Tag Archives: Support

Death by Suicide at an All-Time High

I recently read an article  which stated that suicide has now surpassed car accidents as the number one cause of injury-related death in the United States.  From 2000 to 2009, the suicide death rate went up 15 percent.  That blew my mind.  It’s scary to think that so many people are finding it necessary to deal with their pain in an irreversible way.

Interestingly enough, the literature shows that people are committing suicide for the standard reasons: substance abuse, mental illness, a family history of violence, depression, etc.  So why is suicide on the rise?

Suicide basically stems from a person’s lack of hope for the future.  They are convinced that things won’t change or get better, and they feel helpless, hopeless, and worthless.  They hate themselves, feel like a burden on others (especially when the person is older), and have an “everybody would be better off without me” kind of attitude.

What the person doesn’t realize is that they still have a lot to offer.  That’s probably one of the most important considerations in giving someone hope: they need to believe that they are valuable.

Where there is community, familiarity, bonding, and connections with community and family, you’re going to find a lower suicide death rate.  One of the problems we have in our society as it has evolved is that the morality of obligations and sacrifice has pretty much gone by the wayside.  People are up, out, and gone.  I think the dissolution of our families and community has a lot to do with the increased instances of suicide because people feel helpless, hopeless and isolated more than ever. 

Years ago, if someone’s barn burned down, everybody within 50 miles would come with wood, nails, paint, and food.  They would set up shop and rebuild that person’s property.  If there was a death in someone’s family, the community pulled together.  People lived close to each other and very few had to go it alone.  Kids were more surrounded by family and other kids in reasonable neighborhoods.  Yes, of course there were still jerks, but you were able to survive things much better because you felt like your back was always being watched.

Even though there have been many advances in medicine and technology, a lot of people today are feeling lonely, desperate, hopeless, and helpless.  Little kids are growing up in homes where their parents get divorced, bring other boyfriends and girlfriends into the picture, and shack up.  People make some babies here and other babies there, and they don’t even bother to give their kids a mother AND a father because they don’t feel like their kids need that.  As a result, a lot of kids are growing up without intact, supportive families.  It’s interesting that when a kid or teenager commits suicide, people often attribute it to bullying rather than looking at their family or community dynamics (abuse, hostile home environment, etc).  They are trying to pin the wrong tail on the donkey. 

It’s very sad that more and more of our fellow human beings are feeling so tragically lost.  I think kids these days don’t have a lot to look forward to.  When I was young, your future was, more often than not, clear and secure in your mind if you finished high school.  You either got a job or went to college.  After college, you either got a job or went to graduate school.  Somewhere along the line, you got married, had a family, and built ties with extended family and neighbors.  Sure, the future had some bifurcations and you needed to make choices, but for the most part, things were pretty clear.  You knew you were going to get a job and have a family.  

Nowadays, kids grow up not knowing if they are going to be able to have either one.

The teenage years are messy to begin with.  Teens have a lot of pressure to succeed, and they desperately want to fit in.  If a kid feels they have no support, especially at home, it’s tough for them to be hopeful. 

I think many articles about suicide leave out a large part of the truth because it is bound to offend somebody.  Truth is often excised from information today because as a society, we’ve made “not offending anybody” the highest priority.  However, I find it offensive that we don’t deal with things openly and honestly because people are paying a price for it.  For example, here are some common misconceptions about suicide.
 
Do I feel that suicide is ever justified?  Yes, I do.  If a person is terminal, not getting any better, and suffering from intolerable pain, I think it is cruel to keep them in that position.  Denying someone an alternative, peaceful way out when they are going out anyway doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.  However, in any other situation, I do not think suicide is justified.  There’s a way out of everything, except death.   

If you have even a NOTION that someone is suicidal, call 911 and have them hauled off for a 72-hour hold with a psychiatric team to figure out what needs to be done.  Many times, the person doesn’t give much indication, or everyone is too busy to notice.  Sometimes it’s even a little bit of both.  But, if someone mentions suicide, you need to take it seriously.

In addition, if someone you know takes his or her own life, you have to remember that the person who kills themselves ultimately takes full responsibility for their death – not you or anyone else.  I’ve worked with so many parents and spouses who believe they should have known.   However, unless you’re psychic, you may not be able to know. 

The one thing you can do is reconsider the atmosphere you have at home and the support you give your family, friends, and people around you.  We’re losing that sense of connection and purposefulness that comes from forming bonds between each other, and we need to get it back.

