What if we treated everyone we know as if they had just attempted suicide?

My sister is a saint and doesn’t know it. She has worked 2 jobs for the last 24 years to obtain her Psychology degrees and dedicated her life to helping others. Just last night at dinner we were talking about a recent event that happened. As I listened to her tell the story I began to wonder if this person would have reached his breaking point had the world noticed and treated him the way they do after this event. Maybe there was an easier solution.

Fortunately he didn’t attempt suicide but the pain of his living situation is so great that he wrote a “fuck it I’m out” letter and made a drastic life-changing decision with no notice other than the letter to his family and his employer. My sister went above and beyond to expedite the search for her friend and her kind heart and intuition accomplished more in 4 hours than the family and law enforcement had accomplished in 2 days. This person will be fine because he made his change in a safe way but many others who feel this pain and pressure react with self-harm instead of self-preservation and that’s what I want to talk about today.

Killing Yourself is Easy

Physically, killing yourself is one of the easiest things in the world to do, still only 1 in 25 young people who “attempt” suicide actually succeed1. Mentally, it has to be of the hardest things in the world to do. However, those who attempt suicide are in so much pain that they overcome the mental barrier that is programmed into their DNA and take drastic measures to end the pain. I’ve heard a lot of critics say things like “Well if they really wanted to die they would have done it right.” Yes, that’s right. That’s also why 1 in 4 elderly attempts are successful, because they truly are looking for the end. The point here is that many who attempt suicide do not want to die, they want the pain to stop so badly they are willing to die. If we are compassionate instead of judgmental about this what do you think will happen?

According to Harvard School of Public Health, 9 out of 10 people who attempt suicide will NOT go on to die by suicide at a later date. This tells us that the attention and treatment administered by family, friends and our medical community following an attempted suicide works and it works well.

This is Not About Suicide, It’s About How We Treat the Suicidal

Three years ago I attended my first Anthony Robbins event and I was shocked to hear that he had worked with over 8,000 suicidal people and not lost a single one. I was even more shocked when I watched first-hand while he transformed a lady who scraped up her last $1,000 to attend this event before killing herself because her mother and sister had already taken their own lives and she couldn’t live with the loneliness and pain any longer. Tony makes over $1,000,000 per day for his services so that won’t work at scale but society should pay close attention to his tactics because success leaves clues. Tony’s secret is simple, he understands the human mind and identifies the needs that haven’t been met for the suicidal person. Instead of medicating them or treating them he helps them identify what they DO want and leads them to take immediate action to create lasting change.

I’m obviously a big fan of Tony Robbins but I do give a lot of credit to families and traditional mental health treatment for turning around the lives of those who attempt suicide. The numbers don’t lie, post-attempt treatment works.

Imagine a World Where We Treated Everyone Like They Were Suicidal

The fact that only 1 in 10 people who survive a suicide attempt later commit suicide is a pretty clear indication of effective treatment. I have found no data that reports reasons for surviving but I think it’s clear that our mental health system and how families and friends treat these people after an attempt is effective.

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

We have nearly 500,000 opportunities each year to “pre-treat” those who attempt suicide but our social system is not set up to handle the problem. We know what is effective. We jump to action the moment someone has reached the point of being willing to die. Now let’s figure out how to prevent suicide attempts with as much success as we have preventing secondary suicide attempts. Let’s find ways to support everyone around us every day.

What if we were educated enough to see when someone is in mental pain? What if there was no social stigma for seeking mental health treatment? What if we cut the bullshit and just said what we really wanted to when we know something isn’t right? What if we told those around us what a gift they were and how grateful we were for them each day?

The answers to these questions are clear, just not easy to implement for those who need it most. It’s easier to turn a blind eye and focus on things like terrorism which is statistically less than 10% as dangerous to US citizens as the risk of suicide.

Reforming a social system will take years and that won’t even be initiated unless it becomes a bigger problem or someone other than the drug companies discover how to profit from it. However, we as individuals can make a huge impact on the world if we just open our eyes and treat people like people. As you go about your day think about this concept. Look into the eyes of your coworkers, neighbors and family and ask them how they are doing. When you feel like someone needs to talk slow down and give them a chance to vent.

Imagine that person just put a suicide note in your hand and walked away….what are you going to say now that it matters more than ever?