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Posts tagged ‘suicide’

Are You Thinking About Suicide? And Other Questions We’re Afraid To Ask

If so, call: 1-800-273-TALK

 
Please make the call.

Thoughts of suicide are often associated with a treatable mental disorder. These thoughts are common (you’re far, far from being alone) and do not have to be acted on. If you call the crisis hotline number above, you’ll speak with a trained counselor who can help connect you to local resources and professionals who want to help. It’s free, 24/7, and confidential. Please call. There’s only one of you in this world and we want you to stick around.

Talking about suicide can be hard. I’m wondering what all of you are feeling right now, as you read this, and it makes my chest tight. So many of us are suffering.

Let me ask you all something: How prepared are you to offer help to someone in emotional distress?

I think it’s safe to assume that many of us feel less than competent in this area. How often does that stop us from reaching out when someone needs us?

On the flip side, I’m totally incompetent when it comes to helping people with physical medical problems, but if I saw someone on the street having a heart attack or a friend accidentally cut themselves, I would still offer assistance even though I really wasn’t sure what to do.

I bet a lot of you are the same. Even if we couldn’t remember how to do CPR or how to dress a wound, most of us would still reach out to someone having a physical medical emergency. We might offer a reassuring word, bust out the first aid kit, or call 911.

But what about when our friends, family, coworkers, and even strangers are suffering from a mental health emergency or are in emotional distress? A lot of us just keep our heads down. Not because we’re bad people, but because we don’t understand mental health issues. We don’t know what to do. We might worry that we’ll make things worse than they already are.

Luckily, there’s something we can do about this. This winter I earned my certificate in Mental Health First Aid through NAMI Maine. The full day training, developed by the National Council for Behavioral Health is offered internationally and helps everyday people learn how to effectively respond to individuals who are in psychological distress.

This is a training we should all take, no matter what we do for a living.

Consider this:

  • One in five Americans experience a mental disorder in any one year.
  • More than half of all adults in America will experience a mental disorder in their lifetime.

It’s highly likely that we will encounter someone (ourselves included) in need of mental health help at some point. So why not ditch the shame, clear up the confusion, and shed the stigma that surrounds mental health? Let’s get informed. We can learn the risk factors and warning signs for mental health and addiction concerns, strategies for how to help someone in both crisis and non-crisis situations, and where to turn for help.

Working in a helping profession requires intense emotional labor. All of us are impacted, in varying degrees, by the stress, trauma, and suffering we bear witness to every day. Sometimes it’s really serious:

1 in 6 veterinary professionals have considered suicide.

If you suspect someone may be at risk for suicide, it’s important to ask directly about suicidal thoughts.

DON’T avoid using the word “suicide.” You’re not planting the idea in their mind if you do.
DO ask the question without dread and without expressing a negative judgement.
DO be direct:

Are you having thoughts of suicide?
Are you thinking about killing yourself?

Letting people know that you care and want to help can make a major difference. Be sure to have information and resources available if they need assistance.

In the First Aid course, we learned a handy acronym to help guide us through the process of reaching out to anyone in distress (which includes panic attacks, addiction, depression, and self harm):

mental health action plan

In order to move towards the last 3 steps, we need to get educated. Here are some ways to learn more right now:

Learn the signs, what you can do to help, and more myths about suicide.

More on suicide prevention here.

Always have this number nearby: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

You can also watch the free VetGirl webinar: Suicide in Veterinary Medicine

I highly recommend this Mental Health First Aid training for all of us, but especially for people in management and leadership roles. Your staff and the public you work with (who are also in distress some of the time) need you to know this kind of basic first aid for a variety of common mental health problems.

If you would like to get trained in Mental Heath First Aid, please visit this page.

 

7 Ways We Can Support Mental Health in the Animal Welfare Community

“Look how involved we all are just under the surface, and let’s try to help each other.” 

– Jennifer Michael Hecht

 

Doing animal welfare work is intense emotional labor. It takes a toll on every single one of us working to meet the needs of animals and people who are suffering, traumatized, and in need of our ongoing compassionate care.

We can and must take daily actions to care for ourselves as we engage in this challenging work. Only we can take care of ourselves. No one else can do that for us.

But we also need each other. We need the support and understanding that only people who do this unique work can offer one another. We can’t thrive in isolation. Connection is critical to our health.

The quality of that connection matters. For example, research reveals that having coworkers who are supportive and collaborative can increase our compassion satisfaction levels, which helps to lower compassion fatigue.

