Healthy Strategies for the Road to RecoveryJan 31, 2024 09:31AM ● By Kay Bela, MS
The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health points out that “Suicide is a major public health concern. Suicide is among the leading causes of death in the United States. Based on recent mortality data, suicide in some populations is on the rise.” Psychologists and professional counselors are ever-vigilant in the pursuit of diagnosing and treating the root causes and outcomes of this tragic affliction. When looking to recover from mental health issues as severe as suicidal thoughts or attempts or chronic suicidality, there are many lessons that therapists can help clients learn through recovery.
Lesson 1: Healing is in the synthesis of opposites. Dialectical Behavior Therapy, or DBT for short, is the most popular and highly effective modality for suicidality. It revolves around the concept of accepting one’s self while also acknowledging a desire to change. While we can often judge ourselves and hold ourselves (and/or others) to impossible standards, the reality is that we are not perfect, and yet we can learn to love and accept who we are in this moment.
Lesson 2: Recovery is not linear or “one size fits all,” therefore, accept and give advice cautiously and be patient with the healing process as it does not look the same from person to person. Even if we see similarities, consider the various reasons someone may be suicidal or have chronic suicidal thoughts. Issues like trauma related to homelessness, incarceration, abandonment, abuse, neglect, addiction, mental illness, anger, loss, trying and failing over and over again without reprieve, not being heard, chronic pain, chronic stress or lack of connection.
Most people dealing with suicidal thoughts have such traumas—sometimes many forms of it in their lives. What may be comforting to one person can be painful for another. This is not to discourage, but to increase the desire to empathize and listen, rather than tell someone how to heal.
To get a better picture, look no further than the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Adverse Childhood Experiences study that shows the more traumatic experiences a person has had in their life, the higher risk they are for chronic stress, various diseases, ailments, addiction and mental health issues like suicidality.
Lesson 3: Increase the sense of safety, security, coping skills, and mental health resources before diving into deep conversations about trauma and the roots of suicidal thoughts. Deep conversations can be triggering and remind us of feelings and memories that are particularly burdensome, causing us to lose sleep, begin ruminating on thoughts we’ve tried to avoid, or turn toward unhealthy choices like alcohol, drugs, food, or more to cope. When we increase support, it’s like falling onto a bed, rather than a hard floor. With support in place, we then gradually open one metaphorical box—difficult topic—at a time to search for the root causes and learn the lessons stored there, before moving onto the next area with less overwhelm and unnecessary stress.
Lesson 4: Remember that the brain is trying to protect us, but it also may be lying to us. When something alarming happens, the brain notifies the amygdala—the part of the brain in charge of telling us to fight, fly, freeze or fawn in response to the crisis. When an experience is traumatic, the brain tries to stay vigilant about future threats to make sure we are prepared in case danger happens again. This is a beautiful tool to have in our brain, but it may be activated when there is no longer any real danger. It can also become debilitating if our body and mind feels it is constantly in danger when it is not. Our body may feel like it’s telling us, “We can’t handle this, this is too much stress, this is too hard,” and thus self-destruction can feel like the only way out, but it is not.
When it comes to working through these triggers and rewiring these messages, Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (or EMDR) is very helpful. It even has safety and support steps built in for guidance, before discussing and re-processing the trauma. EMDR essentially lessens a highly charged memory or experience, allowing for greater clarity so that one can understand and begin to let go—a highly desired outcome of many people dealing with debilitating trauma that has led to their suicidal tendencies.
Lesson 5: Say no to our addiction of choice. For many, this is easier said than done, but it’s important to make this shift with intention, support, and clarity. When preparing to give up something, we can ask ourselves, “Why do I turn to this?” For instance, if someone is stressed, and they turn to alcohol to relax, then they need to find something else that also helps them feel relaxed. When we give up something, we need to replace it with something that will benefit us in the same (or better!) way. If we are not able to do it on our own, there is no shame in joining a support group, getting a mentor, or checking into a good recovery center to learn how to live without it.
While there are so many lessons learned during recovery from mental health issues, hopefully these tips offer helpful and healthy starting points for the healing process.
Kay Bela is pre-licensed professional counselor awaiting licensure application approval. She has more than 15 years of experience as a mentor, speaker, leader and teacher and five years as a therapist, four years as a business owner and experience as a program coordinator. She is certified in Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Exposure and Response Prevention for Treatment Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Social Anxiety and phobias.
Bela has completed suicide prevention trainings for ASIST and QPR with the ability to train others in QPR. In addition, she is in supervision for Eye-Movement Desensitization Reprocessing and CAMS Care to assist clients struggling with suicidality and/or trauma-related concerns. Kay Bela Coaching & Counseling is located at 255 Butler Ave., Ste. 206, in Lancaster. For appointments and more information, call 717-508-7320, email [email protected] or visit KayBelaCoaching.com.