A Teenager in Love

I think my most heart-wrenching breakup happened in early high school.  The irony is that I have no memory of the guy’s name but, nonetheless, he was my boyfriend.  In those days, having a high school boyfriend didn’t mean what it does now.  Kisses were just quick pecks, and there might be some hand-holding or an arm put around you at the movies.  That was it.  There was no sex.   

The night before my 15th birthday, my best friend called me up and said, “There’s something I have to tell you.”  I figured she was going to divulge something about the gift she was getting me, but instead, she said that she and my boyfriend were going steady and that he had given her his ring.   “Ha ha. Very funny,” I thought, but then I realized she wasn’t kidding.  I was devastated and began crying my brains out.  There had been no hint from either one of them, and I had never even seen them together.  Of course, that was the end of our friendship. 

I told my parents about it, but you know how parents are.  “It’s just puppy love. It’s no big deal,” they said.  But it was totally devastating to me.  It was rejection, stealing, betrayal, and 15 other things I can’t even think to mention.  I didn’t want to go to school the next day – birthday or not – because I just did not want to face all that.  But my mother got out a very fancy outfit that I would normally not be permitted to wear to school because it was too dressy, and said, “Tomorrow you’re going to school.  You’re going to wear this nice outfit and your new shoes.  You’re going to fix yourself up and walk around with your shoulders back and head held high.  You’re going to give the impression that neither one of them matters to you.” 

I cogitated about this for the rest of the evening – “Can I do this?  Can I really walk around like it doesn’t matter and not cry?” – and the next morning, I got all spiffed up, put on a little pink lipstick, and went off to school.  Evidently by this time, the news had ricocheted around the class and everybody knew about what had gone down.  All sorts of people were coming over to me offering support and saying how terrible it was.  It went a long way in making me feel better.

When you’re a teenager, breaking up is especially hard to do.  High school dating is more about having an identity than simply being attracted to another person.  It’s really important at that age to have serious peer acceptance.  Your mother thinking that you’re the bees’ knees is just not enough anymore.  You get attached to somebody because it’s a status symbol. 

I want to discuss how teenage breakups should be handled on both ends – if you’re the dumper, and if you’re the dumpee.

Now, there are school programs that have been implemented to teach kids how to deal with breakups.  I think they are absurd.   I don’t believe there should be school programs about anything except science, math, English, history, computers, etc.  In my opinion, schools shouldn’t be dealing with emotional things like bullying and breakups.  It should be handled in the home like when I was a kid; the vice principal called your parents, you got your butt hauled off, and there were serious consequences if you misbehaved.  Period, end of sentence.  Public schools today care too much about social engineering, which is just another reason why I support homeschooling.

In addition to the school programs, there are forums like the Boston Public Health Commission’s Break-Up Summit for teens which are equally ridiculous.  According to a USA Today report, “Counselors at the forum urged teenagers to communicate with partners about relationship boundaries, together defining whether they were ‘just texting,’ casually ‘hooking up,’ ‘friends with benefits,’ or in a monogamous relationship.”  Is this really what we’re teaching teenagers?: “Sit there and think about whether you’re screwing with no meaning, screwing with no meaning, or screwing with no meaning.”  It’s insane.  We’ve escalated things to pseudo-adult behavior.

If you’re a teenager or a parent of a teenager, here are some better breakup rules:

  • Don’t tell your friends before you break up.  Don’t feed the gossip machine and embarrass the other person.
  • Don’t post it on Facebook.  Setting your Facebook status to “Single” is not the way to tell your boyfriend or girlfriend that you’re done.  Do not be cold and callous.  I don’t care if it was just puppy love – they are still a human being who deserves respect and compassion.  Remember, you once cared about them very much.
  • Don’t do it via text or email.  About one-third of teenagers said they’d either broken up with or been dumped by somebody via text.   Show some humanity and don’t text.

When breaking up with someone, the first thing you need to do is be clear about why you’re ending the relationship.  Maybe you’ve been arguing with them all the time, or you realize that this person is not as much fun as you thought and you don’t really enjoy spending time with them. Perhaps you’ve developed feelings for someone else, or you can’t be hindered by a serious relationship right now because you’ve got places to go, things to do, and people to see. 
 
You really need to think through why you’re doing this because you will be asked, and you have to give an answer without being mean and without beating yourself up.  Be honest with them, but don’t be cruel.  And just because the other person doesn’t accept it, that doesn’t mean you can’t like somebody else or want to spend your time doing something else. 

