Monday Musings…..Eleven is the Loneliest Number

Today is a very dark day for some people in Canada. According to the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, every day 11 individuals in our nation will end their life by suicide. As you read these words, you are likely weighed down by this reality and the realization of how many people you know who are a part of this sobering statistic. Whenever I ask a class if they’ve known someone who has taken their life, the majority raise their hands. But those hands fall back on the desks when I ask if they had any idea of the magnitude of the pain the person was feeling. Suicide is often a silent solution to end that private pain.

So there are two questions on everyone’s minds: why is this happening in what appears to be growing numbers and what are we doing about it?

For many of us, when we look back even 20 years ago, we have a hard time recalling the names of anyone in our circle who died by suicide. What has changed? I often hear that social media is to blame, or the education system, or the fact that people are not going to church as much, or maybe it is the even the dissolution of the family. No doubt these may be contributing factors. Our remedy then has been to spend a lot of time trying to fix what is broken, but not really being sure what exactly is the piece that needs to be fixed. Is it possible that these external scapegoats are not really the problem?

Everyone is looking for the ‘why’ out there, when the real issue lies within. Take any two people who experience the same amount of influence from social media, go to the same school, have the same faith base, and come from similar family situations. Is it possible that they will respond differently when it comes to suicidal behaviour? Of course the answer is yes. So what is the difference? It has everything to do with perception and processing.

Consider this: each one of us is constantly bombarded with information that we take in through our senses. If we are paying attention, we will form impressions of the world around us and come to some conclusions about how this impacts our life. We process this information, think about it factually, compare it to what we already know and in quick succession our emotions kick in. These emotions (good, bad, or indifferent) now become the fuel for what is to follow. For those of you who overthink, you can relate to how you mentally and physically feel the weight of your thoughts. Once that fuel is ignited, choices are made that are eventually followed by actions. Some will say, suicide is impulsive. I disagree. It is a reaction to set of circumstances that have been processed and then filtered from logic to emotion and finally to behaviour. The key is in the encoding not the environment.

So what do I mean by encoding? It’s how a person is wired to handle adversity. The answer lies in developing and enhancing the protective factor of hardiness. This is slightly different from resilience, which most of you have heard is about a person’s ability to bounce back. Bouncing is great but even in Seligman’s famous dog experiment, the dog got tired of jumping from the constant, relentless shocks to his paws and he simply gave up and lay down thinking there was nothing else he could do. That’s’ the problem! It seems like we all have this breaking point where enough is enough and that’s why I think people die by suicide. Just like the dog, they are done. Nothing that they have tried to do changed the situation. They’ve got nothing left. So what’s the difference with hardiness? Hardiness, as its very name suggests, is the idea that you never give in and you never give up. It’s about persistence in the face of adversity; it’s about passion and believing so strongly that the challenge won’t get the best of you; and it’s about purpose in that trial that is not easily answered through logic.

Clearly some people are born hardy. But is it possible that it can be taught? I believe it can be as evidenced by my students who just completed an 8 school road trip speaking with and sharing their stories of purpose, passion and persistence with grade 12s. My team represent various programs, and lived experiences but each one had the goal of instilling hope that when life blindsided them, they pushed through. The more they spoke, the more they became empowered and instilled that in the high school students. They talked boldly about the challenges and changes they faced and the reception was overwhelmingly positive.

In a nation where 11 people feel alone every day to the point where suicide is their only option, we need to increase opportunities for positive peer connection. We may be a small team in a small county in southwestern Ontario but we are determined to reduce that lonely number. When people ask what is being done – we are doing our part! In future blogs I'll fill you in on more details so you too can help save a life!

Today’s song is by “One” by Three Dog Night. When we lose someone to suicide, we go from being two to now being one without them. It truly is the saddest experience you will ever know. My heart goes out to everyone reading this who has lost someone.

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