Talk of suicide seems to be everywhere lately. Whether it is news reports of celebrities whose lives have been tragically lost or popular television shows such as 13 Reasons Why, suicide is a topic that unfortunately infiltrates our everyday lives. And often, the public discourse and television representation of such topics are misleading and confusing for teenagers.
As a mental health counselor, it’s my job to help people work through their feelings and come to terms with the difficult things that may happen in life.
Here’s what I want every teenager to understand about suicide:
- Pain is temporary. It is common to feel like the pain, especially emotional pain, is not going to end. It is human nature to avoid discomfort and pain, but nothing is everlasting. We just have to open our horizons and listen to other people who have been where we are and who are using their history to make a difference. I challenge you to find a successful athlete, TV personality or singer you admire who has not had a difficult past.
- You’re not what happened to you. Bad experiences often have a tendency to make us feel undeserving or think that we somehow caused them. This is totally false. Our experiences do not define who we are. Experiences are events; who we are is who we choose to become. Do this small exercise: take a $20 bill. Fold it. Fold it until you can’t fold it anymore. Squeeze it as hard as you can. Throw it on the ground and step on it. How much is it worth now? $20. The value did not change, in spite of what you did. It is the same thing with your worth. You’re valuable no matter what has happened to you. Remember that.
- You’re not alone. There are people around you willing to be in your corner. I get it, negative people seem to be more present, but there are so many good people. In this day and age, it might seem like everyone is fake or like no one can possibly relate to you because their Instagram is full of fun pictures. The reality is that loneliness, fear, disappointment and hurt are more common than we realize; some people just know how to mask them better. Once you start reaching out, you’ll realize that you’re not alone. There are many people who struggle with the same things you do.
- There is help. There are people like myself whose life mission and purpose is to help you, people waiting on the other side of a phone wanting to listen to you and give you some hope. You might think that nothing is going to help, but the reality is that nothing that you’ve tried so far has helped. It doesn’t mean you have tried everything, though. There are plenty of ways to overcome your pain. Keep asking for help even when the first few people did not say the right thing, or they just didn’t know what to say.
- You will leave more suffering. Suicide is not something that you do to yourself, it’s something you leave for others to deal with after you’re gone. Talking to others who have survived those who committed suicide, I can tell you that they are left with so many questions, some much guilt, so much burden, so many “what ifs.” Maybe some people who are supposed to love you are hurting you, and you might think suicide may punish them. But think about it. If you want to do it to “teach them a lesson,” what makes you think they will care if they did not care enough about you to not hurt you? However, there will be those who have loved you who will end up being the ones getting hurt.
- Feelings are like visitors. They do not stay unless we invite them to stay. It does not mean your feelings should not be there. Actually, given what you have probably been through, feelings should be there. However, feelings come to share information with us. They are here to give us a new understanding.
- This is life. I know this sounds crude and insensitive, but we often assume that life is supposed to be happiness and rainbows, and when pain and suffering strike, we get sidetracked and upset. The reality is that life is like a rollercoaster with ups and downs, and although we say we know that, we don’t fully embrace this truth. If we did, we would expect to have painful experiences as well as happy moments. We don’t choose to have these painful experiences, especially when it’s because of someone else’s choice. But we can choose what to make of them.
- There are others who have it worse. I know this sounds cliché. I remember hearing something similar growing up if I was not grateful for something or I was complaining too much. But you know what? Traveling to other countries on mission trips and having been a therapist for over 10 years and listening to the worst stories one can image, I have realized the truth in those words: there are others who have it worse. If you don’t believe me, YouTube Nick Vujicic and watch some of his videos where he talks about what it has been like living without arms and legs.
- You could be the answer for someone else. When bad things happen, we often ask “why” as a way to make sense of our experiences. Unfortunately, many of us are still waiting for the answer because there is no answer that can match our pain. This does not mean that our suffering is pointless and useless. On the contrary, our suffering may be where we find our purpose, and we can share it with others in similar situations. In my profession as a therapist, it is often said that the best ones are those who have gone through the worst situations and used them to their advantage. I can say that is accurate. The best therapists I know are those who have used their experience to connect with others at this level instead of using textbook knowledge. You don’t have to be a therapist to help others. In fact, many of the people who will need your help may never see a therapist but at the end of the day, they’re looking for people like you who can relate and give them hope.
Our suffering may be where we find our purpose, and we can share it with others in similar situations.
- What would your older self say to you right now? I know a typical question is “how do you see yourself in one or five years?” When you’re so lost and full of pain, it is hard to even imagine the next 10 minutes. This is why this exercise can be powerful: Imagine you make it to whatever age you consider a good enough age to have more wisdom. Now, what would this person – your older self – say to you right now? What words would this person use to encourage you? What would this person say to make you stop? If it’s too hard for you, then think about your best friend or someone you look up to. What would they say?
- You’re a work in progress. You’ve probably heard the saying, “Rome was not built in a day.” Healing from emotional wounds takes time. Be nice and patient. Do not measure your progress by how you feel. Measure your progress by how long it takes you to get back up. Work in progress means that you’ll get there a little at a time. Remember that you don’t have to see the whole stairway as long as you’re able to see the next step, and the next step and the next step.
- You deserve better. Other people around you may not treat you right, but it does not mean this is what you deserve. There is a huge difference between what you have gotten and what you deserve. Don’t confuse the two. Remember that you have so much potential and so many things left to do. You have time. Better things are coming your way, you just have to hang in there. It’s not easy but it will be worth it.
- Look around for reasons to live. When we feel discouraged, sad and in so much pain, our ability to see things gets twisted. It’s almost like we put on these glasses that only let us see reasons why we should end it. If you’re driving at night, it might be hard to see the details in your surroundings. It doesn’t mean they are not there, it just means there isn’t enough light for you to see it. A good exercise to do for a full week is to write down three things you’re thankful for every day. They don’t have to be big things; actually, the smaller the better. After a week, you will notice that your outlook begins to change. As you continue to do this exercise, you may come to realize that there is so much to look forward to, even when others may not see it.
- Suicide is a final decision to a temporary circumstance – a decision that closes the door to any and all opportunities for your life to get better. It might seem like the best alternative, but I assure you that it is not. I hope to have given you reasons why you shouldn’t, but if you’re still considering it, please reach out to 1-800-273-8255 or text “HOME” at 741741. It’s free and confidential, and you will realize that there’s much more to your story. This is just one chapter in your book, and although this may be the worst chapter, your story does not have to end here.