Let’s Talk: Suicide Prevention and Loss

We all have a part to play in understanding and preventing suicide. Whether or not suicide has impacted your life, each of us can ease one another’s burdens and send an undeniable message that everyone is valued and worthy of love. It’s worth improving our awareness of how to support both those who may be considering suicide and the family members or loved ones of those who have died by suicide. 

To strengthen prevention efforts, we can look at mental health problems as seriously as we consider physical issues. Michael Staley, a psychological autopsy examiner and suicide prevention research coordinator for the State of Utah believes that mental health screenings should be just as common as getting our blood pressure checked. And similar to the way CPR training is widespread and required for many jobs to respond to life-or-death situations, so too should suicide prevention training be just as common. Such training would provide valuable skills in many settings, including at work and in schools.

Help prevent suicide by talking about it

Among college students, suicide is the second leading cause of death. It impacts our lives, but it can still be difficult to talk about. However, both Staley and Quintin Hunt, assistant professor of marriage and family therapy at BYU, share that the most important thing we can do to prevent suicide and help people heal from suicide loss is to talk about it. If we feel that something is wrong, we should ask the person we’re worried about if they are considering suicide. 

“If you know somebody who’s going through a hard time or had someone tell you something that sounds suicidal, you can be the difference between life and death for that person. If you leave with a pit in your stomach that tells you ‘Maybe I should do something more’ or ‘Maybe I should ask that one question,’ do it,” says Staley. 

You may be worried about saying the wrong thing, but often doing nothing is worse. Staley recommends practicing asking the difficult question of “Are you considering suicide?” with those around us. If we’ve prepared ourselves, we’ll be empowered if the time ever comes to ask the question in a real-life scenario.

If someone shares that they are considering suicide, let them know that you offer a safe space by reassuring them that they are loved and that you will listen without judgment. Staley explains, “A lot of people feel that they’re going to be abandoned or be stigmatized if they share suicidal thoughts. If you share things like ‘I still care about you, I love you, and I want you to live’ that’s going to create a safe space and help them to recognize their value.” You should then refer them to a suicide hotline, mental health professional, or the emergency room. Follow through and assist them in getting the help they need. 

For every 1 person that dies from suicide, there are 25 people who have made a suicide attempt. If someone shares that they have attempted suicide, reassure them that you are glad they’re here and ask them if they’re still considering taking their life. Let them share their experience with you and get them help if they need it.

Process grief from suicide by talking to other loss survivors 

Hunt shared that an understudied field of research is how suicide loss affects family members and friends. This is important because those who are exposed to suicide are at greater risk of suicide themselves. Hunt shared the following from past research, “One-hundred percent of suicide loss survivors have said that the most useful thing for them in healing has been talking to other suicide loss survivors.” Whether we’ve been impacted by suicide or not, a powerful thing we can do is simply ask suicide loss survivors about the experience in a sensitive and caring way. 

We can all equip ourselves with the emotional and mental capability to talk about suicide. Our care for others will show through our words should we be faced with that situation, but just as importantly, our actions will demonstrate whether we are a safe space for someone to share their struggles. Hunt says, “Regardless of your depth of belief, sexual orientation or gender identity, your political affiliation or marital status, we’re all just people trying to help others recognize their value right here and right now.” 

Learn more about suicide prevention training at https://www.qprinstitute.com.

If you have been personally affected by suicide loss, Hunt, Erin Holmes, professor of family life at BYU, and Rebecca Sanford, associate teaching professor at Thompson Rivers University School of Social Work and Human Services, are studying suicide bereavement. Follow their social media for more information: 

BYU marriage and family therapy program honored nationally for research

The BYU marriage and family therapy program was recently named the No. 1 program of its kind for research productivity.

That means the faculty does more research than any other group of marriage and family therapy professors in the United States.

The ranking, published in the leading Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, names four BYU faculty members in the top ten most prolific researchers: Jonathan Sandberg (#2), Russell Crane (#4), Jeff Larson (#5) and Rick Miller (#6). Larson, Crane and Miller were also ranked in the top ten for most-cited research. Professor Shayne Anderson was also listed as the most prolific author for faculty who have been in the field for less than 15 years.

Jonathan Sandberg, Russell Crane, Jeff Larson, Rick Miller and Shayne Anderson
Jonathan Sandberg, Russell Crane, Jeff Larson, Rick Miller and Shayne Anderson.

“We are delighted but not surprised by this recognition of the quality of research by our faculty,” said Alan Hawkins, BYU School of Family Life director. “I think our trajectory for the next 20 years looks even brighter.”

The research from BYU’s program helps develop both the academic and practical approaches to marriage and family therapy. Students in the program work with faculty on research as they go through school, preparing them to recognize and implement evidence-based best practices in their careers.

“More important than the number of articles read or cited is the number of students who were influenced by the process of participating in research and learned how to think critically, theorize about change, analyze data and draw conclusions,” said Sandberg, who also serves as the marriage and family therapy program’s director.

