Last week at Central High School, Kevin Hines rolled through our little town and spoke about surviving a 220-foot suicide attempt off the Golden Gate Bridge.  Check him out, impressive: @KevinHinesStory.  After a riveting 90 minute monologue, which swayed between manic intensity and preachy advice, the crowd felt a palpable connection that is impossible to gain from a professional.  

Earlier in the day, I had been reading Dr. Thomas Joiner’s Why People Die by Suicide.  Dr. Joiner has also visited Pueblo and I haven’t heard him speak, but I can only imagine they have opposite approaches to suicide prevention. Dr. Joiner's father committed suicide and after years of clinical training and earning advanced academic degrees, he has developed a powerful new theory that addresses the eternal question of why.  He's come up with a few answers—burden, shame and a lack of belonging.  On the other hand, Kevin knows from personal experience. 

Clinicians study the underlying causes of psychache, whereas patients feel the pain.  The difference is like two people standing on opposite sides of the Grand Canyon, with the patient exhausted, bruised and scarred after hiking from the South Rim to the North Rim and the doctor sitting in an air-conditioned RV offering his sympathy by asking the patient, “Rough hike?”  

Kevin Hines relayed the terror of his personal experience and the crowd responded with awe.  To refine his performance down to one message, it might be this: “Here, take all my knowledge on self-care about the daily need for expressing one’s depression/illness/psychosis.  If I can help ONE person in this audience, then my journey and story have been worthwhile.”

That’s how I feel about writing a book on suicide.  Help one person and you help the world.  Kevin and Dr. Joiner have helped thousands.  Even though the three of us have a passion for suicide prevention, they had to learn it the hard way.  Dr. Joiner had to lose his dad.  Kevin had to fall hundreds of feet and shatter his body.  And I’ve lost family and friends.

Like Kevin taught me, all you have to do is say four little words, “I need help now.”

Saying those words aloud, people will come forward to help.  They might not know what to do but surprisingly they will listen.  Which is the best help of all.  And one person might even ask, while you’re still alive, the two most important questions—how and why.

As for the how, people always want to know how someone committed suicide.  Call it an innate sense of moral morbidity.  I know how everyone kills themselves:  PRACTICE!

So, when someone threatens suicide, the best thing to ask is, “How are you practicing self-harm?”

As for why people commit suicide, perhaps it is best to ask, “Why do you feel like you are a burden?  Why do you feel like you don’t belong?” Maybe more importantly than how and why is a strange question . . . who.  Who is demanding that you kill yourself?  It’s a third-person perspective to a first-person desire.  “I” need to step outside of myself and ask “him” or “her” the why and how questions. Have a conversation with yourself and then convince yourself to wait.  Maybe you can’t stop yourself from committing suicide, but urge yourself to pause.  Be your own best friend! 

And if the voice inside says, “You can’t stop me,” then tell them, “You’re right. I might do it someday, but not yet.”

 

 (*As for the punchline to that joke:

The therapist ordered a Dr. Pepper and the jumper ordered . . . a Suicide.)