Advice for navigating transitions in work, life, and relationships from Dr. Loretta L.C. Brady and her team members at BDS Insight.
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I, too, read these headlines and feel despair over the lost lives. I, too, find myself wondering what could possibly explain such tragedy. And I, too, find myself drawn to whatever explanation there may be that will bring some degree of closure to my curiosity.
But beneath that search for closure is a degree of recognition that would shock most people who know me well. I share it with you because I think there is something we can learn when we remove the shame, reveal how common these feelings can be, and recognize the power that comes from making supports more available and less stigmatized.
There was a time, shortly after one of my children’s birth, when for a moment I vividly imagined killing my family. A scene flashed before my eyes and in it I pictured myself harming the people I loved the most. As quickly as it flashed before me it was gone, but I was deeply shaken.
I didn’t believe it was something I would do, I was just shaken by it being anything I was even capable of imagining.
I didn’t tell my family. I wasn’t afraid to tell them, I just didn’t want to worry or upset them.
I never imagined anything like it before or after. And I never acted upon it or in anyway did something to threaten my family or myself. I can’t explain why the scene popped into my mind.
I was certainly sleep deprived, I can recall some level of extended family stress happening, but nothing specific within my home life that would explain where such thoughts came from.
That moment taught me more about family violence and the legacy of trauma than years of clinical work and research had taught me. I knew I was not alone; I knew what I thought was not rare given the violence I had witnessed earlier in my life, and I knew that not many people really understood the fine line between imagining a terrifying scene and creating that scene.
Why am I sharing this now? The truth is that thinking about harming oneself or others is a pretty common experience. Some studies estimate 50-90 percent of regular community sample members report having had at least one murderous thought in the preceding year. Yet, to hear media reports, people who think these things are either ticking time bombs or callous monsters, and neither of these images leads people who need support to knock on a door without shame. While violent thoughts may be common, assessing the risk that someone might harm themselves or others often involves taking thoughts like this seriously.
How can you make sense of something that is both common and concerning?
As a clinical psychologist with years of clinical practice and research, my answer is far from settling. We often are better at making sense of tragedy after it has occurred than we are at predicting when and where a tragedy will occur. The fact is that we have very imperfect ways of predicting violent events and lethal outcomes. We do know that while such thoughts are common across people and time, there are factors in an individual’s current life and history that make it more likely for thoughts to turn into actions. And while this is distressing, there are a combination of risk and protective factors that reduce the likelihood of tragedy.
Lost connections, awareness and access to lethal options, and shattered self image are all factors that deeply impact whether someone is likely to act on thoughts that many people experience.
Most people won’t cause the level of irreparable harm that the recent headlines report. But to think that most people won’t imagine themselves causing such harm would be a mistake. If we understand this more fully, we might be better positioned to provide and expand the supports necessary to decrease these preventable events. And we might be better able to decrease the stigma that keeps people from accessing supports that are available.
If you have thoughts of harming yourself or others, you don’t have to deal with these alone. You are not crazy, but you are under stress and can learn strategies that will help. Seek out a mental health professional or report to your emergency room. There are supports available, like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, that can help you make sense of these thoughts and can help you create ways of coping with what is causing them.
If you have been impacted by these recent suicide-related events, seek some support to take care of yourself. Gather your community to speak about how you can support each other through this time. Limit your exposure to violent images or upsetting stories. Get in touch with an activity that absorbs you and practice that for at least 20 minutes a day. Water intake, rest, and veggies are your friend during this time. For children, routine and opportunities to creatively express feelings without judgement is important.
Finally, find something that brings joy. Celebrating joy is a powerful action in the face of devastation.
11 Facts About Suicide from dosomething.org
- Nearly 30,000 Americans commit suicide every year.
- In the U.S., suicide rates are highest during the spring.
- Suicide is the third leading cause of death for 15 to 24-year-olds and second for 24 to 35-year-olds.
- On average, one person commits suicide every 16.2 minutes.
- Each suicide intimately affects at least six other people.
- About two-thirds of people who complete suicide are depressed at the time of their deaths. Depression that is untreated, undiagnosed, or ineffectively treated is the No. 2 cause of suicide.
- There is one suicide for every 25 attempted suicides.
- Males make up 79 percent of all suicides, while women are more prone to having suicidal thoughts.
- 1 in 65,000 children ages 10 to 14 commit suicide each year.
- There are two-times as many deaths due to suicide than HIV/AIDS.
- More than 50 percent of all suicides are completed with a firearm.
- Click here for a list of Grief Support Groups in NH for those dealing with a loss due to suicide, including veterans
- State of NH Suicide Prevention Plan
- The Connect Project, for suicide prevention training
- Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) where you’ll be connected to a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area, any time, 24/7.
All right, it’s your turn. I hope you’ll join me in seeking clarity for the shifts you are navigating.
Readers of Manchester Ink Link seek relevant, local, and pragmatic reporting. Carol Robidoux provides layered reports that allow all of us to feel not only part of the story, but partners in resolution. My hope is that this column will serve as a compass for readers seeking clarity in the chaos of their businesses, personal lives, or relationships. From time to time we will have guest columnists offer their insight on a challenge. This information is simply opinion, but I hope you will share your stories so that others can gain clarity for themselves. Questions are powerful. We hope you will share yours here.
Loretta L.C. Brady owns BDS Insight a culture, crisis, and conflict management firm in Manchester. She is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Saint Anselm College. She, her husband Brian Brady, and their 5 children live and work in Manchester.
The opinions or views expressed in this column are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed professional, physician or mental health professional. This column, its author, the newspaper and publisher are not responsible for the outcome or results of following any advice in any given situation. You, and only you, are completely responsible for your actions. Dr. Loretta L.C. Brady, clinical and organizational psychologist, offers her and guest columnist opinions on a variety of current event and reader submitted subjects. She and they are expressing personal and professional opinions and views. Manchester Ink Link and Dr. Loretta L.C. Brady are not responsible for the outcome or results of following the advice of this column in any given situation.
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