The BYU marriage and family therapy program was founded in 1967 and became fully accredited by the American Association of Marriage and Family Counselors in 1972. The program seeks to be a healing influence in a world struggling to create safe and meaningful relationships by combining ground-breaking research with faith-centered family values.

The No. 1 ranking for the program is based on findings from a study that examined scholarly works published between  1999–2008 and 2008–2015 by faculty in accredited doctoral programs through the U.S.

2018 Cutler lecture: Securing marriage with (research-proven) attachment

Research and clinical experience not only tell us that a healthy, happy and passionate marriage is possible, it also shows us how to create it.

The School of Family Life 2018 Virginia F. Cutler Lecture will give you the knowledge and resources to do this within your own family and home.

On Wednesday, October 17, BYU Marriage and Family Therapy professor Jonathan Sandberg will give his lecture “Secure Attachments: The key to a happy, healthy, and passionate marriage” that will highlight current research on adult attachment and romantic relationships. More specifically, Sandberg will review actionable behaviors that we can adopt to promote attachment—a key factor that leads to safety and security in marriage.

Our society may spread the message that having a happy and healthy family is no longer an option, but science says otherwise. You can choose–and act–to have a healthy, happy and passionate marriage.

Learn how to strengthen your marriage and family at the 55th annual Virginia F. Cutler Lecture on Wednesday, October 17 at 7 p.m. in 151 N. Eldon Tanner Building. The event is free and open to the public.

This lecture series is named after Virginia F. Cutler, former dean of the College of Family Living (now the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences). Dr. Cutler spent her entire life educating people on the home and family. She also cared deeply about women and people in other nations, and her career took her across the globe as she served people in Thailand, Indonesia and Ghana.

A Therapy for All Seasons

Twenty-one year old BYU student Caroline Belnap met her future husband in New York City and married him in July of 2014. A little over a year later, Belnap says she sought out a therapist because she felt it would help her personally. She calls her personal therapy experience “comforting” and says that it’s something she looks forward to each week.

“A personal therapist or couples counselor can be such a help because you have the confidence of the person you are talking to and they are not going to judge you,” Belnap says. “For me, it helped me learn how to handle situations in a healthier way rather than doing something I would regret later.”

A member of the Church of Jesus-Christ of Latter-day Saints, Belnap says that Mormon culture may lead people to think that “marriage is going to be this happy thing with beautiful kids and beautiful home.” Speaking from her experience, Belnap says she recognizes the benefit of using counselors and therapists. “It’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

Common Misconceptions

Shayne Anderson, associate professor in the School of Family Life at Brigham Young University, cites several reasons why individuals resist therapy, including:

  1. Media portrayal
  2. Influence of family members or others with a negative perception of therapy
  3. A belief that therapy is only for “crazy” people
  4. A belief that a couple’s relationship is private and shouldn’t be shared with a stranger

“We tend to be self-reliant so it can feel like we are failing if we seek help,”Anderson says. “People should know, though, that couple therapy works and it works well, particularly for couples who come before their problems are deeply entrenched.”

Therapy can help you learn about yourself and your partner in ways that don’t happen during the normal courtship process. It can help you develop a solid foundation of open and honest communication and can help you have difficult conversations that you might otherwise never have. – Shayne Anderson

Two Becoming One

One misconception about marriage that Anderson says he sees most often is the belief that once you’re married the hard part is over. Anderson says that marriage is hard work and that it involves the merging of often very different family cultures. “Each partner comes to the table with a host of unspoken beliefs about gender roles, sexuality, emotional intimacy, finances, etc. Working through these to come to a set of shared beliefs takes work.”

BYU’s Comprehensive Clinic offers free treatment, also know as “marital checkups.” Generally, a couple meets with a master or doctoral student studying marriage and family therapy who assesses the health of their relationship and offer suggestions for improvement. This resource allows couples to have a trained therapist at no charge.

Anderson offers some questions that couples can incorporate into their dialogue to discuss how they can improve their relationship. He also encourages couples to ask these important questions on a regular basis:

  • Are you putting the other first?
  • Do you feel happy with the division of household labor?
  • Do you both feel that you have an equal voice in the relationship?

Emotional Communication

Humans have a fundamental need to be emotionally connected with another person. According to Anderson, humans possess the attachment need, a term coined by John Bowlby. Anderson says that individuals can “develop a secure attachment to someone when we can be vulnerable with a partner who is emotionally available to us and responsive to our needs.”

All relationships require communication, and, regardless of one’s relationship stage, counseling works for all individuals. Anderson highly recommends premarital counseling for individuals pursuing a marriage.”A good therapist will help the couple discuss some of the potential pitfalls and help the relationship begin on a solid foundation of communication,” Anderson says.

Jamie Moesser, an alum of BYU, speaks about her experience with marriage therapy: “I think all couples need to see a therapist occasionally, just like they do their doctor or dentist. It greatly benefited my husband and I. I got to re-discover the man I married, and we are growing closer every day. No matter who you are, marriage takes effort.”

Have you benefited from couples’ therapy?