The flip side of that coin is to acknowledge that we are also capable of, and often do, cause each other as much pain as the work itself does.

Rather than feed into an environment of horizontal violence, we can instead choose to create a culture that supports well-being and where our values of compassion towards animals extends to the human animals around us as well. Even when we disagree with each other, we can choose to reduce the amount of harm we inflict on ourselves and those around us.

Here are just a few ideas for supporting mental health in our community:

1. Stop bullying. The hateful comments attacking individuals and organizations that are being posted on Facebook and beyond aren’t benign or helpful. They are causing extreme suffering in our community.

Our actions can create painful conditions for others which may have a serious impact on their mental health. Let me put it this way: Suicide is often the result of multiple risk factors and while there is no particular set risk factors that accurately predicts imminent danger of suicide, there are a number of stressful situations or events that may increase the likelihood of a suicide attempt or death, such as: a previous suicide attempt, extreme loss, harassment, an active suicide cluster in a community, mental illness, bullying, isolation, and severe stress.

While we can’t control if someone has a mental illness, we can control our own actions and make the choice not to bully or harass others, no matter how much we disagree with them.

Before you post a nasty comment do this: Pause. Take a deep breath. Direct your awareness inward. What are you feeling right now? Pain? Sadness? Anger? Hopelessness? When we lash out it’s often an attempt to numb and avoid our own difficult emotions. What kind of pain is the bullying and trolling temporarily soothing for you?

Feel your emotions instead. Be sad. Be angry. Have compassion for your own suffering. You will do less harm to yourself and others if you process your emotions. Then use your energy to make concrete positive changes for animals in your corner of the world.

 

2. Organize peer support groups. We need to talk about what we experience at work on a regular basis, so that we can process and let go of what we see and do in a healthy and constructive way. We understand each other’s trauma and sorrow. Friends, family, and others may be traumatized or have a hard time understanding our work. We can’t expect them to be the only source of support for us or be able to listen to our stories each day.

Form a support group that meets weekly or monthly. You can do it online with peers in your field or at work (managers, make sure there is time for this). Bring in a counselor to facilitate one or more sessions to help you get started. Connect with professionals, mentors, managers, and peers who can bear witness and help you process both the details, but even more importantly, your feelings about your work.

Learn four different ways to debrief, including what managers need to know about having a critical incident debriefing plan.

Here’s some advice on creating a peer support group.

Also of note: In Defense of Animals has a free support hotline for animal rights activists.

 

animal welfare mental health

 

3. Help create healthy boundaries. Can’t stop thinking about work even when you’re off the clock? We can help ourselves and others by creating a ritual to download and decompress before we leave work.

Here’s one way to do that: Jackie Burke, clinical director of Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia recommends meeting with your boss, a supportive work peer who is still on the clock, or a notebook to talk or write about the upsetting things that happened that day and what you will do to try to feel ok about it, before you go home.

Do this every day. Record your feelings related to the work day before you punch out (literally or figuratively, if you work at a home-based rescue). The goal is immediate reflection to avoid repression of the traumatic content you’ve accumulated all day and to avoid getting stuck in rumination later.

 

4. Be #StigmaFree. Help break down the misinformation and stigma around mental illness and seeking mental health help. Mental illnesses, such as depression and PTSD, are not the result of personal weakness.

1 in 5 adults in America lives with a mental health condition and suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. So many of us are suffering. No one should feel alone, shamed, or stigmatized.

Mental health, just like physical health, exists on a continuum. At one time or another, due to many factors, all of us will need a doctor’s help to maintain or treat our physical body. It’s the same with our mental health! Many of us would benefit from having some outside help from a professional to support our emotional well-being. There’s no shame in that, just like there’s no shame in having strep throat and seeing your physician for treatment.

We can break down stigmas by sharing our own experiences and resources. If you have a great therapist that understands your work with animals, let your coworkers and friends know that you are receiving help in this way and share your counselor’s number. Make sure your staff knows about their mental health benefits and if they don’t have any, see what you can do to fix that. Let those around you know that you understand what they’re going through, that they’re not alone, and that help is available.

Learn how to be a light in the darkness.

 

5. Get proactive about your own mental health. This work is so tough. Although compassion fatigue is a normal consequence of the work we do – it is not a mental illness – many of us would benefit from some extra support at one time or another.

Do some research and get help now, before you are in crisis. It’s smart and courageous to get yourself into therapy or reach out to a pastor or counselor while you are still pretty much OK. You can start by investigating what your insurance does or doesn’t cover and researching therapists in your area that have experience with secondary traumatic stress or the human-animal bond.

