What is the story related to mental health, suicide, and/or resilience that you’d like to share?
I imagine there isn’t one mental healthcare provider who doesn’t fear losing a client or patient to suicide. For me, being in the unique position of another person entrusting me with their mental healthcare and therapeutic journey is an honor and a sacred space. Over the years I have treated many individuals who have experienced depressive episodes that included suicidal ideation or more acute urges or behaviors related to suicidal attempts.
One of the most meaningful memories I have of walking this journey with a client was during my pre-licensure hours working in an employee assistance program. I was an inexperienced provider and working on developing skills and competency as a mental health counselor. A woman contacted our agency who was experiencing acute suicidal ideation. As I proceeded to conduct a needs assessment, or asking questions to determine the level of care she needed, I found myself more deeply connected to the pain and concern behind her initial feelings of wanting to end her life. Like most beginning therapists, clients don’t realize that they help the therapist to a greater or equal degree than the therapist helps them. By the end of our call, we had established a plan for support and the client was stabilized. It was during those moments that I learned for the first time that I didn’t have to fear another person’s desire to want to die due to their suffering, I just needed to be present with it and hear their story and empathetically bear witness to their pain.
What resources have helped you to address this challenge?
As a licensed mental health counselor, it is extremely important to understand the differences between suicidal ideation that is routinely experienced during acute episodes of clinical depression—e.g., “I wouldn’t mind not waking up today”—and an actual plan to carry out the act of ending one’s life. The latter requires mandatory reporting and action to save another person’s life. Patients sometimes fear being reported if they talk about having suicidal ideation, which alone is a common symptom of depression. Creating a safe space for clients to talk about all aspects of depression is critical to managing depression and ultimately curbing thoughts of self-harm or ending one’s life.
Based on your experience, how can we work to build resilience in ourselves, our loved ones, and in our communities to better face life’s challenges?
Some individuals are more prone to having resilience than others. Research has consistently shown that resilience is more innate in some than others for reasons we do not yet scientifically understand. That being said, research has also shown that resilience can be developed. As a mental health therapist, I am a proponent of working with a professional mental healthcare provider to learn and develop skills of resilience for those who don’t possess high degrees of this innately. While fragile, the human condition is inherently oriented toward a potential for growth.
What is one thing related to mental health, suicide, or resilience that you wish everyone could understand?
No one should ever stop believing there is hope.