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Blog: A RealConvo for National Suicide Prevention Awareness Week

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Written by: Dr. Foland
Published on: September 7, 2020


We all get injured at various points in our lives. It is a natural part of living our lives – if we weren’t meant to experience injury, then our bodies would never have evolved the ability to heal. We experience pain when we are injured as part of a biological process intended to teach us to avoid the kinds of things that resulted in our injuries, but our injuries are not our fault. Our injuries are part of a process: the natural biological process of being a human, living our lives, and growing.

Sometimes we experience injuries that are severe enough that they exceed our bodies’ ability to heal. When this happens we are left with scars. Sometimes these scars are almost unnoticeable to others – I have scars from an operation on my knee that you can barely see because they are hidden behind hair. Other times, our scars are much more visible – my wife has a scar on her forehead that isn’t covered by her hair. In more severe cases, our scars make it harder for us to function – sadly, our bodies are not able to regenerate limbs, replace (most[1]) lost organs, or restore senses to us that have been damaged by our injuries.

Physical injuries are easy to understand because they tend to be visible to those around us. However, psychological injuries are just as real, just as painful, and just as much of a natural part of living our lives as their physical counterparts. Just like our physical injuries, we will all experience mental and emotional pain as a result of living our lives. They are a part of the process too, and they are not our fault either. Just as physical pain serves a real purpose, emotional pain plays a critical role in our development – particularly our development of empathy.[2] I’m willing to break a "good writing" rule here and repeat a sentence from earlier for the sake of making a point: Our injuries are part of a process: the natural biological process of being a human, living our lives, and growing.

Sometimes we experience psychological and emotional injuries severe enough that they exceed our bodies’ ability to heal, too. Unlike physical scars, emotional scars are inherently invisible if we only use our basic senses to perceive them. However, many emotional scars are visible if we use our sense of empathy – the same sense that our own pain has helped us develop.

Sadly, many emotional scars are just as painful, just as hard to recover from, and just as debilitating as the loss of a limb or other severe physical injury. Sadly, some of these scars are completely invisible – no matter how hard we try to perceive them. Sadly, some of these scars cost people their lives, and that is not their fault.

We tend to view physical injuries in a fairly straightforward and guilt-free bubble. They simply are what they are. Most of the time, people are willing to overlook our physical scars, and we easily celebrate overcoming physical scars in meaningful and extraordinary ways.[3] Sometimes, the people close to us come to find beauty in our physical scars – I think the scar on my wife’s forehead makes her more beautiful, and I love the way it always meets up almost, but not quite, with where she parts her hair.

Sadly, we do not always view emotional injuries through the same sympathetic lens. Sadly, many peoples’ struggles to overcome these emotional scars and do meaningful and extraordinary things remain completely invisible. Sadly, people are often unwilling to overlook or find beauty in our emotional scars. And, once again: Sadly, some of these scars cost people their lives, and that is not their fault.

I have lost a family member and one of my best friends to suicide in my life. None of this was either of their faults any more than any physical injury they could have been subjected to. Some of us who are still here have narrowly escaped death after events that could have very easily resulted in devastating physical injuries. Some of us who are still here have narrowly escaped death after events that could have very easily resulted in our loss due to ongoing battles with devastating psychological injuries. Both types of events are tragedies; neither of those types of events are the victims' faults. However, one of those types of events is a lot harder for many people to understand without judgement.

Please use your own sense of empathy – developed through your own natural biological process of being a human, living your life, and growing – to understand that there is no shame in experiencing emotional pain. Talk about it. Learn from it. Grow from it. Together, we #KeepGoing.


American Foundation for Suicide Prevention


This blog was written by Dr. Steven J. Foland as part of Suicide Prevention Awareness Week 2020, September 6th – 12th. The associated TSoG logo change was made in support of The American Association for Suicide Prevention (in compliance with their brand colors for suicide prevention programs and advocacy[4] but without their knowledge). If you would like to support The AFSP, please consider getting involved or making a donation to their wonderful, research driven mission.

From the AFSP website, their “Top 10 things we’ve learned through research”:[5]

  1. Suicide is related to brain functions that affect decision-making and behavioral control, making it difficult for people to find positive solutions
  2. Limiting a person’s access to methods of killing themselves dramatically decreases suicide rates in communities
  3. Ninety percent of people who die by suicide have an underlying — and potentially treatable — mental health condition
  4. Depression, bipolar disorder, and substance use are strongly linked to suicidal thinking and behavior
  5. Specific treatments used by mental health professionals — such as Cognitive Behavior Therapy-SP and Dialectical Behavior Therapy — have been proven to help people manage their suicidal ideation and behavior
  6. No one takes their life for a single reason. Life stresses combined with known risk factors, such as childhood trauma, substance use — or even chronic physical pain — can contribute to someone taking their life
  7. Asking someone directly if they’re thinking about suicide won’t “put the idea in their head” — most will be relieved someone starts a conversation
  8. Certain medications used to treat depression or stabilize mood have been proven to help people reduce suicidal thoughts and behavior
  9. If someone can get through the intense, and short, moment of active suicidal crisis, chances are they will not die by suicide
  10. Most people who survive a suicide attempt (85 to 95 percent) go on to engage in life




The Semicolon Butterfly is a symbol that is unaffiliated with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention or The Shoulders of Giants. It is simply a symbol that represents rebirth, freedom, and personal evolution to some survivors of suicide, depression, and mental illness.[6]


References

  1. G K. Michalopoulos, "Liver Regeneration", J Cell Physiol., vol. 213, no. 2, pp. 286-300, 2007.
  2. M.A Lumley, J. L. Cohen, G. S. Borszcz, A. Cano, A. M. Radcliffe, L. S. Porter, H. Schubiner, and F. J. Keefe, "Pain and Emotion: A Biopsychosocial Review of Recent Research", J Clin Psychol, vol. 67, no. 9, pp. 942-968, June 2011.
  3. 5 famous amputees who overcame the odds, Jordan Thomas Foundation, Aug. 7, 2017. Accessed on: Sept. 7, 2020. [Online]. Available: https://jordanthomasfoundation.org/5-famous-amputees-who-overcame-the-odds/
  4. Design Guidelines, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Accessed on: Sept. 7, 2020. [Online]. Available: https://chapterland.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/13/2017/12/AFSP-Master-Brand-Book.pdf
  5. What we've learned through research, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Accessed on: Sept. 7, 2020. [Online]. Available: https://afsp.org/what-we-ve-learned-through-research
  6. A. Roden, Semicolon tattoo meaning and designs to inspire you, The TrendSpotter. Accessed on: Sept. 7, 2020. [Online]. Available: https://www.thetrendspotter.net/semicolon-tattoo/