Suicide in the Media: Getting it Done Right

I have been reading thoughts online and hearing opinions in real life regarding a Netflix series about a teenage girl who dies by suicide, and what questions this show raises about the media’s responsibility for portraying triggering, and even instructional, scenes on how to take one’s own life. In response to this, I would like to refer to an article published this month by Lisa Firestone, PhD in Psychology Today, who states:

“Guidelines on the media’s portrayal of suicide include never glamorizing or sensationalizing it in any way, period. Specific means for suicide should not be shown or related. Any depiction of suicide should include a story of a survivor who is living proof that the suicidal state can be temporary…In addition, any discussion of suicide should include resources for people who may be in crisis or are worried about someone they know. Media should also include a list of warning signs for suicide, which can help people identify when someone’s at risk.”

I feel distressed because so many preteen and young teenagers are watching this show, which has a ‘MA’ rating. I feel worried because kids with mental illness are watching this and possibly being triggered into self-harming behaviors and emotional anguish. And, God forbid, if any one of them is moved to end their life because this show’s message gives them the final reason to do it or the final way to go about doing it.

Don’t get me wrong…It is important to talk about suicide to raise awareness and get people who need help to open up and reach out for it, but like Firestone says, without following proven recommendations on how to report on suicide, “we risk contributing to individuals’ suicide risk and even creating contagion, especially among teens.”

Please remember, the suicide state is often passing and temporary. It can be a trance-like state that can leave people with diminished awareness of the fact that if they wait things out they may regret even considering suicide at all. Many people who have made serious attempts often have these types of regrets, because like everyone says, things do get better. Nothing ever stays the same. Don’t give up just before things change!

Warning Signs of Suicide

(from the American Association of Suicidology)

  • Talking about wanting to die.
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself.
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose.
  • Talking about feeling trapped or being in unbearable pain.
  • Talking about being a burden to others.
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs.
  • Acting anxious, agitated or recklessly.
  • Sleeping too little or too much.
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated.
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge.
  • Displaying extreme mood swings.

Resources:

Education is Key – A Meditation

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When we have a mental illness, it’s imperative to learn all we can about it in order to understand it, because understanding leads to the best collaboration with healthcare professionals when making decisions for our care and medication and treatment choices. Understanding leads to the best advocacy for ourselves when dealing with employers, family, and friends who may or may not get how mental illness affects our performance and behaviors. Understanding leads to self-compassion and patience during times when we are feeling low and can’t do what we want. Knowing it is part of the disease and not part of our character can help save our self-esteem and self-worth.

Today, I will ask my healthcare professional for, or research on my own, two sources to learn something I didn’t already know about my mental illness.

To the Worrier – A Meditation

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Worrying is a natural part of life. There isn’t one adult person who hasn’t worried about something at some point in his or her life. It is when the worry starts affecting your mental health by way of anxiety and depression, and your physical health (your sleeping, your eating, ulcers, etc.) that it becomes a problem.

We live in a time-based reality. Past, present, and future. Worrying is a past and future minded activity. We are either thinking about something in the past that has already happened, or thinking about something in the future that hasn’t happened yet (and sometimes about something in the future that may or may not even happen.)

This leaves the present time as the only place for us to escape our incessant worrying. We do this by engaging in activities that distract us and keeping our focus on the task at hand; by paying close attention to our surroundings at all times – really listen to the birds tweet, fully take in the grass’ green and the sky’s blue; listen to each word of the song on the radio, each note that is played instead of daydreaming about your worries while driving in the car.

This is called being “mindful”, and it keeps us out of past and future time and out of worrying. The mind doesn’t like it and will try to pull you back into past and future, but you can fight it by consciously choosing to stay in the present moment by never doing anything on “auto-pilot” again. Feel whatever you do with all of your senses and you will be in mindfulness.

Today, I will practice mindfulness or present-time living, and I will know freedom from worry and anxiety, even if only for brief moments.

Mind, Body, Spirit – A Meditation

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Mind, body, and spirit are all important parts of a person. When one is ill the others suffer as well. Sometimes those of us with mental illness become so focused on our mind and its problems that we forget to address body and spirit issues as well; issues that could help improve the mind.

What do we do each day to take care of mind, body, and spirit. Are we taking our medications as prescribed? Using positive cognitive skills? Exposing ourselves to healthy media and relationships? Are we eating well-balanced meals? Staying away from drugs and alcohol? Exercising? Do we take time for spiritual practice? Prayer? Meditation? Yoga? Mindfulness? Time alone with nature?

Today, I will pick one area – mind, body, or spirit – and research or think of one action I can take to improve my health in this area. Then I will begin this action within the week.

