Preventing permanent solutions to temporary problems

Challenging 4 myths about suicide

I have a friend who over 10 years ago made a serious suicide attempt. His wife had called me at around 8.30am saying he had left home very early without speaking to her. She knew he had a lot on his mind and was worried about him. He had not responded to her repeated calls or texts. He was not at his office. We agreed the police needed to be called. Thankfully his attempt was unsuccessful and all these years later he is in a much more positive place.

Sadly that is not the case for the people mentioned in this short 1 minute video below:

The tragic fact is that 84 men commit suicide in the UK every week. Suicide is the leading cause of death in the UK for those under 50.

The Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) is a U.K based charity dedicated to preventing male suicide. They offer support and focus on changing the culture that prevents men from seeking help when they need it.

Here are 4 myths about how to respond to someone who you suspect may be considering suicide:

Myth: You should not talk about suicide as it might put the idea into someone's head.

Fact: Talking about suicide openly will not make it more likely to happen. Just being there for the person and listening in an accepting way can help the person feel less isolated and frightened.

Myth: If someone has tried suicide before they don't really mean it. It is just a cry for help.

Fact: Those who have attempted suicide before have a higher chance of eventually dying by suicide, although many people have suicidal feelings without acting on them.

Myth: Most people who talk about killing themselves rarely complete suicide.

Fact: Most people who kill themselves have talked about it and/or given some verbal clues.

Myth: Once someone has decided to die by suicide there is nothing you can do to stop them.

Fact: Suicide can be prevented. Many people who are suicidal do not want to die. They just want to stop their pain.

Here are also some practical ways you can help:

  • Talk to the person about how they are feeling. Ask them if they have felt like this before and how long they have been feeling like this.
  • Listen to the person and take them seriously.
  • Don't dismiss expressions of hopelessness as a 'cry for help' or try to 'jolly' them out of it.
  • It is important to encourage the person to get some help.
  • What support do they have? If the person has any one else involved in their care, ask them if they have let them know how they are feeling.
  • Does the person have someone to talk to or a helpline number to call if they feel desperate?
  • If the person says they do not want anyone else to know how they are feeling, explain that if you are concerned about their immediate safety and you feel they may harm themselves (or others) you will have to contact someone to inform them(such as the mental health team, the GP or the police).

I had a remarkably sobering insight when I spoke to my friend a few days after his suicide attempt. He told me about about his thought processes in the early hours of the morning of the day he went missing. He had been so full of anxiety and worry about the financial issues he was facing. Suddenly a thought came that he could get away from it all by ending his life. At that point he described how he had an overwhelming sense of calm and peace. It was at that point he decided he would make the attempt to end his life. His account was a vivid reminder to me how dangerously our minds can mislead us about what is right for us. He had not shared his thought processes openly with anyone so as to get other perspectives. When I look at his transformed life, and how content and positive he now is, I am reminded how unnecessary such permanent solutions to temporary problems can be.

For further details, advice and resources to help someone who you suspect may be suicidal do go to the CALM support page here.

You may also find of help:

Podcast #004: Combatting Depression

Podcast #017: The Last Taboo Subject?

Podcast #031: How Can I Live With Hope Today?

Podcast #032: How To Know Joy When Life Feels Tough

Podcast #033: Practical Ways To Find Joy Through Disappointment

Podcast #039: Overcoming Failure

Rick Warren And The Secret Anguish of Major Depressive Disorder

An unspoken and hidden epidemic?

A permanent solution to a temporary problem

One of the great tragedies of modern life is the increasing numbers of people who feel life is not worth living. It is a difficult subject that gets relatively little coverage and yet when you look at the statistics it is quite staggering how widespread an issue it is in our increasingly complex and challenging world.

According to Dr Catherine Le Gals- Camus, a former WHO Assistant -Director General, Non-communicable Diseases and Mental Health,  "Suicide is a largely preventable public health problem, causing almost half of all violent deaths as well as economic costs in the billions of dollars. World-wide, more people die from suicide than from all homicides and wars combined. There is an urgent need for co-ordinated and intensified global action to prevent this needless toll. For every suicide death there are scores of family and friends whose lives are devastated emotionally, socially and economically."

I find the quote that more people die from suicide than all homicides and wars combined staggering and will need to verify its accuracy, even though it appears to come from a reputable source. The World Health Organisation quotes worldwide approximately 1 million people die by suicide every year and that this is set to rise to 1.5 million by 2020. Even so there can be no doubt of the tragic consequences of such a final act. (See Rick Warren and The Secret Anguish of Major Depressive Disorder).

