Article 43


Spiritual Diversions

Tuesday, July 06, 2021

Nationality Bias

Why some Americans seem more “American” than others

By Katherine Kinzler, University of Chicago
The Conversation
July 6, 2021

In the United States and many other countries, NATIONALITY IS DEFINED by a set of legal parameters. It may involve birthplace, parental citizenship or a circumscribed set of procedures for naturalization.

Yet, in many Americans’ minds, these more objective notions of citizenship are a little fuzzy around the edges, as social and developmental psychologists LIKE ME have documented in our research. Psychologically, some people may just seem a little more American than others, based on unrelated factors like race, ethnicity or language.

Reinforced by IDENTITY POLITICS, this results in differences over who is welcome, who is tolerated and who is made to not feel welcome at all.

How race affects who belongs

Many people who EXPLICITELY ENDORE EGALITARIAN IDEALS, such as the notion that all Americans are equally deserving of the rights of citizenship regardless of race, still implicitly harbor prejudices over who’s “really” American.

In a CLASSIC STUDY by psychologists Thierry Devos and Mahzarin Banaji, American adults across racial groups were fastest to associate the concept of “American” with white people. In the study, white, Black and Asian American adults were asked whether they endorse equality for all citizens. They were then presented with an implicit association test in which participants matched different faces with the categories “American” or “foreign.” They were told that every face was a U.S. citizen.

White and Asian participants responded most quickly in matching the white faces with “American,” even when they initially expressed egalitarian values. African Americans implicitly saw Black and white faces as equally “American” - though they too implicitly viewed Asian faces as being less American.

In a separate study, Devos and psychologist Debbie S. Ma PUT A FACE IN BIAS. They found that a heterogeneous group of American adults implicitly considered British actress Kate Winslet to be more American than her U.S.-born peer Lucy Liu - even though they were told their actual nationalities.

The intuitions that lead to this bias toward whiteness reflect racist structures in society and attitudes people may not necessarily know they hold. And, as is apparent from how Asian Americans in these studies found white faces to be more American than Asian faces, prejudices can even include feelings that exclude one’s own group. A RELATED STUDY found that Hispanic participants were also more likely to associate whiteness with “Americanness.”

Language and nationality

These biased views of nationality begin at a very young age though at first language is a primary identifier, as I show in my new book ”HOW YOU SAY IT.”

Although the U.S. does not have a national language, MANY AMERICANS FEEL that English is critical for being a “true American.” And it is not hard to find examples of POLITICIANS ADVOCATING for the idea that Americans should speak English, and only English.

In a study conducted in my lab and led by the psychologist Jasmine DeJesus, we gave children a very simple task: After viewing a series of faces that varied in skin color and the language they spoke, children were asked to guess their nationality. The faces were either white- or Asian-looking and spoke either English or Korean. We simply asked, “Is this person American or Korean?”

We recruited three groups of children for the study: white American children who spoke only English, South Korean children who spoke only Korean and a group of Korean American children who spoke both languages. The ages of the children were either 5-6 or 9-10.

The vast majority of the younger monolingual children identified nationality with language, describing the English speakers - divided evenly between people who looked white or Asian - as American and Korean speakers - similarly split - as Korean.

As for the bilingual children, they all had parents whose first language was Korean, not English, and who lived in the United States. Yet, just like the monolingual children, they thought that the English speakers, and not the Korean speakers, were the Americans.

As they age, however, children increasingly view racial characteristics as an integral part of nationality. By the age of 9, we found that children were considering the white English speakers to be the most American, compared with Korean speakers who looked white or English speakers who looked Asian. Interestingly, this impact of race was more pronounced on the older children we recruited in South Korea.

Deep roots

So it seems that for children and adults alike, assessments of what it means to be American hinge on certain traits that have nothing to do with the actual legal requirements for citizenship. Neither whiteness nor fluency in English IS A REQUIREMENT TO BECOME AMERICAN.

And this bias has consequences. RESEARCH HAS FOUND that the degree to which people link “whiteness” with “Americanness” is related to their discriminatory behaviors in hiring contexts or questionin’ others’ loyalty.

That we find these biases in children does not mean they are in any way inherent. We know that CHILDREN BEGIN TO PICK UP THESE TYPES of biased cultural cues and values from their society at a very young age. It does mean, however, that these biases HAVE DEEP ROOTS IN OUR PSYCHOLOGY.

Understanding that they exist may make it easier to correct them. So Americans celebrating the Fourth of July perhaps should ponder what it means to be an American - and whether social biases distort your beliefs about who belongs.


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Sunday, April 18, 2021

Talking About Suicide

image: man with no money

When one looses the will to struggle, and the capacity for hope, one is no longer living.
- Thanksgiving 2012

The association between suicide and unemployment is more important than the association with other socioeconomic measures. Although some potentially important confounders were not adjusted for, the findings support the idea that unemployment or lack of job security increases the risk of suicide and that social and economic policies that reduce unemployment will also reduce the rate of suicide.
- Suicide, deprivation, and unemployment: record linkage study

The PROSPECTS for the re-employment of older workers deteriorate sharply the longer they are unemployed . . . This is all the more reason to support the unemployed and depressed who threaten suicide.
- Thinking About Suicide

Sometimes the people I love invalidate me without meaning to because they don’t understand mental illness or my particular manifestation of it. When everything is a fight the last thing I want to hear is, “You are not doing enough.” I am doing my best, its all I have.  Half of me has laid down to die and the other half that is in survival mode has twice the load to carry. I want to die but I’m afraid to. I want to live but it hurts.
- What It Feels Like to Lose the Will to Live

“People who commit suicide feel all alone, and that no one gives a damn. People who commit suicide just want someone to care.”
- Anonymous

Advice on Talking to Someone with Suicidal Thoughts from Someone Who’s Had Suicidal Thoughts

By Lydia Russo
American Foundation For Suicide Prevention
January 3, 2018

During the fall of 2009, each day began in the exact same way: I would be wide awake at 2:00 a.m., nervously shifting around in my bed. As the minutes ticked by and the windowgradually gave way to sunlight, I became increasingly consumed with fear. What was this terrifying thing that was happening to me and why couldn’t I do a thing to stop it?