In addition, treat the other person with respect, and break up with them in person.  Yes, they’re going to feel hurt, disappointed, sad, rejected, and heartbroken, but don’t back down.  Stick to your guns and remember that it’s not a negotiation.  You’re going into the conversation to let the boyfriend or girlfriend know that you’re leaving the relationship.  Respectfully say what you have to say, and then politely listen to what they have to say.  If you’re getting out of a relationship because it’s abusive, you better have people around you, including someone with police experience or an Army Ranger.

Here’s how to start things off:

  • Make sure you’re in private. 
  • Tell your boyfriend or girlfriend that you want to talk about something important.
  • Start by mentioning something you like or value about them. 
  • Say what’s not working (your reason for the breakup). Whatever it is, you can do it in one sentence: 
    - “I’m not ready to have a serious boyfriend right now.”
    - ”You cheated on me, and I can’t accept that.”
    - “We’re arguing more than we’re having fun.”
    - ”It just doesn’t feel right anymore.”
    - ”There’s someone else.”
  •  Follow it up with: 
    - “I want to break up.”
  • Saying, “I want to stay friendly,” is probably better than, “I want to stay friends.”   It’s very hard to be friends with someone who is still thinking about you day and night, and you’re already on to somebody else.
  • Tell them it pains you that it hurts them.  
    - “It’s not the way I wanted things to be.  I hoped things would work out, but it is the way it is.”
  • End by saying something positive.
    -  “I’m always going to have good memories about…”
    - ”I know you’re going to be OK.”
    - ”I’ll always be glad I got to know you.”
    - ”I know there’s somebody out there who will be happy to have a chance to go out with you.” 
  • The final part: spend some time listening to what they have to say.  Of course, if they start getting out of hand, you can excuse yourself and leave.

Now, on the flip side, what if you’re the one being dumped?

When someone breaks up with you, it hurts.  It feels like your heart has sprung a leak.  It’s reasonable to feel sad, and it’s OK to cry.  Sometimes people don’t want to feel the pain, and they turn it into rage and get mean.  Don’t do that.  It doesn’t help you get better.  It only makes you look bad and it hurts other people.  There is simply no upside to getting enraged. 

You need to remember that you have a lot of other relationships in your life.  You have friends, family, teammates, and many others who care about you, and they can help you feel like yourself again.  When I went through my breakup in high school, I had some of the most random folks suddenly being very kind to me because they didn’t think my best friend did a nice thing. 

Another thing you can do is spend some time thinking about what you gained from the relationship, good or bad.  Did you become a better person?  Did you become nicer?  Did you become worse?  Did you become a doormat?  Did you become a bully?  Did you become a whiner?  Did you become a good support system?  Think about what you got out of that relationship.  Ask yourself questions like, “What did I do wrong?,”  “What could I do better in my next relationship?,” and “What had nothing to do with me?” 

Finally, if you’re the parent of a teenager, you have to remember that as much as you’d like to protect your kids from all pain, you can’t and you shouldn’t.  Most teenagers are going to experience a lot of breakups, but being consistent in your love and support for them will help.

How to Not Lose a Friend

Friends are really important.  They make you feel anchored to the world, and without them, you feel lonely, isolated, and depressed.  They care about you and do things with you.  You can talk to different friends about different things – you can blow off steam, you can get feedback, or you might receive a badly needed dose of comeuppance and become a better person.  But most importantly, it feels good knowing it matters to other people that you exist.    

But even when people have great friends, they somehow still manage to screw it all up.  Here are some steps you can take to prevent losing a friend:

The best way to ruin a wonderful friendship is to make negative assumptions.  If a friend doesn’t call you for four days, you assume they don’t like you, they forgot you, or they are being rude and insensitive.  You lament that they should know you are going through stuff.  However, instead of making negative assumptions, you could just pick up the phone and say, “Hey, are you OK?  I haven’t heard from you, so I was concerned about you.” 

That’s a friend – the other is a parasite. 

Gossiping and betraying someone’s trust is another way to ruin a friendship.  Talking to anyone about your friend’s personal issues, feelings, and thoughts is a huge betrayal.

Failing to reciprocate.  One of my main definitions of a friendship is that it’s reciprocal.  Now, that doesn’t mean you have to do the same things back and forth, that’s sort of silly (i.e. you got me a piece of bread, so I need to get you one).  Reciprocating means making an effort to do something benevolent for the other person (e.g. getting your friend bread if they’re hungry, or helping them untangle their hair if their hair is tangled). 