Suicide rates tend to increase with age, but there has recently been an alarming increase in suicidal behaviours amongst young people aged 15 to 25 years old, worldwide. With the exception of rural China, more men than women commit suicide, although in most places more women than men attempt suicide.

Suicide is now the leading cause of death for men aged 15-49. Men are three times more likely than women to take their own lives. They accounted for four out of five suicides in 2015.

Key factors associated with suicide in men include:...

Podcast #040: Celebration!

How far have we come! We have reached 40 episodes on this journey at the  Making Sense of Life Podcast! Its time to celebrate and give thanks.

On this special episode I especially want to thank:

  • You the listener for entrusting me with your time and attention. In a world of such overwhelming choice and distraction I trust these episodes have truly helped you to make sense of life in an increasingly challenging and complex world.
  • My co-host Andrew Horton for his work both back stage and front stage. This has been behind the scenes with the technical aspects of the podcast and then publically in interviewing me with insightful questions as we have discussed such a wide range of topics.
  • Jeff Brown of the Read To Lead Podcast who inspired and taught me back in 2014 how to make podcasting not just a nice idea, but an actual reality.

In a world that focuses so much on the externals , the Making Sense of Life Podcast is a reminder that a meaningful life is actually an inside-out adventure. Inward change precedes outer transformation. Being bigger on the inside rather than the outside is the path to true success and impact. If we get that reversed and are actually greater on the outside than we are on the inside then disappointment, frustration and failure will not be far away.

One important aspect of focussing on the inside before the outside is being real and authentic about our internal struggles and challenges.

Our journey started back in 2012 with this blog, particularly around the subject of depression and negative thinking that appears to be reaching epidemic proportions around the world. For more on this see:

A 15 minute video called Just As I Am that gives my personal journey through depression and negative thinking.

Podcast #004 Combatting Depression where I interview the author Jo Swinney who has written about her own personal journey in her book 'Through The Dark Woods'.

Podcast #003 Stress where Andrew and I discuss the challenges of stress and how to not just survive, but actually thrive. (Also see the video How To Make Stress Your Friend).

Podcast #027: Beating Burnout where we look at not just the cost to ourselves of burnout, but how we can set up safeguards and protective measures in our lives.

Over time we have shifted our emphasis in looking not just at the negative, but understanding how to positively flourish in the world through resilience (Podcast #013) and develop grit (passion and perseverance for long term goals at Podcast #021). How do we do that with all the other challenges in our lives so we can live in some form of balance? (Podcast #034).

At the same time I have become convinced that it is not possible to authentically make sense of life without reference the Infinite Creator God of the Universe. As we have advanced in our understanding and grasp of the world what has become increasingly evident is that in spite of all our achievements and technology, the amount we know and understand is not getting any less. Indeed with an infinite reference point it is inevitable that no matter how much we know we have to come to realise the less we actually know!

On Podcast #007 we discussed how religion has significant limitations when it comes to grasping the world in all its complexity. What our hearts long for is relationship. In Podcast #018 we looked at spiritual maturity as being about getting to know God through silence. solitude and the Biblical scripture.

Another wonderful privilege of the podcast has been the opportunity to interview book authors and those who have lived inspiring lives. A small selection of those interviews include:

  • A grandson of Steven R. Covey, author of the classic bestseller The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and The 8th Habit. It was reading a quote from p.308 of that book in 1995 in Delhi, India that had a profound impact of my life. Little did I realise it would become a recurring theme of my life:

"The Lord works from the inside out. The world works from the outside in. The world would take people out of the slums. Christ takes the slums out of people, and then they take themselves out of the slums. The world would mould men by changing their environment. Christ changes men, who then change their environment. The world would shape human behaviour, but Christ can change human nature." (Podcast #010)

  • Baroness Caroline Cox who is now over 80 and doing remarkable humanitarian work in some of the most dangerous places of the world. Her courage, determination and resilience are truly extraordinary and a great inspiration as to what can be possible in our lives. She also candidly shared with us about her personal struggle with depressive thinking and what she calls 'faithless fearful dread.' She is able to say:

"During my work with the persecuted church I have met many people who are suffering for their faith and I always return from my travels humbled and inspired by their courage, faith, dignity and miracles of grace. Many stories of those living on the front lines of faith illustrate spiritual blessings such as joy, peace and love in ways which are far from depressing." (Podcast #019 and Podcast #020)

  • Rahil Patel whose life story as a Hindu priest to spiritual awakening shows how truth is stranger than fiction. And what does that have to do with Harry Potter? You will have to listen to Podcast #016!