According to my doctors, I was suffering from depression - a term I had used cavalierly throughout my entire life. Surely what I was experiencing could not be something as innocuous as depression?

While everyone’s EXPERIENCE WITH DEPRESSION is unique, mine went something like this: a July that didn’t feel quite right, an August defined by escalating fear, and then, as of Labor Day weekend, a two-and-a-half-month period of suicide-obsessed hell. I thought I was losing my mind.

I was 36 at the time, but I might as well have been five years old. I had gone from being a bubbly, high-functioning professional and loving family member and friend to a woman totally incapable of caring for herself. I had no appetite and would never eat more than a third of what was put in front of me. I put zero effort into my personal hygiene, my physical appearance, or my homes cleanliness. My whole body was shaky. I could not laugh or cry. My once strong voice had transformed into a raspy whisper; eventually, I stopped talking altogether. 

If you looked at the external appearance of my life at the time, none of this made any sense. I had a great job, a loving husband, supportive family and friends, and a clean bill of health following treatment for breast cancer. Yet during those months, the world I once knew ceased to exist. I found myself gone from that world, and never thought I would live to see it again.

If you have a loved one who is SUFFERING WITH suicidal thoughts, perhaps my experience will give you SOME IDEAS about how to provide the support they need.

First, from the time my suicidal thoughts took hold until the time my depression began to lift, most of my waking moments were spent contemplating ways to escape the pain. A huge part of my anxiety was living with thoughts of suicide, but not being brave enough to articulate them to my loved ones. I did not want to scare them, and it seemed an enormous burden to bring others into my frightening world. When my family eventually BROADENED THE TOPIC of suicide with me, they did so without mincing words, and it was an incredible relief. Please don’t be afraid to talk directly with someone you think may be contemplating suicide. It may be scary for you, but it is terrifying for your loved one to be alone with those thoughts.

Most of us with suicidal thoughts have a crippling fear that our life is on the verge of falling apart, and a loop of negativity is often playing on “repeat” in our minds. Encourage your loved one to express these thoughts out loud or in writing. The more your loved one addresses their fears head-on, the less power those fears will have over them. In fact, until I was able to clearly articulate the depths of my anxiety to my psychiatrist, I didn’t make an ounce of progress. Once my doctor recognized that anxiety was the dominant emotion of my depression, he treated it with the aggressiveness it required. This was a game-changer for me.

Next, and I know this is a tall task, but your unwavering confidence in your loved one’s recovery is essential. Please find the strength to look your loved one in the eye and say with confidence, over and over again, that they will get through this and that they will get back to their old selves. They likely will not believe you, but do not be deterred. Try saying things like, “I know you think you will never get through this. I know you think life will never be the same again. I know you think no one has ever experienced this pain and that no one can help you. But I am here to tell you your brain is playing tricks on you. You WILL get through this.”

Regardless of all your kindnesses and demonstrations of support, please know that your loved one may be terrified of losing you. I cannot underscore enough the importance of reassuring your loved one that you are not going to give up on them and that you will never leave. When I first told my mother about my suicidal thoughts, she said something that kept me going through my darkest moments: You will get through this. I will carry you on my back if that’s what it takes to get you through this.

When your loved one is depressed, they know that they are asking a tremendous amount of you and this probably makes them feel guilty. Depression often renders them incapable of feeling, much less expressing, love for you or anyone else in their lives, which compounds their guilt. Your loved one realizes they are pushing you away, and it likely breaks their heart. Please know that once their depression lifts, all of the love that was once there will come rushing back.

Finally, your loved one knows you cannot wave a magic wand and make it all go away, although they know you desperately wish you could. What matters most is that you simply walk with them through this valley, and that you never, never, never give up.



image: happy girls

Why This Photo Shows the Need to Normalize Talking About Suicide

By Felicity Allman
The Mighty
April 6, 2021

The picture above was taken the day before I tried to kill myself. I was 16 years old, and it was my best friend’s birthday party. You can tell how long ago it was from how thin my eyebrows were! It was the first time I wore liquid eyeliner - she’d had to apply it for me, in her bedroom where we’d got ready for the night, both of us holding our breath to get a perfect line.

I’d been living with low mood and self-loathing for around four years at that point, and had been engaging in self-harm for two years. I had never told anybody about the suicidal thoughts I had. Who would I even have told? I had visions of being dragged away from home, kicking and screaming while people in white coats threw me into a padded cell.

After my suicide attempt, I spent some time in hospital, none of which was spent in a padded cell, and was allocated a care coordinator to help me in the community. Even then, I was scared to talk about the suicidal thoughts I experienced. White coats still danced in my mind whenever she asked me about suicide. This meant that I continued to secretly think about suicide for many years, even though I never had any real intention to act on them.

