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How Suicide Prevention Looks in Real Life

Suicide helplines are awesome.  They’re also the last line of defense we have at preventing suicide for ourselves and our loved ones.  There is SO much we can do before we reach the point that we need to ask for help from strangers at the end of a telephone line or in a hospital.

As someone who was in that pit and who has made it her mission to reduce the rate of suicide in the LGBTQ community, this is a daily part of my life.  I know it sounds heavy-handed to say that a suburban mom practices suicide prevention every day but there it is.  I participated in a “therapy” that has a 57% suicide rate.  Many therapists have let me know that “I’m only a survivor until I’m a statistic” and for the rest of my life, I need to keep my mental health a priority.

Add to that the fact that I am a part of, and professionally work with, the LGBTQ population, a marginalized population that has one of the HIGHEST suicide rates, especially among youth.  Suicide awareness and prevention is something I live and work towards every day.

So two lists, one for what I do in my home for my family.  And one for what I do for myself.  I hope you find them helpful in deciding how to implement suicide prevention in your homes.

 

First, in my home for my family.

  1.  We try to practice self-awareness through a variety of media and interaction.  We have children’s books about meditation, regular family dinner talk is how “Mom dealt with a trigger today”, and we identify all kinds of self-judgment when it rears its ugly head.
  2. I try to make sure each kid has a close relationship with a trusted adult outside of their parents.  I am very blessed that my sister has fostered a deep relationship with my kids since they were born.  Additionally, some of my kids have their own therapists.  In times of crisis, they might see their therapist every week.  In times of normalcy, they still do a video appointment with their therapist once a month just to maintain the connection.  At times, that trusted adult has been a family friend or a sports coach.  It’s not easy to find another adult that connects with your kid and that you actually trust to help keep communication open.  It takes intentional effort but it’s worth it.  
  3. Speaking of therapists, therapy and mental health are discussed openly in our home.  I try to teach my kids that taking care of your mental health is just as important as your physical and spiritual health.  They receive praise when they practice self-care, such as a nap in the middle of the day (rare for my kids) and journaling and keeping therapy appointments.  
  4. We define “anxiety” and “depression” for each kid separately.  This is because every person experiences them differently so it can’t be a blanket statement.  The coping strategies also take individual discussion and implementation.  Some of my kids experience these acutely, some do not.  For those, the discussion is about empathy and learning how to support people they love.  The concept of “self-awareness” is a huge one here.
  5. A house rule is that “It’s okay to not be okay.”  No one is ever “talked out of” their feelings.  Every feeling is valid (even if it’s beyond ridiculous to Mom).  No one is told to “get over it”.  Not saying it’s healthy to wallow in negative feelings.  But in our family, we have found that the kids move quicker through the emotions by experiencing total freedom to feel them.  Now, do you get to yell and scream, and use the family as your punching bag?  Absolutely not.  But you’re more than welcome to throw ice at the back wall, to scream at your pillow, and to go for a run or bike ride with your music blaring in your ears.
  6. Lastly, our family specifically has had to work REALLY hard at naming emotions.  Are we the only ones??  I ask my kids who are in distress, “Tell me what you’re feeling right now.  Are you angry?  Frustrated?  Sad?” and they look at me with blank eyes.  After weeks of not being able to name their emotions, we downloaded the popular “Emotional Guidance Scale”.  My artist daughter and I are working on coming up with our own version of it with lots of beautiful colors.  But it’s been incredibly helpful for the kids to look at and pick the word that is the closest to how they’re feeling.  Once they have the words, the resolution seems to come much faster.  