Finally we have also been fortunate to interview some leading authorities on deeply important topics that affect us all:

Professor John Wyatt on what does it mean to live and die well at Podcast #017. The reality and brutality of death was brought home to  me with the sudden loss of a good friend of mine on 17 March 2016. (For more on that see here).  An understanding of how life is finite should not leave us with a morbid sense of fear, but a deep privilege of how all we have is a gift. How can I live in a way that honours my creator?

Chris Wright and discussing the mysteries of when God doesn't make sense in our lives (Podcast #028) as well as what the Bible has to say about what will happen at the end of the world (Podcast #029).

All this is only a taster of the journey we have been on with the podcasts since May 2015. I trust this recap and celebration will inspire you to go back and listen to some you may have missed or re-listen to another one again. Such is the power of technology and your future self may well thank you for investing in yourself in this way!

How to get better at almost anything

4 lessons from sport and music

This short 5 minute video helpfully illustrates what is needed to get better at practically any skill. While the focus is on physical activities such as playing an instrument or throwing a ball, the same principles are assumed to apply to any field of endeavour you might want to get better at.

In a fast changing and increasingly complex world the need to learn new skills and to be able to get better is vital if not essential. Hence practice becomes very important if we are going to improve in any skill and do that with speed and confidence.

To help us understand how our minds work, the speaker helpfully distinguishes between two kinds of brain tissue - the grey matter and white matter. It is the grey matter that does the 'work' in terms of processing information and directing signals and sensory stimuli to the other brain cells. Meanwhile the white matter is made up of mostly fatty tissue and nerve fibres. When we move our bodies then information needs to travel from our brain's grey matter down our spinal cord through a chain of nerve fibres called axons to our muscles.

So what happens to the inner workings of our brains when we practice a skill?....

Everybody dies but not everybody lives

This 6 minute video by Prince Ea, who is an American spoken word artist, poet, rapper and filmmaker makes some challenging points about what it means to live life with purpose and passion.

His entertaining style and vivid imagery challenge us to think deeply about living life with a higher and greater perspective than what we may necessarily see in front of us or how we feel about ourselves. He emphasises the dangers of living with regret for not having been more appropriately ambitious, or without courage and living instead with self-doubt.

My take on this?

3 prescriptions for lifting depression without pills

This 16 minutes talk by clinical psychologist Susan Heitler provides helpful insights into dealing with depressive and negative thoughts without the use of medication. What she proposes is looking first at what in your life may be causing you to feel the way you do.

The analogy of the common cold is helpful. While a common cold can be quite mild, in the short term it can leave you feeling quite miserable. There is also the risk of the cold developing into something more serious like a sinus infection or even pneumonia. For these reasons it is important to pay attention to when you find yourself persistently discouraged, with low energy, self-critical and irritable with others. Our modern assumption to quickly assume such feelings are due to a chemical imbalance has led to an over-diagnosis by doctors of depression, (See Is The Rate Of Depression Actually Increasing Or Not?)

The reason this is so important is the tendency in our modern world to look for a quick fix. This has become hugely important as the prescription for antidepressant medication has dramatically increased over the last few decades with no clear evidence that clinical depression has actually increased. For example from 2011 figures at least 1 in 10 Americans are on antidepressant medication and for women in their 30s and 40s this figure is around 1 in 4. (See Why Has There Been a 400% Increase In The Prescribing Of Antidepressants?) I  also write about my own experience of how your lifestyle can be leading to depressive thinking here).

Susan Heitler expands on her Conflict Resolution Theory of depression, or more simply 'Bump Therapy'!

The first step or prescription is to identify the particular hurdle or obstacle in your life that you find yourself feeling disappointed about. The more specific you can be then the more likely you are to find a solution or way through that challenge.

The second prescription is what she calls 'pump up' or identify the resources or tools at your disposal.  Dr Heitler gives an example on the video of this with a client of hers called Julie. You may also find of interest the article and video with Amy Morin called  Are You Looking For Inner Strength?

The third prescription is then by looking at potential solutions to the challenge you are facing and deciding on which is most appropriate for you. For more on this see What Fills You Up And What Drains You Down?

In combination these three steps can significantly reduce the risk 'the common cold of mental illness' does not develop into something more serious or insidious in your life.

What in your own life have you find helpful to deal with depressive thoughts and feelings?

You may also find of interest:

Could Your Lifestyle Be What Is Getting You Down?

Podcast #004: Combatting Depression

The Scale Of Mental Health Problems And What To Do About Them

What Do I Say To A Loved One Who Is Struggling With Depression?

My own personal journey with depressive thinking in my late teens at Just As I Am

Podcast #039: Overcoming Failure

"Everyone has their own Mount Everest they were put on this earth to climb." (Seth Godin)

Failure. How do you handle it? The 2 minute video below by Will Smith is an encouragement to view failure in a positive way. As he says - fail early, fail often and fail forward.

