The Suicide Holiday Myth

There is a popular myth that suicides spike during the holidays. But the reality is that December has the fewest suicides of any month during the year (according the Centers for Disease Control).

Yet, there will be endless articles, well intentioned though they are, that will perpetuate the myth. A word of caution. If something is said enough times, especially by mass media, we will tend to believe it. Because the myth will be something of a mantra in the world of mental illness, it needs to be countered with the truth. You are not more likely to commit suicide during the holidays. It is the least risky time of the year.

However, for the person already standing at the edge of the cliff, the holiday myth can provide the final shove.

Thomas Joiner, PhD, is a clinical psychologist who has dedicated his career to researching the motivations for suicide. According to him people commit suicide because of 1) a sense of being a burden to others, 2) a profound sense of loneliness, alienation and isolation, and 3) a sense of fearlessness.

That matches my experience. On the basis of that research I’d suggest the following:
Make sure the person living with depression knows he or she is deeply loved and a blessing in your life. Cultivate an understand of their worth, the gift they are to others. Speak honestly.

Do everything you can to keep the person from isolating. Isolating is one of the first things I do when I’m deeply depressed and whenever I’ve had suicidal ideas, they’ve be nurtured by my own voice, separate from that of others. And with no counter to my hopelessness, I begin to believe the lie.

Fearlessness comes with fantasies of one’s own death. The more a person day dreams about suicide, the more a person dwells on sensational media stories about the suicide of a high profile personality, the more a person considers the particular means and location of their demise, the more they will be desensitized to act. Fear will diminish. As Joiner points out, suicide is not the act of a coward. It takes courage.

Love the person, engage the person, and counter media sensationalism with intentional discussions about life and death. Combat the suicidal ideation with conversation about the person’s value and relentlessly try to pull them out of isolation.

The holidays, like everything else, will be what we expect. If we expect depression, that’s what we’ll get. If we expect a celebration of the birth of Jesus and his saving and gracious life, then we can find a measure of peace and joy. We might live in a depressing situation, but we don’t have to live a depressed life. I’ve been there. I know.

Ben Overby

Holiday Suicides: Fact or Myth?” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 31 Dec. 2013. Web. 01 Nov. 2014.

  • Recommendations for Reporting on Suicide | American Association of Suicidology.” Recommendations for Reporting on Suicide | American Association of Suicidology. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Nov. 2014.
  • An Interview with Thomas Joiner, Ph.D. on Why People Commit Suicide – Suicide, Depression, Anxiety Disorders.” An Interview with Thomas Joiner, Ph.D. on Why People Commit Suicide – Suicide, Depression, Anxiety Disorders. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Nov. 2014.

CCPS, Ben Overby

Ben Overby will present his suggestions for offering effective Christ-centered peer support for those living with mood disorders and other mental illnesses in a book to be in print in early 2015. He will provide guidance for implementing an organized program or simply offering Christ-centered support to a family member or friend. If you’d be interested in reading the manuscript in order to critique or review, send email to ben@bkoconsultants.com

Peer and Clinician: Different Roles

Some of you know what it is like to step into a counselor’s office to discuss the most intimate thoughts and emotions you’ve ever experienced. You open up and reveal your fears, your confusion, your quest to know where the illness came from, how it can be treated, and lots of other questions. I’ve poured my heart out to people who nodded in predictable places, who said things like, I understand, or asking, How does that make you feel, What do you think about that, What do you think you should do? Here’s some homework, Ben. Work on it and we’ll discuss it when you return.

I still see my doctor regularly. The thing that seems to always put the visit in perspective isn’t something said. It’s a quick turn of the wrist and a glance at a watch, or eyes shifting to a clock on the wall.  That’s the signal to wrap it up. Time’s up Mr. Overby. Stop by the front desk and the receptionist will make an appointment for next time. And just like that, I’m out.

We are not peers. Not a complaint. Just a difference.

I’ve found that one of the less obvious differences between a peer and a clinician is eye contact. Psychologists really look at you. I’ve tried to out stare them and always lose. They are analyzing, assessing, and formulating clinical judgments.