The problem with suicide is that once it has become an option, it’s then always on the table. Whatever life threw at me, it was always in the deck of cards I could pull from, regardless of how rarely I seriously considered going through with it. I think of this quote from Susanna Kaysens “Girl,” Interrupted often:

“Made a stupid remark why not kill myself? Missed the bus - better put an end to it all.”

Years later, as a graduate living in a different city, I went to a state-funded psychologist for an assessment. In the UK, these services are called Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT), and anyone can self-refer for a low-intensity brief intervention - usually cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). They are designed to ease the burden of depression but have been criticized for having narrow acceptance criteria, minimal therapeutic interventions and long waiting lists.

It was a pretty textbook case of depression: low mood, poor concentration, not enjoying things, suicidal thoughts. The therapist told me that the service was not designed to treat people with serious symptoms like that. But I thought suicidal thoughts were a “normal” feature of depression?

The problem with state-funded primary mental health services rejecting you, is that you’re then left in the muddy puddle of people who are simultaneously too unwell and not unwell enough. I was never going to be picked up by secondary mental health services for moderate depression, but IAPT wouldn’t touch me. This is where charities and peer support groups pick up the pieces, and many people would not be alive without them.

Years later, I went back to university, and started experiencing very invasive suicidal thoughts. I remember losing track of what my seminar leader was saying one day because I was distracted identifying all the suicide methods in the room. I didn’t intend to act on these thoughts, but they were affecting my academic performance, so I scheduled an appointment with the university mental health services and told them about my intrusive thoughts. The therapist had me on the phone to the emergency services immediately. The call handler seemed completely baffled, as did I, but the therapist quickly made me an emergency plan to keep me safe at all hours. I shuffled out, embarrassed.

I outline these two incidents - one with the psychologist in state services, the other with the therapist at the university to highlight something I have repeatedly encountered in my life: a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of suicidal thoughts. Intrusive thoughts of this nature are very common in many conditions, such as anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Many people without mental health issues have experienced the intrusive thought of suicide. The biggest problem is that unhelpful reactions like those above reinforce prejudices about padded cells and seclusion rooms, and means they don’t talk about it.

Left to fester, these thoughts may well escalate to the point where the emergency services are required, as when I was young. How often do you hear, after a person ended their life, I never would have guessed they felt that way. They never talked about it.Ӕ Silence is killing people.

When I was in hospital at 16, I was encouraged not to talk about what had happened to anyone other than my care team because of the stigma I would face. It was then that I decided to talk about it to anyone who would listen because if I had known then that experiencing suicidal thoughts doesn’t mean you’ll be kidnapped from home and locked away forever, I might have told someone. I want everyone to know that they can.

I have heard friends say that they are having difficult thoughts sometimes, but they don’t want to talk to their doctor for FEAR OF BEING LOCKED IN A HOSPITAL. Now I am a mental health professional, I almost laugh: do you think we want to lock everyone away for having difficult thoughts? Do you think the National Health Service (NHS) can even afford that? In secondary mental health services, our thresholds are much lower: if someone experiences suicidal thoughts in a mental health unit, we aim to talk them through it, keep them safe, come up with strategies to help and enable them to help themselves.

Even then, though, the words can catch in my throat. Assessing a person who wanted to go on leave, I had to ask about suicide. “Have you been having thoughts of harming yourself?” I apologized and asked again. “Have you been having thoughts of killing yourself?” She smiled and told me no and thanked me for asking. I was shaking.

Suicide. Its a terrible thing, but a word we must say.

Suicide. Thinking about it doesn’t make it happen, but it can be a sign that things aren’t going right.

Suicide. Talk about it, ask about it, be open about it.



How To Talk About Suicide In A Way That’s Actually Helpful
Suicide isn’t just someone else’s problem, it’s everyone’s problem.

By Lindsay Holmes
June 8, 2018, updated August 11, 2020

Deaths by SUICIDE, like the ones of actor Robin Williams, designer KATE SPADE and chef Anthony Bourdain, are tragic reminders that mental health issues dont discriminate based on success. Mental health problems can hide in plain sight - sometimes to loved ones or even to the person who suffers from them.

Research also highlights the growing issue of suicide: Life expectancy in America is CONTINUING TO DECLINE - the longest running streak in the United States since World War I - partially due to upticks in suicide rates and overdoses, according to a series of government studies published this week from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One of the reports found the suicide rate INCREASED BY 33 PERCENT between 1999 and 2017. It’s the 10th-leading cause of death in the country.

All of this means there needs to be a better dialogue surrounding mental health, and not just one that only occurs when an alarming report is released or after public tragedies when its already too late. Chances are when you’re at brunch with friends or at dinner with family, you’re not discussing fatal self-harm freely over your meal. Suicide can be an ugly and uncomfortable topic to bring up. But it’s a conversation that needs to happen regularly.

Below experts break down how to actually have a productive talk about suicide with your loved ones and why its important to not avoid it, whether they’re in crisis or not. One chat could just save a life.

Realize that self-harm can happen to someone you know.

Many people believe that suicide and self-harm is a distressing topic, but also one that will likely never affect them, so they avoid discussing it, according to Dan Reidenberg, executive director of the Suicide Awareness Voices of Education.

“The best way to talk about suicide is openly and honestly. People are often afraid of the word and they won’t bring it up,” Reidenberg said. “They have preconceived notions of what they think about it, and they believe it will never happen, so they don’t talk about it.”

The reality is that suicide claims almost 45,000 American lives per year. The rates of suicide attempts and acts of self-harm are even higher. Suicide isn’t just someone else’s problem, its everyone’s problem.