 

Suicide Prevention that I implement for myself

  1.  Daily mindful movement.  I get stuck in my head a lot.  I swirl and swirl, then I start to disconnect from my community, and it starts a whole massive downward spiral.  I’ve been able to track it down to the instigating swirling thoughts.  I’ve learned to combat them by getting into my body regularly.  It’s usually a walk or run but sometimes it’s just doing a stretching sequence in the living room.  Sometimes it’s asking for a massage.  I have to get into my body regularly, or my brain takes over and that’s not always a good thing.  
  2. Scheduled social interaction.  I pretty much make sure I’m always part of a mastermind group.  I need a scheduled meeting that my sense of propriety won’t let me ditch, due to the spirals referenced above.  I let myself be guided to what group I need and when, because I can’t predict what kind of support I’ll need.  It’s consistently very intuitive women that I gravitate towards, and it has always paid off.  Just last week, I was in a REALLY low place.  I showed up for that weekly Zoom meeting with Ramona Galey basically in tears but trying to hide it.  Ramona picked up on my energy immediately, my trusted friends invited me to share, and by the end of the hour, I was in a COMPLETELY different space.  That week, that zoom meeting made a huge difference in my mental health.  
  3. I get really in touch with my body.  Many of us are SO disconnected from our bodies and that can be the precursor for so many issues.  We know we’re feeling generally crappy but we can’t identify if it’s lack of sleep or lack of water or maybe we need some 5-HTP or some Vitamin D, etc.  The more in touch with my body I get, the more clear I receive the information.  It’s becoming easier and easier to know exactly what my body needs and when.  The mind-body connection is a priority for me.  The more I value my body and her needs, the easier it is to make really healthy choices and the better I experience my entire life.  (Bonus: getting more in tune with my body means that things that feel good, feel really good.)
  4. Therapy.  That’s a given.  I have serious trust issues with therapists, given my history.  So when picking a new one for myself or my kids, I have regular panic attacks.  The gift I give myself is the awareness and knowing that it’s worth it.  It’s totally logical for someone with my history to have trust issues and I give myself grace to work through it.  
  5. Meds.  Also a given but I’ve learned to become my own advocate.  I’ve learned that if it takes three appointments to get a dosage right, then that’s what it takes.  I research all of the side effects as well as what it will take to eventually come off of them, if that’s what my body needs.  Luckily there are SO many meds out there that have been heavily researched for decades.  Not to say that everything is optimal for everyone.  But I’m grateful that my protocol doesn’t feel risky.  Also, if my body is telling me that I need to also take Vitamin D and Magnesium for a while, I do.  
  6. Lastly, I talk about it.  I talk about suicide.  I talk about how I got to the point that I did.  I don’t wallow in it, but I do share it with others.  Yes, it’s helpful to reduce the stigma and for others to feel like they’re not alone.  But it’s also selfish.  Every time I share my experience, I feel more strength.  I feel more love for who I was then and who I’ve become.  Every time I tell the story, I think of another way to show support for someone else.  Talking about the past is not the right choice for everyone, but for me, the more I say the words, the more I feel the strength to stay.  

 

Stay.  We need you.  I know you can try to talk me out of that, like how I might not even know you, how can I possibly need you?  I need you because we’re all connected.  The smile you give to one person in the grocery store will travel until I receive it.  The act of kindness you share with a stranger will find me one day.  I know it.  And the same for me and my acts, and you.  I need you and you need me.  So let’s stay.  

 

About the author

Elena Joy Thurston is an inspirational speaker and founder of the Pride and Joy Foundation. She grew up in a turbulent home, joined a conservative church as a teenager, put herself through college, married and birthed 4 beautiful children, and then....

 Life 2.0 brought a divorce, leaving/getting kicked out of her church, a beautiful love story, and a successful new career! Her viral TEDx talk regarding her experience with Conversion Therapy has paved the way for speaking engagements around the country.  Audiences have included ABC, CBS and Fox news stations, the First Event in Boston, the Seacoast Wellness Series in New Hampshire, the THRIVE conference in Utah, as well as multiple print and online media and podcasts.

 The Pride and Joy Foundation is dedicated to building self-awareness and safety in LGBTQ families and their allies.  The education resources teach concepts such as Core Values, Limiting Beliefs, and Self-Awareness in an affordable and accessible way.  We believe that when LGBTQ and allied individuals integrate these resources, their lives and their families become stronger and safer.  Additionally, the foundation hosts an online support group.  Queer parents with straight kids get to receive and give support to straight parents with queer kids, and allies get to learn how to raise the next generation of allies. 

Elena Joy continues to speak to businesses and organizations regarding

  • the damage that conversion therapy does to communities
  • inclusion in the workplace and at home
  • Life 2.0: how to love your new normal

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