Set yourself up with support today, which will not only help you stay well, but if the poop does hit the fan in the future, you’ll already have someone competent in your corner. Be aware that you may not find the right therapist the first go around. It’s a relationship and you may need to meet a few people before you find the right match for yourself.

Get your mental health plan in place now.

Here are some resources for getting help:

Look up therapists on PsychologyToday.com or GoodTherapy.org

A Beginner’s Guide to Therapy

 

6. Create a martyr-free zone. Suffering is not a competitive sport. Animal welfare doesn’t need any more self-sacrificing heroes. The people I admire most are the ones who recognize their limits and commit to taking care of themselves, so that they can perform ethical, effective work for the long haul.

Instead of bragging about not sleeping or being too busy to care for ourselves, let’s encourage each other and our staff to take bathroom and lunch breaks, vacations, and make regular visits to the doctor or the gym. No guilt trips or unnecessary interruptions when others are off the clock or need to say “no.” We can can celebrate limits, rest, and renewal, knowing that this investment in ourselves is what allows us to show up and do great work for many years to come.

 

Let’s put an end to praising and promoting poor quality of life. We can be well and do good. In fact, we must do both. We’ll save more lives (including our own) that way…

 

7. Increase understanding of suicide prevention. Many people are uncomfortable with the topic of suicide. But too many of us are taking our own lives, so we must talk about it openly. If it’s left hidden in secrecy, then we can’t implement effective prevention. Let’s commit to dispelling the myths around suicide, understanding the risk factors, and increasing our competency in helping to prevent suicides.

Get familiar with the warning signs, know how to take action, and always remember that connection – knowing that someone out there sees and cares about us – makes a major difference.

Going back to #1: your actions matter. Suicide prevention is up to all of us.

Resources for prevention training:

QPR Institute

A state by state guide to suicide prevention trainings and resources

A comprehensive list of gaterkeeper programs

Important numbers to know if you or someone you know is having suicidal ideations:

911: call if an attempt has been made, a weapon is present, and/or the person is out of control.

800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 24-7 help that’s anonymous, connecting you to local resources that can help if you or someone you know is in crisis.

State crisis hotlines: Research your local hotline numbers. For example, there is Maine Crisis Hotline answered 24-7 with crisis workers who are mobile and can go to any site that is safe.

 

These are all steps that we can take to increase positive conditions and support mental health in our community.

We all need to make an effort to shift to a more healthy and positive workplace culture, which includes characteristics such as: providing support for one another, offering kindness and compassion when others are struggling, avoiding blame and forgiving mistakes, and treating one another with respect, gratitude, trust, and integrity.

Let’s make a commitment to one another to help create a culture, within the larger animal welfare community and in our daily work, that promotes health, wellness, and respect for each other. Because we’re all in this together.

What else can we do? Tell me in the comments.

in gratitude for your service,

Depression and Suicide In Animal Care Professions: What Can We Do?

Dr. Sophia Yin died on Monday at just 48 years old. It is a great loss, felt deeply by everyone in the animal care world. I didn’t know her personally, but her work truly helped me be a better advocate for my dog. Dr. Yin was a force for good for our pets. Yesterday it was revealed that she died of suicide.

She is not the only veterinarian to die by suicide this year.

I don’t know a thing about the details of Dr. Yin’s life and I don’t know what led up to Monday’s events. But I feel like losing her in this way is an opportunity to talk to all of you about something that matters very much to me: your well-being and how our work affects all of us.

Compassion fatigue is an occupational hazard of our work with animals, whether you are an animal control officer or kennel attendant in a small town or an internationally recognized veterinarian. Our work requires that we compassionately and effectively respond to the constant demand to be helping to those who are suffering and in need. This can result in us experiencing the symptoms of compassion fatigue.

If you are suffering, you are not alone and you are not crazy. Everyone who works in a helping profession is affected by their work. It’s normal. As Dr. Naomi Rachel Remen so eloquently says,

“The expectation that we can be immersed in suffering and loss daily and not be touched by it is as unrealistic as expecting to be able to walk through water without getting wet.”

