I’m not an expert in much of anything. Just an ordinary American with an interesting life and lots of ideas. I have no right to tell anyone how to live their life. So think of this article as me talking to myself. If you happen to agree with me and take action because of the conversation that fell out of my head, then I’m glad. If not, that’s okay too.
Never in our lifetimes have we been forced to live with such uncertainty. We are forced to deal with the global pandemic. We are forced to face racial inequities that have been going on for over 200 years but recently erupted and caught the whole country’s attention. And we are forced to watch in horror as the most disruptive president in American history remains focused primarily on his re-election rather than addressing the turmoil that’s spinning out of control.
But have you noticed a bond developing between all of us – even with people we don’t know? Because we all share the drama of living with this unprecedented chaos, no one is immune to it. In a way, it has brought us all together.
Building a common bond
What can you do about the virus that is attacking the population of the entire world? Unless you are a scientist, researcher, or healthcare worker, not much. But you can take precautions to keep yourself and your family safe.
What can you do about the racial inequities that have boiled to the surface in recent weeks? If you are part of the white majority in this country, open your eyes to the fact that we are protected by white privilege even if it is through no choice of our own. We do have choices about how we respond to the emerging awareness of what it must be like to have to live, drive, shop, work, bank, and even breathe while Black. Although you don't see yourself as a racist, you may well be harboring negative ideas about people who look different than you without even being aware of it. Educate yourself.
How do you feel about the way our government is handling the current crises? If you think it could be handled differently, then vote. In all primaries and general elections. And if anyone in your circle of friends, family, and acquaintances has mentioned that they won't bother to vote because of whatever reason, tell them why it is so important. We must accept the responsibility that comes with living in a democratic society.
Whew! Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, I can get down to the real topic I wanted to write about. Actually, I already mentioned it. It’s the bond we share because we are all experiencing this disruption together. We are connected.
Together we are stronger
I left home and went to live on my own at 17. Not because I didn’t like my parents, got kicked out, or ran away from home, but because I could. I have always enjoyed my independence. I still live far away from most of my family, but I keep in touch. I actually really like them. All of them.
The one thing we can all do to get through this is to connect. I don’t know if this is happening in other families, but my siblings, their spouses, and adult children have started a weekly Zoom party. Every Sunday, my sister sends out the invite to all the sibs, spouses, offspring, and sometimes cousins. There are usually at least eight to ten of us on the call. We never run out of things to talk about and always leave with a positive feeling that we have strengthened our connections to each other. We would never have started the Zoom parties if Covid-19 hadn't happened.
We talk about masks, we talk about racial inequality, and we talk about politics. We share ideas and support and encourage each other. We connect.
Now, on to what I wish everyone could do. If you know someone who lives alone, or has been separated from loved ones, family, and friends by the situation we find ourselves in, please make an effort to connect. Pick up the phone, send a text, an email, or any social media message that suits you.
If you know someone who suffers from depression, anxiety, or other mental health disorders, please reach out to them. Often and regularly. You could save a life.
Could suicide touch someone you know?
Here’s the difficult conversation I was leading up to.
In the United States and around the world, suicidal behavior is a serious public health problem, not just a mental health problem. The number of completed suicides reflects only a small portion of the problem. More people are hospitalized due to suicide attempts than are fatally injured—and many are not treated at all.
If we look at it more closely, it's true that mental illness is one of many factors that influence suicide risk; but in fact, the vast majority of people who suffer from a mental disorder do not engage in suicidal behavior. Suicidal behavior results from a combination of genetic, developmental, environmental, physiological, psychological, social, and cultural factors.
So what does that have to do with connectedness? That's an odd word, but you need to remember it. If the prevention and treatment of mental illness is not the only way to prevent suicidal behavior, there has to be another answer. Connectedness, or feeling connected to others, is a common thread that weaves together many of the influences of suicidal behavior and is considered a protective factor.
There is plenty of research that supports the fact that personal connections with others reduce stress and encourage coping behaviors. It is also true that connectedness between people reduces the risk of suicidal behavior, whether it’s with parents and family or friends and colleagues.
Not surprisingly, broken connections caused by fighting, neglect, or the end of a significant relationship have the opposite effect.
Doesn't it make sense that positive connections are critical protective factors that can help reduce suicidal behavior? If you create opportunities to enhance connectedness within your circle of family, friends, and community, you might save a life.
 Promoting Individual, Family, and Community Connectedness to Prevent Suicidal Behavior, CDC, https://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/pdf/Suicide_Strategic_Direction_Full_Version-a.pdf
A Culture of Caring: A Suicide Prevention Guide for Schools (K-12) was created as a resource for educators who want to know how to get started and what steps to take to create a suicide prevention plan that will work for their schools and districts. It is written from my perspective as a school principal and survivor of suicide loss, not an expert in psychology or counseling. I hope that any teacher, school counselor, psychologist, principal, or district administrator can pick up this book, flip to a chapter, and easily find helpful answers to the questions they are likely to have about what schools can do to prevent suicide.