On Being Consistent – A Meditation

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So often with mental illness being consistent in our daily tasks and responsibilities is difficult. We want to shower everyday, but it is not always manageable due to severe depression. We want to finish the tasks we start, however, mania keeps us frantic and unfocused. Showing up for family events and dates with friends can be daunting when anxiety takes hold and won’t let go.

Yes, being consistent, “a man of your word,” so to speak, is not always possible when you have a mental illness. Guess what? That is ok. Really, it is, because having a mental illness is not a choice; it’s not a matter of will power, or want, or preference, or feeling like doing this or that or not. It is a medical condition that directly affects the centers in our brains responsible for decision-making, motivation, concentration, and emotional regulation, just to name a few.

Today, I will remind myself that my mental illness is not a choice, but a disease I did not ask for nor that I want, and the effect it has on the consistency of my behaviors is sometimes more than I can control. I will be kind to myself and cut myself some slack when I do not live up to my own expectations consistently.

How to Avoid Post Holiday Winter Blues

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After all of the fun and excitement of the holidays are behind us, how can we avoid the let down that comes so quickly into the new year?

Personally, I was feeling depressed one measley day after Christmas!  After a month of adventurous shopping to find just the right gifts to thrill of getting our first ever REAL Christmas tree, the holiday season seems like it is going to be hard for me to let go of this year.  It feels as if letting go of the season itself means letting go of the joy of the season as well.

I suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is a mental illness where one’s mood state significantly changes from season to season.  In the winter months, my mood has a tendency towards depression.  There are ways, however, I can fight the depression that comes from both post holiday blues and SAD.

One thing I can do is keep some of my seasonal decorations up well into the cold months of February.  Maybe not Santa and his reindeer, but snowmen and snowflakes make for fun winter decor.

In an effort to extend the social benefits of holiday parties, I could make it a point to host small get-togethers once a month in January and February.  I must remember that social isolation can increase my depression.

I could send out Valentine’s and give small Valentine’s Day gifts (to select individuals), like I did with Christmas cards and gifts, to stay in a holiday-type spirit throughout winter.

Many people, myself included, tend to go to church only on special occasions like Christmas.  Continuing to attend service every Sunday can keep that feeling of spirituality and connectedness to something greater than myself alive. I plan to do this; I’ve already declared it as a new year resolution.

Some people volunteer or donate money or gifts around the holidays. We all know the recipients of our time, talents and treasures need them year-round, so why not continue giving well past the holiday season?  It will be good for them and us, too!

Finally, and specifically for those with SAD, light therapy can help chase depression away. I have used this in the past and it has been very beneficial for me.  Be sure to talk with your doctor before trying this, however, especially if you have bipolar, because it can trigger mania or mixed states if used improperly.

What are some other things you do or you can come up with to do to avoid those post holiday and winter blues?

Mental Illness and Seasons of Change

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It is the season of fall here in the northern hemisphere; a time where the temperatures cool down, the leaves change colors and begin to drop from the trees, the grass goes dormant, and the days grow shorter and shorter.  For a lot of people with mental illness, it is a time of depression.  The professionals call it “Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD.)”

I have SAD, although with the mood stabilizers I am currently on for my bipolar disorder, my seasonal depression is not as severe as it once was.  I used to use a light box to help combat my winter depression, but I haven’t needed it for years now.  And last winter, I didn’t experience a depressive episode at all, which was a miracle!  I made up for it this summer, but that is a different story.

While thinking about the changes that fall brings outside, I was also meditating on some changes I need to make within myself.  I thought letting go of behaviors and beliefs which are limiting my good physical and mental health was, in a way, symbolic of the way trees let go of their leaves.

I know I want to set healthier boundaries with some of the people in my life.  I tend to do too much for others while neglecting my own needs which leaves me mentally drained and physically ill.  The belief driving this behavior is that I must be perfect to gain other people’s approval and that I need other people’s approval to feel good about myself.  This belief causes me much anxiety, and when I fail, which I often do because no one is perfect, I feel depressed.

It is helpful for me to identify these types behaviors, and more importantly, the beliefs driving them, because they really do affect my mental health as much as the chemical imbalances in my brain do.

It is only by changing the conversation I have with myself in my head about what I believe that I am going to be able to successfully change my unhealthy behaviors.  I have to plant the seeds of new, healthier beliefs this fall and let old behaviors die off this winter which will hopefully give birth to greater peace of mind come spring (or earlier – but I’m doing a metaphor thing here.) 😉

What unhelpful beliefs can you let “fall” away, and what negative behaviors might die as a result?