Talking and not listening.  Somebody ruined a friendship with me by not listening and only talking.  She didn’t even listen when I tried to talk to her about not listening.  I took her hands in mine, sat really close to her so that we were almost nose to nose, and told her that I loved her and enjoyed doing things with her, but there was an issue.  I told her that I couldn’t talk to her about anything without her stopping me and talking about herself.  I talked about how it always got either intrusive or competitive (i.e. I couldn’t talk to her about a toe without her stopping me to tell me that she had 20 toes).  She said she was sorry and that things would change, but they never did.  So we took a break.  The break has lasted two years, and it has been good.  It’s not that she is a bad person, she’s just not a good friend.

You need to have an attitude in life that your problems are not more important than anyone else’s.  There are a lot of people who have a problem hither and thither, and they are just horrible to everybody.  We all are a little grumpier or more reserved when we are stressed out, but when that happens, just hold up a Post-it note that reads, “I’m stressed out beyond comprehension, don’t take anything I say seriously.”  Just communicate it any way you can, and make it fun.

Another way to ruin a friendship is failing to stay in touch.  With technology these days, there is almost no excuse for not staying in contact.  You can send a text or an email if you don’t want to lick a stamp, or you can video chat.

You also lose friends by only making use of them when you need them.  When you don’t need them, they get dismissed.  You have to do things to nurture the friendship.  Think of cute things to say to them and do with them.  Ask them how they are doing.  If they have a lot on their plate, tell them that you’re worried and ask if there is anything you can do to lighten the load.  Even if they say no, talking to you may be just what they needed. 

If you know your friend is having an exhausting time with a new baby or some other crisis, come over one night with a fully prepared dinner in Tupperware, hand it to them, and then turn around and leave.  Little things like that show you are thinking of him or her.  Don’t be stingy.  Give more than you get.

Don’t sneak around with your friend’s spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend.  I can’t even begin to tell you how many people say that their husband or wife left them for their best friend.  Excuse me?  “Best friends” don’t become intimate with each other’s boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands, or wives.  You just don’t do that.

Another tip: learn to compromise and don’t be competitive with their other friends and family.  Just because they don’t do A, B and C with you, appreciate that they do L, G and H with you.  Don’t make them feel stressed out to the point where they feel like they have to choose between you and the rest of the universe.  And if your friend wants to try something new, don’t say no.   People get a little compulsive about their comfort zones.  Both you and your friend should stretch out and try new things. 
 
Don’t make fun of their errors all the time.  I have a friend named Sam who I play tennis with.  One day he was eating dinner at our house after a game, and we started making jokes.  Because he had missed a shot, he sighed and said, “Does that mean I can’t have salad?”  It has become a running joke between the two of us.  Whenever we miss shots we should have made, we keep going back and forth with which parts of dinner we should and shouldn’t get.  You can have a good time poking fun, but don’t belittle each other.

Lastly, act like a friend, not a parent.  You can’t control how other people behave.  If you see your friend being self-destructive in any way, tell them, “It just kills me to see you hurting yourself like this because this is in your control.  It doesn’t feel like it, but it is.”  That’s not being a parent, that’s being a friend.  If their self-destructive behavior becomes more typical, then you have to draw a line.  You’re not telling them how to act – you’re telling them what your expectation of a friend is.  If they don’t fall into that category, then they’re not a friend and they’re not somebody you should put effort into. 

Let’s say, for example, that you have a friend who is married with little kids and is flagrantly having an affair.  I would discuss it with them several times, talk about the impact on the kids, their marriage, etc.  If that doesn’t work, I would ultimately say, “I don’t have friends who betray the people who love them and are willing to have fun at the expense of their kids’ well-being.  I am not interested in putting effort into somebody like that as a friend.”   If they respond by saying, “Oh, well you’re just being judgmental,” you just say back, “Damned straight I am, except I’m judging you as ‘friend’ material.  Whether you’re ‘mother’ or ‘wife’ material is certainly not in my venue.  All I’m judging is whether or not I want to call somebody who is doing this my friend.” 

That’s the kind of discussion you should be having and feel no guilt about.

Reasons to Get Married

A lot of people get married for selfish reasons.  They want to be free from their parents, ease loneliness, have sex, show that they’re adults, save or help someone else, attain citizenship, and/or have a baby.  They also might get married because all their friends are married, or they feel like they’re running out of time.

But all of these reasons are WRONG!