 

The symptoms of compassion fatigue are many and each one of us will experience the unavoidable stress of our work differently. But anxiety, sadness, isolation, and anger are just a few. Fortunately. we can take steps to manage our symptoms. However, if the symptoms of compassion fatigue are not recognized and addressed effectively, they may lead to depression and a host of other mental and physical illnesses. And, if a person already has a history of depression, working as a helping professional can make them more vulnerable to compassion fatigue.*

Another thing that contributes to compassion fatigue is perfectionism, a common trait in veterinary caregivers. Perfectionism can add to compassion fatigue-related stress, exhausting caregivers and reducing their ability to give compassionate care to themselves – one of the very things they need to be well, while they do good work.

A study in the UK revealed that British veterinarians are four times as likely to die by suicide than the average person and twice as likely as their human healthcare counterparts to do so. In the book When Helping Hurts: Compassion Fatigue in the Veterinary Profession, author Kathleen Ayl, PsyD writes about perfectionism and suicide in veterinary caregivers.

Ayl quotes equine journalist Candy Lawrence who wrote that veterinary professionals are typically, “…intent on improving themselves and dedicated to putting forth a 180% effort…when they fail to heal, when they fail to prolong the quality of life, this is often perceived as an internalized, magnified, and personal defeat. High levels of self-criticism are often associated with high levels of depression.”

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There’s much more to write on this topic, but I want to stop and say this:

Your life matters. You do not need to earn the right to take care of yourself.

 

You deserve the same level of compassionate care that you give your clients. You do not need to be perfect or give until you are empty in order to earn your self-care. Give to yourself with as much enthusiasm and skill as you give to others.

You can do that by getting help. If you are suffering from compassion fatigue symptoms or you are struggling with anxiety, depression, thoughts of suicide, symptoms of PTSD, or anything else: seek professional help. The cruel twist of depression is that its very nature makes reaching out for help difficult. So get help early.

 

Look for a therapist that understands vicarious trauma and compassion fatigue. Shop around until you find a therapist that suits you best (it’s ok to meet with a few different people until you find the person that is the right match for you). See if there’s a veterinary social worker nearby that specializes in the human-animal bond. Be sure to tell your therapist about your work-related stress, so they understand that your symptoms are, in part, related to the unique nature of your work as a helping professional.

And we can help each other too.

We can help each other by being more informed about the emotional toll that this work takes on ALL of us. Learn to recognize and manage the symptoms of compassion fatigue.

We can create a culture of wellness that values taking time for self-care as much as we value taking care of the needs of others.

We can be conscious of how we stigmatize seeking professional help. We need to take the shame out of getting help.

Getting professional help is an act of self-care. Self-care is critical to doing effective, ethical, sustainable and joyful work.

 

When I worked at the shelter, I saw a therapist for a few months. It helped. Don’t deny yourself the support you need because you’re afraid of what others will think. I will think you are brave.

What else can we do?

Read When Helping Hurts, visit compassionfatigue.org, bring in grief counselors (especially after a traumatic incident), be kind and refrain from gossip and cruelty online and in person, learn how to implement low impact debriefing at our workplace, make ourselves available to one another and strengthen social support networks, speak up when we see someone struggling and do what we can to connect them to help.

I don’t know what was happening in Dr. Yin’s life, but I am so sorry that she was struggling and felt such despair. She meant so much, to so many. She was making a real difference in the world and she will be missed. My heart goes out to her friends and family. I hope they take some comfort in knowing that Dr. Yin was deeply respected, loved, and treasured by people and their pets around the world.

You made a difference Dr. Yin. Thank you.

 

Let’s start a conversation. What else can we do? How can we support one another?

Resources:

Suicide Hotline

When Helping Hurts: Compassion Fatigue in the Veterinary Profession

CompassionFatigue.org

Pawcurious “We Love You to Death” 

NAMI: Suicide Prevention Tips

TIME: The Mystery of Suicide and How to Prevent It

VetGirl: Suicide Awareness in Veterinary Medicine webinar

University of Buffalo School of Social Work Self-Care Starter Kit

Rollin’ With Rubi Still, I Am One

Self Care Is Not Optional (my own experience with compassion fatigue)

 

My 8 week online course, Compassion in Balance, is designed to support animal care workers as they work to increase their well being, while they continue to do good work in the world. Visit this page for more information and class start dates.

 

*Please note that compassion fatigue is not a mental illness. It is the name of a group of symptoms that helping professionals may experience as a normal occupational hazard of their work. Compassion fatigue does not always lead to depression. Depression is a mental illness and has many causes. While they are sometimes connected, compassion fatigue and depression are not the same. However, both deserve our attention and anyone suffering from either should be encouraged to seek help. 

 

 

With love,