In this podcast my co-host Andrew Horton and I discuss how failure is not something to be feared, but actually an opportunity to grow and learn.

Michael Jordan, arguably the greatest basketball play of all time has said:

"I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times I've been entrusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."

Do join us on this podcast as we discuss:

How everyone has their own story of failure along with our own personal examples.

What is the relationship between failure and guilt or shame? Is failure necessarily a bad thing?

What can we learn from some famous examples of failure such as Abraham Lincoln and J K Rowling?

Why it is not as simple as just saying, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again."

What is the secret to turning failure around?

How can we see our failures through the eyes of faith?

How understanding failure is part of inside-out transformation?

You may also find of interest:

What Can J K Rowling Teach Us About Failure?

Failure and Depression: The Other Side of Lincoln's Life

9 Ways To Look At Your Failures With The Eyes Of Faith. Especially #7

How To Fail And Lose Well Part 1

How To Fail And Lose Well Part 2

Podcast #021: Grit

Podcast #013 How To Grow In Resilience

Podcast #030 Do You Need More Sleep?

Podcast #031: How Can I Live With Hope Today?

How can faith and prayer enhance mental health?

Using the example of money

I was recently asked to talk at a financial institution on this subject from a Biblical perspective.

 Its a huge subject and I was given only 10 minutes along with speakers from Jewish and Muslim backgrounds! This is a summary and transcript of what I was able to say. As it was at a financial institution it made sense to use money as an important theme! Indeed as we have previously discussed there are 2350 verses in the Bible on money - more than there are on faith or prayer even!

We can summarise the question by saying faith and prayer ultimately enhance mental health when I am able to delight in God for who He is rather than what I can get out of Him. To break it down further into one word then it is to use the word grace.
Grace means undeserved mercy and favour. When I truly understand grace then that has a profound impact on my mental health.
The best way to convey that is with a simple story.
Imagine you came to my house to stay. I had to go out and left you in charge. When I returned you say to me, Sunil while you were out someone came to the door with a bill to pay and I paid it. Now there is one vital piece of information you are lacking. It is how much was the bill? If the bill was £1 then that is hardly even worth saying thank you for. But imagine it was £20 billion and you had the resources to pay. How would that make me feel? What would that do to my mental health?
But it gets even better! Not only do you pay the £20 billion bill you actually credit my account with a further £20 billion and you buy me a new house!
Sounds crazy an even ludicrous.

But that is what the Bible seeks to convey how grace impacts the mental health and life of someone who understands it.

Let’s  explore this further.....

How to know your life purpose in just 5 minutes

Adam Leipzig is a Hollywood film producer and entrepreneur. In this 10 minute TED talk he walks us through 5 simple questions to help us understand what our life purpose is. From this life purpose we can then go on to do the work we sense we were called and even born to do. This is so much more than having a job or earning a paycheque.

Leipzig tells us that the idea for the talk came at his 25 year reunion from university. While there he noticed that the vast majority of his classmates were unhappy with their lives. From an external perspective there appeared to be so much in their favour. He describes them as "privileged, and highly educated, and financially well off, and in positions of power. And they had the first house, and the second house, and they had the first spouse, and the second spouse. And 80% of them were unhappy with their lives."

What was different about the other 20%? Leipzig noticed that they had not pinned their expectations on a chosen career path that would be the source of their fulfilment, satisfaction and financial security. This is how he describes this happier minority which included himself:

"We had studied literature and Renaissance rhetoric, and we were the theatre people, and the history geeks. We had studied classes for the joy of learning, not because we thought they were going to put direct us to a specific job. We still got jobs, we were living our lives expansively, with life’s ups and downs, and we did not feel that we had wasted a single minute."

From this positive and enriching perspective he talks us through 5 simple questions to help us articulate our life purpose:.....

When Jesus seems just so confusing

It is the story of an encounter with Jesus in the Gospels that is so puzzling and even confusing.  A certain rich man (we don't know his name or much else about him) comes running to Jesus, falls on his knees, and asks "Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" The more you think about it the more radical and even shocking is the way Jesus takes the conversation from there. 

You can read more about what happens in three of the four gospels. Each provides a different perspective on the same encounter. (Matthew 19:16-30; Mark 10:17-31 and Luke 18:18-30).

It seems like a great question to ask and in terms of who you ask the question to, I think you would be hard pressed to suggest anyone else who would have a better handle on knowing what it takes to inherit eternal life. This young man has achieved a lot in terms of worldly success and significance. You have to commend him for hungering and thirsting for wanting something of more lasting value in his life than his apparent success and achievements..........