Know that bringing it up isnt going to make things worse.

Talking about suicide only helps the problem. It doesn’t exacerbate it.

“The most important advice is to have a caring conversation. The evidence has clearly demonstrated that talking about suicide does not cause suicide,” said Colleen Carr, the deputy director of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention. “Instead, talking openly about suicidal thoughts and feelings can increase hope and help someone on their journey to recovery.”

Talk about the topic of suicide like you would any other health condition.

Discussing any other health problem isn’t shameful. Suicide should be treated with the same consideration.

Whether someone struggles with a mental illness or engages in self-harm, or even for the person who does not, we need to be able to talk about the topic of suicide no different than talking about diabetes even when the person you are talking to does not have it,” Reidenberg said. “Think of the breast cancer or diabetes 5k races - hundreds of thousands across the country attend them whether they know someone with one of those disease or not.”

Open up about any difficult experiences you might be going through.

Talking about your difficulties may encourage others to do the same. And if you know someone is going through a difficult time, let them know you’re aware and you care. Conversation starters or topics like, “What are you doing to get through this crisis?” or “You don’t seem like yourself lately, whats going on?” can help, Reidenberg said.

“Suicide is a complex issue and not caused by one factor [like mental illness] but rather a range of factors such as relationship, substance use, physical health, job, financial and legal problems,” Carr added. “We can reach out to support friends, loved ones and others who are going through a tough life event or struggling with mental illness, just as we do our friends and family who are struggling with a physical illness.”

Really listen when someone is talking during the discussion.

It’s not only vital to ask people to open up, it’s crucial to actively listen to what they’re saying and reflect that in your response.

“It is also really important to convey your care and concern for them, with the key to it by being genuine,” Reidenberg said. “If you really care, make sure they know that and don’t think that you are just asking without any real intent to listen and be helpful.”

Ask direct, pointed questions.

“It’s important to be straightforward with your friends or loved ones if it sounds like they’re at risk,” according to Victor Schwartz, chief medical officer at the mental health organization The Jed Foundation.

“If someone does seem to be struggling, it is OK to ask them if they are having thoughts about self-harm,” Schwartz said. If they are, it is useful to ask whether there is a specific plan and are they feeling like they might act on it. It is also useful to ask about what things might be making the person feel hopeful about the future.”

Check any bias at the door

Debates about the validity of mental illnesses and their subsequent consequences aren’t productive, according to Reidenberg. (Nor do they have any real merit.) Regardless, all of those biases should be left behind when discussing a life-or-death topic.

“When talking about suicide to someone who might be suicidal, leave your biases and moral beliefs about it elsewhere,” he said. “This is not the time to preach to someone who is struggling with a disease that feels their life is in crisis.”

Accept that you will feel uncomfortable - and that’s OK.

A little discomfort is better than the alternative of leaving an important conversation left unsaid, Schwartz said.

“Being open to hearing about someones pain and struggles and helping them find help can save lives,” Schwartz said. This conversation will never not be difficult. It is frightening to sit with someone who is in serious distress. It is not possible to normalize this conversation - but we can accept the discomfort and understand that it is still the right thing to do.”

Don’t downplay the issue.

Suicide is serious. Period.

“When talking about it, make sure it is done just as seriously as any other conversation about an illness,” Reidenberg said. “Don’t minimize or deny that mental illnesses are real, that they hurt, and don’t be judgmental about them ... You wouldn’t tell someone with cancer to “just get over it.”

Speak up over staying silent.

“If you’re ever debating whether or not you should bring up suicide, always err on the side of saying something,” Reidenberg stressed.

“If everyone is willing to start the conversation about suicide, we can begin to create a comprehensive system to saving more lives,” Reidenberg said. “Asking about suicide is not going to put a thought into someones head or lead them toward it. In reality, it can help reduce their anxiety, distress and potentially save their life.”

If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HOME to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.



What Not To Say About Suicide

By Madeline Muotka
Oct 3, 2016

How many times do I have to say it before it makes you uncomfortable, before you get squeamish, before you want to run away and leave this word in a room bursting with shame, misconceptions and ignorance? Saying suicide even just once is more than enough to evoke extreme discomfort from many.

As a suicide attempt survivor, Im speaking out about what I and others I know dislike hearing after people learn about our attempts. This is how you shouldn’t react when learning someone has attempted or actually died by suicide. All of the following contribute to the blanket of shame and embarrassment that can envelope suicide attempt survivors and follows those who have fallen to suicide.

1. Dont start by asking why.

This is the most common question I’ve encountered once people find out I’ve attempted suicide. Why did you do it? The nurse in the emergency room actually asked me why, and then reminded me how young I am. I can’t give an external reason for why I overdosed. (I can. Ed) I didn’t attempt suicide because I got in a fight with a friend, because I failed a test or because I lost a game. It’s called an illness. Mental illness is a real medical condition. I was tired of the emotional pain I was in. Did I really want to die? No, I wanted the feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, emptiness and despair to go away. Don’t minimize my pain and pretend it doesn’t exist. I didn’t ask for this illness. Nobody asks for any illness.

2. Don’t call them selfish.

Another common reaction to someone attempting suicide is calling them selfish. Don’t you realize there are people who love and care about you? Don’t you realize how many people you would’ve hurt if you had actually died? When you’re about to attempt suicide, youre likely not thinking about yourself at all. You’re thinking about how everyone would be better off without you, how you’re a burden to everyone, how you’re doing everyone a favor and how you’re undeserving of life.