Recently I purchased a coffee pot. Ignoring the insult of written instructions, I studied it, analyzed the buttons, tried to figure out how it worked. I punched Power and waited for a response. I haven’t figured out how to work the auto on function, but it won’t be long.

We pay clinicians to figure us out, voluntarily permitting them to punch our buttons, jot down our response, eventually suggesting a treatment plan. That’s how it works according to my experience.

Peers don’t try to figure each other out. We don’t stare at each other or push buttons or attempt to provide treatment. When I’m talking with a peer he or she doesn’t look at me but with me. I’ve had lots of people gaze into my life through their eyes; only peers can look at my life through my eyes.

Ben Overby

Conversation/Christ-Centered Peer Support

[Ben Overby invites interested individuals to participate in an exploratory conversation to discuss his vision for Christ-Centered Peer Support]

I hope you’ve had a great summer and you find yourself in good health. I continue to work as a Certified Peer Specialist with the Georgia Mental Health Consumer Network supporting peers as they make the transition from the hospital into the community.

I’m very interested in connecting with Christians who would like to hear about Christ-centered peer support. I’ve blended the power of the gospel with evidence-based peer support and believe you can utilize the concepts in order to have an enormous, positive impact. Using a low number, we have 200,000 people in the Columbus Metro Area. Research shows that 22% of the population lives with a mental illness. Doing the math we see that there are 44,000 people suffering with depression, bipolar, PTSD, panic attacks, etc. in our area.

We have some great and over-worked community services such as West Central Regional, New Horizons, America Works, among others. In addition we have several clinical professionals in private practice in the community; counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists. NAMI  also has a presence in Columbus.

The one thing each has in common is that the service provided is secular (with the exception of the pastoral institute). But I believe we need an effective option for people searching for Christ-centered peer support. People in and out of the church are vulnerable and need us to support their healing process. You can learn to intentionally provide peer support moving people toward recovery and growth in Christ.

I want to put together an exploratory conversation to be held at Edgewood Baptist, November 6th, at 7pm. I want to outline my suggestions, get feedback in order to help shape the work I’ve done, and perhaps get a volunteer or two to help. I’m also prepared to coach churches in putting together an outreach program if you know of anyone interested. Let me know ASAP if interested in joining the conversation.

Thanks,

Ben Overby, 706.457.3479    benoverby@yahoo.com

The Meaning of Your Past

Meaning is the ‘one thing’ a person intends to communicate. If I warn you that there is danger ahead, then that’s the meaning I intend. You either accept the warning or ignore it. But past is not a person. It doesn’t intend to communicate anything. It has no life. Past is like ice cream without flavor. We choose the topping, the ingredients that give it taste. Without our decision, ice cream doesn’t take charge and say, “I am strawberry!”

Past is the ice cream. What it means is actually the one thing we are communicating to ourselves about the past. It is a waste of time to blame our past; after all, it is tasteless. It exists in our memory, waiting for a topping.

Are you giving your past life, giving it a voice? Is your past saying your are doomed to failure? Is it communicating that you are fat, ugly, dumb, and destined for poverty? Maybe it is conveying that you can succeed and only succeed? Is it warning you? Is it encouraging you?

We should accept past for what it is. It is a cluster of events. Nothing more. It can only mean the meaning we give it. If we don’t like chocolate ice cream, then we should reject it and demand strawberry. We can do it because it is in our power alone. We (not past) are literally talking to ourselves. So, take charge–when necessary spare the messenger and kill the message.

© Ben Overby, 2014

DBSA Support Group

I’ve been contacted by several people from the Chattahoochee Valley area lately indicating a desire to participate in a support group focused on bipolar disorder and unipolar depression. We’ve put together a few groups in the past year but they never got “lift off.” No doubt there are several reasons why this is the case. For anyone who wants to participate, I will coordinate a Skype group beginning September 1, 2014. This will give us plenty of time to put the group together.

Please use the contact form to indicate your interest. I’ll provide Skype instructions later about how to check in.

Thanks,

Ben Overby, CPS