You should get married because you have a deep admiration and respect for someone else, and you are willing to help fulfill his or her needs and dreams.  You should get married when you’ve learned enough about a person and his or her family to know that he or she is emotionally and psychologically healthy, and you really want to share your lives together.  When you get up in the morning, you should look at your spouse and think, “What can I do to make him or her happy today and glad he or she is married to me?  How can I make him or her glad to come home to me tonight?”  There’d be a lot more happy people if all we did that.

This is why good marriage counselors don’t start off with the problems and the things your spouse does that make you mad.  Instead they ask, “What was there that made you fall in love?  What was there about each other that you admired, respected, and enjoyed?  What kept you together long enough to get married?”  
 
And then there’s the whole commitment thing. 

What’s the point of a commitment you might ask?  Isn’t it just a piece of paper? 

The answer is no.  Love without commitment is not enough to maintain a relationship.  In the beginning, rules about commitment are not an issue because the two of you are so overwhelmed by emotion.  But when you start having ups and downs and challenges, and you’ve both gotten a little lazy about being loving and supportive, the rules and expectations start coming into play.  When you guys forget your vows and promises to each other, everything else loses meaning. 

And that’s why marriage is important.  It’s the expression of commitment and devotion in public with promises.

Married people also eat better, take better care of themselves, and have more stable, secure, and scheduled lifestyles than unmarried ones.  Read more about how marriage positively affects your physical and mental health. 

And here’s an email Fiona sent me about the benefits of being married.  I chose it because she added a dimension I hadn’t heard put quite that way.

Hi Dr. Laura,

There are so many wonderful things about being married.  I would like to touch on two that I think are the most meaningful to me.

1. It is nice to know there is someone in life who is “for” you.  I am for him and he is for me.  My husband and I are each other’s cheerleaders.  “Rah Rah!, I’m rooting for you Baby…and thanks for rooting for me too!”  If someone asked me for advice on marriage, I would tell them to make sure you are both FOR each other.  It’s really an easy way to choose wisely.  If that quality isn’t present, you are not a match.

2. The second thing is this:  we are there to be a witness to each other’s lives.  We know each other’s dreams, accomplishments, failures, mistakes, heartaches, triumphs, tragedies, and ecstasies.  We know what is important to each other and what we both believe and what our values are.  We can say, “Yes, they were here, this is who they were, this is what they did, and this is what meant enough to them to fight for.”  I was a witness, I was there.

What Makes A True Friend

Friendship is very important. That’s one of the reasons why emotional desolation sets in when people move a lot – they don’t keep up the friendships they’ve had. 

We need family, not therapy. We need a nice family and friends. We don’t do well alone. Every time you hear about some “nut” doing something horrible to people, you always hear “he was a loner.” That’s a symptom and a disease rolled into one situation.

Life is not meant to be lived alone. We are very social beings and we need people to care about us, understand us, share the same mentality as us, and preferably, be reasonably close in age (but that’s not always necessary). The word “friendship” is very special, and I think people throw it around to include people they know and do stuff with. A good friend, however, is someone we can rely on, someone who is faithful and who is not trying to change us, dictate to us and/or manipulate us. If you have a good friend, you know they know your warts and you know theirs, but in the greater scheme, it doesn’t matter, because the essence of that person’s character is beautiful and that’s what really counts.

Finding someone who will watch your back and stand up for you, and who is loyal is one of the hardest things in the universe. There is no real friendship if there is no loyalty. You know you have a true friend when the “stuff” hits the fan and they are still standing by you.

Good friends are always supportive. When you’re in a time of sincere and reasonable need, a friend will be there wanting to help. Friends need to be reliable and keep the things you discuss private. You know you don’t have a friend if he or she has carried a tale to others of something you said or something you did. It’s truly splendid if you can carry friends throughout your lifetime, because that isn’t always possible.

Here are six ways to maintain a good friendship:

  1. Work at staying connected. Call, write, and/or visit.
  2. Root for one another, and drop the envy. Celebrate each other’s successes. Friendship is not a competition, and a real friend takes pleasure in your success.
  3. Don’t gloat, and don’t boast about things that make you feel superior.
  4. Show up for “cornerstone” events. Share in them.
  5.  Be flexible and understanding.
  6.  And finally, protect confidences.

With Gratitude for You, My Listeners

A new year is often a time of reflection and looking back as well as planning for the coming year. Since I’m making a major change by moving to SiriusXM satellite radio, I wanted to look back on my 30+ years of being on the air, and especially to thank you for all you’ve given me during that time:

With Gratitude for You, My Listeners

Or watch other videos at youtube.com/DrLaura.

Read the transcript.