3. Don’t say, It’s a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

This has thoroughly annoyed and irked me. A temporary problem? My documented medical condition of bipolar disorder is clearly a temporary problem. Right now, many mental illnesses are treatable, but it’s often a lifelong journey. Maybe if there wasn’t such a stigma around mental illness, I would’ve gotten help sooner and found additional ways to manage my suicidal ideations. My attempt was at the time the only way I could acknowledge I actually needed help and get that help.

4. Dont say, “It’s the easy way out.”

Suicide is anything but the easy way out. It’s the last straw after battling and fighting your own thoughts for so long. It is succumbing to the illness and cancerous thoughts that have consumed you. You’ve tried to fight it for so long, but just cant handle it anymore. You’ve had enough of being miserable.

5. Don’t say they did it for attention.

I clearly wanted all the negative criticism and reactions people who’ve attempted suicide receive. I tried to hide how much I was struggling for the longest time because I was mortified I couldnt seem to deal with real life. Most everyone I know who has attempted suicide is ashamed. They don’t want people to know. How this seemingly corresponds to wanting attention is beyond me. There is still a stigma surrounding mental illness and an even worse stigma surrounding suicide.

6. Dont glamorize it.

There is absolutely nothing glamorous about suicide and suicide attempts. It’s not cool. It’s not killing yourself because you can’t be with the love of your life. Sorry, Shakespeare. Its real, and what’s real isnt always pretty. It shouldn’t be romanticized. This is so ludicrous and creates an absurd dichotomy of glamorizing something that is so negatively perceived by society. We cant nonchalantly throw around the idea of killing oneself or say, “Just shoot me. “ That’s minimizing what suicide truly is.

Suicide is a legitimate cause of death and needs to be treated the same as any other cause of death. Death is death, a sad occasion all around. However, those who die by their own hands deserve the same respect and dignity as those who die in any other way.

Please, respect what I and many others have been through and open the door to separate shame, misconceptions and ignorance from suicide. If you know someone who has attempted suicide, let them know they are loved. Tell them that although you might not be able to fathom the pain theyre in or what they’re going through, you’re there to support them no matter what. Your love for them is not dependent on whether they’re having a good or bad day. Let them know how much they mean to you and how much they always will.



10 Things Not to Say to a Suicidal Person

By Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW
Speaking of Suicide
March 2, 2015

“I want to kill myself.”

Those five words are a shock to hear, a dreadful pronouncement from a friend or family member you do not want to lose. You recoil at the thought. How could they want to die?

As unwelcome as those words are to your ears, your loved one has handed you a gift. He or she is letting you in. By telling you they want to die, they are giving you the opportunity to help.

What you say next is very important. It could lead to your friend or family member letting you in even more or shutting the door. Understandably you are full of emotion, and you might have many thoughts, some helpful, some not.

Here are 10 common responses that can discourage the person from telling you more. First, a caveat: In general, these statements can convey judgment and foster alienation. But, depending on the context, some people might respond positively to at least some of these responses.

“How could you think of suicide? Your lifes not that bad.” Perhaps on the outside the suicidal persons life does not seem “that bad.” The pain lies underneath. It can greatly help a suicidal person to feel understood. This sort of statement conveys disbelief and judgment, not understanding.

“Don’t you know I would be devastated if you killed yourself?” “How could you think of hurting me like that?” Your loved one already feels awful. Heaping guilt on top of that is not going to help them feel soothed, understood, or welcome to tell you more.

“Suicide is selfish.” This inspires more guilt. Two points are important here. One, many people who seriously consider suicide actually think they are burdening their family by staying alive. So, in their distressed, perhaps even mentally ill state of mind, they would be helping their loved ones by freeing them of this burden. Two, isnt it a natural response to excruciating pain to think of escaping the torment? (I writemore about this in my post, Is It Selfish to Die in a Tornado?)

“Suicide is cowardly.” This inspires shame. It also does not really make sense. Most people fear death. While I hesitate to call suicide brave or courageous, overcoming the fear of death does not strike me as cowardly, either.

“You don’t mean that. You don’t really want to die.” Often said out of anxiety or fear, this message is invalidating and dismissive. Presume that the person really does mean that they want to die. It does more harm to dismiss someone who is truly suicidal than it does to take someone seriously who is not suicidal, so why not just take everyone seriously?

“You have so much to live for.” In some contexts, this kind of statement might be a soothing reminder of abundance and hope. But for many people who think of suicide and do not at all feel they have much to live for, this remark can convey a profound lack of understanding.

“Things could be worse.” Yes, things could be worse, but that knowledge does not inspire joy or hope. I compare it to two people who are stabbed, one in the chest, one in the leg. It is far worse to be stabbed in the chest, but that does not make the pain go away for the person stabbed in the leg. It still hurts. A lot. So even if people who think of suicide have many good things going for them, even if their lives could be far worse, they still experience a seemingly intolerable situation that makes them want to die.

“Other people have problems worse than you and they dont want to die.” True, and your loved one may well have already considered this with shame. People who want to die often compare themselves to others and come up wanting. They may even feel defective or broken. Comparing them to others who cope better, or who simply are lucky enough to never have suicidal thoughts, may only worsen their self-condemnation.

“Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” I do know people, especially teens, for whom this statement was tremendously helpful. It spoke to them. But it also communicates that the persons problems are temporary, when they might be anything but. In such a situation, a realistic goal for the person might be to learn to cope with problems and to live a meaningful life in spite of them. The other problem with this statement is it conveys that suicide is a solution - permanent, yes, and a solution. At a minimum, I recommend changing the word solution to act or action, simply to avoid reinforcing that suicide does indeed solve problems.

“You will go to hell if you die by suicide.” Your loved one has likely already thought of this possibility. Maybe they do not believe in hell. Maybe they believe the god they believe in will forgive their suicide. Regardless, their wish to die remains. Telling them they will go to hell can exacerbate feelings of alienation.

Again, any or all of the thoughts and emotions above may come to you. It doesnt mean you are wrong or bad to have such reactions.

After all, you are human. You may feel angry, hurt, betrayed. You cannot control the thoughts and feelings that come to you. You can only control what you say or do in response to your thoughts and feelings.

When someone discloses suicidal thoughts to you, your words and actions can help the suicidal person to feel less alone and, as a result, hopeful. Good questions to ask yourself are, “How can what I want to say help this person? How can it do harm?”

Your answer may mean the difference between the person feeling judged and even more alone - or accepted and understood.

What If You’ve Already Said the “Wrong Thing” to a Suicidal Person?

I suspect that if I stopped this post here, I would receive frantic emails from people who already reacted in ways that were not especially helpful or understanding. Their fear and anxiety may have spilled out when they heard their friend or family member express a desire to die.

That fear and anxiety are understandable. So are the reactions above. But what to do when what has been said cannot be unsaid?

My advice? Try again. Go back to the person and say that you realize you did not respond helpfully, that you are frightened by the possibility of their dying by suicide, but you want to set aside your fears and understand better their wish to die so that you can be a listening ear, a partner in their struggle, an ally who helps them feel less alone and hopeless.

And then it can be helpful to ask some of the most important words of all, “How can I help?”



What We Need to Understand About Those Who Die by Suicide

The Mighty
August 2016

She was very young when it finally claimed her life. It had gone undiagnosed and untreated for many years. Self-medication made it better some days. Some days, it made it worse. Finally, her family took her to a doctor for help, but it was too late. She was dead within the year.

It is very much the same for all of us, regardless of the illness. You play out the same scenarios. You walk the tightrope of hope, trying to maintain balance in the midst of the inescapable truth: You are powerless. Your insignificance in the mean face of death is overwhelming.

You hold their hand and fight your tears. You stay up late, sitting in the kitchen when you should be in bed. You jump at the phone. You mull over the details with friends. You question the doctor. Are they doing everything they can? Are they doing it right? Could someone else be doing more for them? You count your blessings. You count each day. Then, you count each minute. Before you know it, youre holding your breath for each second.

When the seconds stop, the funeral is unremarkable. The pain so evenly distributed over every inch of your body that you can hardly feel a thing. The food there tastes like sand. If you have the energy to tune in to what anyone is saying, then it is unfathomably inconsequential. You canҒt believe you spoke that way, some unimaginable amount of time ago. You are sure you will never speak that way again.

The sort of condolences bestowed on us, the grieving loved ones, are many and they are truly empathetic. Even after all this time, they are warm and heartfelt. It is this warmth that drives the lump into my throat, the inevitability that a perfectly well-meaning person will inquire about how it happened. The lump will bob and choke, while I explain to them that she killed herself.

I watch as the shift takes place: They furrow their brow and click their tongue, the same reaction from everyone. What had just a moment before been perceived as the tragedy of an innocent death becomes the report of an insidious crime. Suddenly the blame shifts, as if every death is a crime scene and the only one of us unaccountable is God.

In order to help those suffering from mental illnesses such as depression, we need to begin acknowledge that falling victim to a mental illness is as irreproachable as falling victim to any physical illness. Imagine marching into battle knowing in the event of your death, instead of being remembered for your bravery, you would be condemned in your failure to prevail. We need to understand these victims are not committing acts of violence against themselves on a whim. We need to recognize they go to battle every day, and each day that they are still standing is a victory.

We need to accept their realities are their own, and not shove our own realities down their throats. Those of us who choose to enrich our lives with the power of positive thinking, we need to understand it is chemically impossible for others to do the same. Would you ask a friend battling another illness to try harder? Would you suggest maybe they go get a hobby, get out more and enjoy the sunshine? Would you suggest these things might cure them? Would you ever make them feel they were somehow responsible for the ultimate outcome of their illness?

Suicidal thoughts are as real and as harmful as the cancerous cells that infiltrate our bodies and claim our lives. As is the case with cancer, there is a chance the victims of mental illness will respond well to treatment and learn to live again. On the other hand, like cancer, it can fight them until they lose all fighting strength. Whatever the illness, the bottom line is this: it may take our loved ones from us. They will often go violently. They will leave us with what feels like intent.

Don’t do your loved ones the injustice of believing this lie. Their illness has already robbed them of a life, but don’t let it taint their memory in death. We don’t want to apologize for them anymore. Some of us won’t because we feel they have nothing to apologize for. Some of us can’t because we can’t forgive them ourselves.

Please, stop asking us to apologize for them. Don’t ask us to remember them for their ultimate defeat. Allow us to remember them for each day we spent with them, each memory a lasting victory.


