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Sam Tielemans is a marriage and family therapist in Las Vegas, NV. He has spent thousands of hours working with people struggling with depression, anxiety, addictions, or challenges in marriage. He’s certified in Emotionally Focused Therapy and loves working with people! He is one of the professional therapists on the Advisory Board for Leading Saints and has been a lifelong member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He’s been married for 6 years and has a 3-month-old baby and a sweet 4-year-old daughter who loves to greet him in the garage when he gets home.

Enter Sam…

It can be scary to discover that someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts.  Some people can have reservations about bringing the topic up out of fear that it could make things worse or just not knowing what to say. It’s a very serious issue and it’s impacting lives of people all across the world. It’s important to realize that leaders and members of the Church can have a positive influence on those who are struggling with these thoughts.

Suicide rates are at their highest since World War II, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It has become an especially alarming problem among the youth, and from 2007 to 2017, the suicide rate for people ages 10 to 24 increased 56 percent — from 6.8 deaths per 100,000 people to 10.6.

Contributing Factor – Lack of Connection

It’s important to understand the factors that are contributing to the rise of this problem in order to more fully help. Researcher Thomas Joiner describes one of the main reasons why people die by suicide is because of a lack of connection and belonging with others.

We, as humans, are social beings; it’s woven into our DNA. The rejection and social isolation is processed in the exact same part of the brain as physical pain. Emotional isolation is a danger cue to our brain and it activates the fight or flight response.

Negative Effects On Well-Being

So many people in our day and age describe themselves as lonely. MDLinx, a news service for physicians, reports that “the newest epidemic in America now affects up to 47% of adults—double the number affected a few decades ago.” Some might mistakenly believe that because we have access to smart phones and social media that we are more connected, but in fact, the opposite is true. A new study published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology explains that there is a causal link between the use of social media and negative effects on one’s well-being, primarily depression and loneliness. As stated by Jordyn Young, a co-author of the paper and a senior at the University of Pennsylvania:

“What we found overall is that if you use less social media, you are actually less depressed and less lonely, meaning that the decreased social media use is what causes that qualitative shift in your well-being,“

Prior to this, all we could say was that there is an association between using social media and having poor outcomes with well-being,” she said. This is the first study that has demonstrated a causal link between the two.

As posted on Save.org, below is a list of some of the warning signs of suicide:

  • Talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself;
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself;
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose;
  • Talking about feeling trapped or being in unbearable pain;
  • Talking about being a burden to others;
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs;
  • Acting anxious, agitated, or reckless;
  • Sleeping too little or too much;
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated; and
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge.

Ask Direct Questions

How should you approach the topic of suicide with someone who you feel may be in danger of suicide? You should start by asking direct questions. Here are 6 examples of questions you can ask, which are posted on theconversation.com:

  1. Have you wished you were dead or wished you could go to sleep and not wake up?
  2. Have you actually had any thoughts about killing yourself? (If the loved one answers “yes” to question 2, ask questions 3, 4, 5 and 6. If the person answers “no” to question 2, go directly to question 6.)
  3. Have you thought about how you might do this?
  4. Have you had any intention of acting on these thoughts of killing yourself, as opposed to you have the thoughts but you definitely would not act on them?
  5. Have you started to work out or worked out the details of how to kill yourself? Do you intend to carry out this plan?
  6. Always ask question 6: In the past three months, have you done anything, started to do anything, or prepared to do anything to end your life? (Being direct signals that you are comfortable talking about the issue and want to help the other person. It will open up the door for a conversation that might not have happened if you hadn’t initiated the discussion.)

If the loved one answers “yes” to these questions of having means and a plan to die by suicide, reach out to professionals immediately. If they are actively suicidal, call 911 to get them help in order to ensure their safety.

If the loved one has had thoughts of suicide, but has no means, intent or a plan, the nature of the problem isn’t as urgent, but still requires help. Therapy with a licensed and trained professional is important in order to help them work through the challenges they are facing and to get healthy coping mechanisms.

Reach Out with Love and Care

How can leaders or members of the Church help those struggling with suicidal thoughts? Since we know that one of the biggest factors is a lack of connection and belonging, leaders can be the individuals who reach out with love and care. Never underestimate the value of listening and being someone who the struggling individual can turn to for support.

Compassion and connection are one of the most significant buffers against depression and loneliness, and it provides powerful relief to people who are suffering. It can also be one of the most important preventative steps that anyone could take.

Facilitate Connection with Others

Youth leaders can take special care of youth who are struggling by facilitating connection among the other youth in their ward. Having adult support for a struggling individual is important and creating a place for friendships and support among other youth is crucial. Having activities where everyone feels welcome and promoting an atmosphere of safety and belonging can help create a refuge for the youth in the ward or branch.

The Power of Positive Influence

As members and friends, we can work in conjunction with professionals to help people struggling with loneliness, depression, or suicidal thoughts. Being compassionate, good listeners, and following the promptings of the Spirit, we can positively influence others who need our help and provide them with the comfort and reassurance they need in order to lift their burdens and strengthen them.

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