a time, the means, or if they ever tried it in the past. At this point they are very comfortable admitting anything. Even that they are standing at a river's edge or there is a gun in their lap.
When I feel that they are safe for the moment, I would get them to make plans for after we end the call. These are called distracting activities. At this point I know quite a bit about the caller and can make suggestions if they are at a loss at coming up with their own. They may include:
Calling or visiting someone
Exercise, going for a walk or ride a bike.
Cook or eat something they enjoy.
Play with a pet.
Create something with art or music, a letter or a journal, meditate or take a shower.
Go outside and take pictures.
Clean the house.
The fact that someone calls us in the first place and is willing to talk about suicide shows that they have ambivalence and that is a great way to start.
There are hundreds of suicide hotlines. Many are funded and staffed through schools and colleges. Unfortunately they may have limited hours, are open mostly during the day or not on the weekends. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (NSPL) is seven days a week, twenty four hours a day. Their toll free and anonymous number is 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
"Like" NSPL on FaceBook (FB is also a source of depression for many people, BTW). Blog about NSPL. Print out their cards and leave them around schools, the library, at work, in your church, on bulletin boards, on coffee tables, on store shelves, anywhere where people are. Keep the toll free number on your cell phone so when you encounter someone with a problem, ask them if they would like to speak with someone about it then pass them your phone. Check out the NSPL website to learn more:
Suicide should not be a secret. Are you thinking about suicide today?