Posted by Elvis on 04/18/21 •
Section Spiritual Diversions
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Religious Diversions Part 14 - New Age and Prosperity Gospel

image: hollywood

Our society is desperate to make excuses for the MONSTERS of our era, perhaps because we would rather not entertain the possibility that there is a dark side to humanity.
- True Evil

[A]nother danger is represented by those who, paying lip service to democracy and the common welfare, in their insatiable greed for money and the power which money gives, do not hesitate surreptitiously to evade the laws designed to safeguard the public from monopolistic extortion. American fascists of this stamp were clandestinely aligned with their German counterparts before the war, and are even now preparing to resume where they left off, after the present unpleasantness ceases.”
- Islamic Or Republican Fascism?

“America has entered one of its periods of historical madness, but this is the worst I can remember: worse than McCarthyism, worse than the Bay of Pigs and in the long term potentially more disastrous than the Vietnam War.”
- John le Carr

The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who dont do anything about it.
- Albert Einstein

Be not conformed to the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.
-Romans 12:2


A New Kind of Prosperity Gospel

By Bruce Epperly
June 20, 2010

The identification of faith or POSITIVE THINKING with success has been at the heart of the prosperity and health and wealth gospel movements among Pentecostal Christians. The PROSPERITY GOSPEL asserts that God wants believers to be healthy and wealthy in mind, body, and spirit. Prosperity results from our faith—our willingness to believe, receive, and act upon God’s promises of material and physical success. Alongside the Pentecostal prosperity gospel is the new thought or new age affirmation that people can create their own realities by visualization and positive thinking. Most recently, the best-selling new thought text, The Secret, affirmed that prosperity is solely the result of positive imaging and affirmative spirituality. If you get your thoughts right or have enough faith, these respective systems suggest that you will find wealth, health, and happiness.

While there is much to affirm about the relationship of positive thinking, visualization, and heart-felt faith with physical, mental, relational, and spiritual well-being, I believe there are serious problems with both the new age/new thought and Pentecostal understandings of spirituality and prosperity. First, both are highly linear in approach: they assert that right thought or faith alone matters. If you have faith, you will succeed; if you don’t, you will fail in every aspect of your life. Positive thinking ensures success; while negativity leads to disease and failure. Accordingly, both approaches NEGLECT THE RELATIONAL AND SOCIAL NATURE OF LIFE. They believe that regardless of our environment, economic situation, physical condition, mental health, or family of origin, we will succeed if we only have enough faith or affirmative consciousness.

Second, both the prosperity gospel and new age optimism are highly individualistic: we succeed entirely as a result of our own faith or positive thinking and don’t need the support of others; nor is it necessarily appropriate to interfere, especially in some new age versions, with the negativity that others experience. This viewpoint obviously has political and social consequences: there is a reason people are poor, and that reason is lack of faith or negative thinking. A less sophisticated understanding of poverty identifies the poor as LAZY.

Posted by Elvis on 04/18/21 •
Section Dying America • Section Spiritual Diversions
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Thursday, April 01, 2021

Reflections on Harry’s Suicide

image: lost all hope

Since 2000, the suicide rate in the United States has risen 35 percent, primarily because of the significant increase in such deaths among the WHITE population.
- Suicide Redux

We’ve created a world so miserable that people prefer death over it.
- The Latest Stats on American Men’s Lifespan Are Alarming, November 2019

Flanagan apparently masked the depth of the distress he felt as he fought to save his position. He felt like he was fighting a large corporation that pretty much didn’t care, his father said. “This final blow was so devastating. He couldn’t deal with it.” The father said he saw no other signs of depression before his son’s suicide.
- Bad Dreams, Bad Truths, February, 2007

Just because a person attempts suicide doesn’t mean they want to die. Rather, often they have lost what I call the, “power of hope.” When faced with a BAD SITUATION that has NO END IN SIGHT, coupled with the helpless feeling that NOTHING YOU CAN DO will make a difference, it’s all too easy to LOSE HOPEAT SOME POINT suicide for some becomes a viable option, rather than CONTINUNG TO FACE the constant pain and suffering that life has become. If you can give someone who is contemplating suicide merely the glimmer of hope, that is often enough to get them through the rough patch to consider other options.
- White, Middle-Age Suicide In America Skyrocket


The Note That Helped Me Understand My Son’s Depression After His Suicide

Three years and two months after HARRY’S DEATH, I decided it was time for me to tackle the final box of Harry-related stuff. Amongst all of the stuff, I found a list Harry had written and it broke my heart all over again.

By Maria Dillon
The Mighty
February 8, 2017

Over the years I’ve come to know what depression feels like. Situational depression after my mother was killed in a hit and run when I was 16, when I was all but broken in a very unhappy marriage and now, working through what life feels like since the loss of my beautiful boy to suicide. They sap my soul, these dark and LONELY feelings. I have dreadful insomnia. I struggle to get out of bed and I get lost in the heartache. I contemplate what life could look like if I had been the one to leave. But through it all, I fight and keep walking forward , even though at times the ground beneath my feet feels like shards of glass. I keep moving forward.

The depression my son struggled with was on a completely different scale, one I struggled to comprehend. I wanted desperately to fix him, to pull the confident, clever, charismatic Harry I knew back up and out of the dense, black cloud that engulfed him. I tried too hard at this. I reminded him constantly it was OK. I asked him to just be Harry. I hugged him, I told him I loved him, I cried with him. And my heart broke, each time I recognized all my efforts were skittering off the edges of the darkness that consumed him.

One of the most heartbreaking moments I remember with Harry was sitting with him on the back doorstep. He was outside smoking, his lanky body slumped forward, elbows on knees, wracked with sobs. Gut wrenching sobs, with tears and snot leaking from his face, splotching on the ground in front of him. He was drawing lines in the dirt for me, to explain how he felt. This was normal for us. Below the line was how he felt when he attempted suicide and right now, he was below that mark. The medication he had been prescribed wasn’t working. It was slowing his mind, making him sluggish. He saw no way out of the blackness. And I sat there hopelessly, watching the depths of his despair, letting him know I too had been depressed and everything has a season and there would be sunlight again. And my words pinged off his despair and disappeared into the atmosphere, swirling around with his cigarette smoke.

The list I found today, written by Harry as he struggled with his illness, draws a picture of what depression looked like for him:

· Can’t concentrate

· Never have any energy

· Nothing I can do to make my head better

· I’m becoming more of a burden to Mum

· I sleep far too much or far too little

· I have no purpose, I feel worthless

· I derive no pleasure from dancing or friends

· I’m indecisive and f_cking hate it

· I forget what I’m saying half way through a sentence

· I’m drinking too much

· I’m smoking to try to regulate my mood rather than for enjoyment

· The pills arent f_cking working

· I’m a hopeless wreck

· I’m never hungry

· I don’t like being so skinny

· No one can understand my head so how do I fit in?

· I get agitated and annoyed at the stupidest shit

· There’s nothing to look forward to

I’m not sure what I would have done with the list if Harry had shown it to me while he was still living. At the time, I felt so utterly hopeless, I couldn’t understand what was happening to my boy, why it was happening. I was beyond distressed seeing him in so much pain. I suppose my catch phrase at the time would still have prevailed, much as I knew he hated it: “It is OK just to be Harry.” Whatever version of Harry was present in any given day was OK with me, because nothing is permanent in life. As black and as ugly and as deep as Harry’s hole was, it wasn’t meant to be forever. There would have been sunlight again, if he had just managed to hold on a little longer. The warmth of love and sunlight would have seeped through. It would have.

My skinny wee boy had a challenging, exciting fulfilling life to lead. The world lost the massive potential that was Harry when my heart was broken. Depression is an UTTERLY DEVASTATING illness. It is not a weakness. There was nothing weak in the way my son fought the blackness inside of his head and tried to rationalize it with his list. He knew full well what he had lost and he was as devastated and heartbroken as I am now.

My picture of depression will always remain with me: Harry slumped over and broken. There was no weakness in his collapse, no blame, no stigma. My boy was simply exhausted from the battle waging inside of him. Every time I sit on my doorstep now I remember Harry, in the fight of his life. How he opened my eyes to a pain beyond all measure. How he has reminded me, every day since he left, that love is also immeasurable, that love can be felt beyond the grave, that love does have the power to conquer darkness, if we can just hold on a little longer. Love never dies, sunshine boy. Love never dies.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our SUICIDE PREVENTION RESOURCES page.


Posted by Elvis on 04/01/21 •
Section Spiritual Diversions • Section Personal
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Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Republican Redux 22 - Wasting of the Evangelical Mind

image: god tole me to attack iraq

Everyone knows the ploy by now: Anyone who runs for President must equate God and nationalism. If you leave the God part out, you are branded as not being a patriot.
- Are You Running With Me Jesus

What is patriotism but “the narcissism of petty differences?” That’s Freud’s term, describing the disorder that compels one group to feel superior to another.
- Why I’m Not Patriotic

It was also allowed to wage war against the holy ones and conquer them, and it was granted authority over every tribe, people, tongue, and nation. All the inhabitants of the earth will worship it, all whose names were not written from the foundation of the world in the book of life, which belongs to the Lamb who was slain.
- Revelation 13:8-9

The Wasting of the Evangelical Mind
The peculiarities of how American Christianity took shape help explain believers vulnerability to conspiratorial thinking and misinformation.

By Michael Luo
New Yorker
March 4, 2021

It was among the most jarring scenes of the CAPITOL INVASION, on January 6th. As rioters MILLED ABOUT on the Senate floor, a long-haired man in a red ski cap bellowed, from the dais, “Jesus Christ, we invoke your name!” A man to his right - the so-called QAnon Shaman, wearing a fur hat and bull horns atop his head, and holding an American flag - raised a megaphone and began to pray. Others in the chamber bowed their heads. “Thank you, heavenly Father, for being the inspiration needed to these police officers to allow us into the building, to allow us to exercise our rights, to allow us to send a message to all the tyrants, the Communists, and the globalists, that this is our nation, not theirs, that we will not allow the America, the American way of the United States of America, to go down,” he said. “Thank you, divine, omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent creator God for filling this chamber with your white light and love, your white light of harmony. Thank you for filling this chamber with patriots that love you and love Christ.”

Falsehoods about a STOLEN ELECTION, retailed by Donald Trump and his allies, drove the Capitol invasion, but DISTORTED visions of Christianity suffused it. One group carried a large wooden cross; there were banners that read “In God We Trust, Jesus Is My Savior / Trump Is My President,” and “Make America Godly Again;” some marchers blew shofars, ritual instruments made from rams horns that have become popular in certain conservative Christian circles, owing to its resonance with an account in the Book of Joshua in which Israelites sounded their trumpets and the walls of Jericho came tumbling down. The intermingling of RELIGIOUS FAITH, CONSPIRITORIAL THINKING, and MISGUIDED NATIONALISM on display at the Capitol offered perhaps the most unequivocal evidence yet of the American church’s role in bringing the country to this DANGEROUS moment.

Michael Luo is the editor of The New Yorker


Posted by Elvis on 03/10/21 •
Section Dying America • Section Spiritual Diversions
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