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by Fabian Ommar
Author of The Ultimate Survival Gear Handbook
The 2020 pandemic and various crises created by and around the lockdowns and other measures to contain it are creating profound mental health consequences for many people. This brings to attention the issue of suicide in specific, the 10th of September was the official Worldwide Suicide Prevention Day. Since 2003, the entire month of September has been dedicated to raising awareness of the problem.
The 2021 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s message to help spread the word about prevention actions for 2021 is #BeThe1To. Lifeline networks and their partners, organizations, and community members also direct efforts towards healing, family support, and giving hope.
How does this relate to us as preppers and what can we do about it?
As a prepper and a family and community member, I try my best not to focus exclusively on my own survival and health but also on friends’ and relatives’ well-being. As a human being, I worry about the collective too, others around me in general like coworkers, my community, etc.
There’s also a secondary aspect that practically relates to prepping and survivalism (even if indirectly), which I will discuss more at the end of this article.
The mind controls everything
One aspect of prepping that has always been at the top of my list is building psychological fortitude and the mindset necessary to deal with hardship, pain, and discomfort.
Each one of us should have our strategies for that. When facing challenges like those presented by SHTF (even a near or slow-burning SHTF), mind matters become more relevant and defining.
Becoming mentally and psychologically stronger can be good for others around us
Mutual support is one very effective way to go through difficult times. One day we’re helping someone. The next it can be us on the receiving end.
We’re seeing many people having difficulty or even failing to cope with the situation during the pandemic. Depression and especially suicide are serious and can destroy the lives of those affected and many others around them.
I’ve had a couple of cases happening recently in parts of my family, one of a fifteen-year-old girl who killed herself with her father’s pistol. It’s disheartening and also worrying.
Understanding suicide prevention techniques is one way you can help others dealing with despair.
Is the number of suicides increasing?
One recent study tried to examine suicides occurring in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic in various countries and came out with a surprising result:
“Concerns have been expressed that, at their most extreme, these consequences could manifest as increased suicide rates. We aimed to assess the early effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on suicide rates around the world.
In high-income and upper-middle-income countries, suicide numbers have remained largely unchanged or declined in the early months of the pandemic compared with the expected levels based on the pre-pandemic period.”
The study concludes with an alert, though:
“We need to remain vigilant and be poised to respond if the situation changes as the longer-term mental health and economic effects of the pandemic unfold.”
Apparently, suicide rates tend to recede in the early moments of most crises and grow again after some time. Some specialists alert to possible underreporting in cases, which is something to pay attention to as well.
It’s been really bad for many, in many ways
Granted, some people perform better under pressure. But only sociopaths and psychopaths are genuinely immune to emotional ups and downs.
The struggle is real when it comes to the effects of something as serious and widespread as a pandemic. It’s like another disease: different from the virus but equally painful and devastating. The financial problems, the isolation, the job loss, the loss of loved ones, the uncertainty, the divisiveness…the list of troubles goes on and on. The emotional roller-coaster can affect even our physical health, leading to even more stress and anxiety.
“Shared joy is a double joy; shared sorrow is half sorrow.”
I first heard that from my grandfather, and it stuck. I got into prepping during the crisis of 2008. Since the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, I’ve been dedicating a lot more time to helping others.
One way is by raising awareness and sharing my experiences and knowledge in any way I can with as many people as possible. My books and contributions to The Organic Prepper complement the direct mentoring work in street survivalism I do around here.
Those work to help myself as well, I admit: objectively, teaching is also a way to find (and patch) holes in our strategies, and I say that much in my first book.
Sometimes good intentions aren’t enough
I’ve also taken part in a suicide prevention support training program to learn more about it.
It takes 12 to 14 weeks (or about 50 hours) of training to become a suicide prevention support volunteer. The first sessions are monitored and supervised by longtime and experienced professionals.
We all carry a heavy “emotional baggage,” and it’s very hard not to let it influence in some way, whether consciously or not. It’s a solemn responsibility to open up to others in emotional distress and need, and it takes training to do it properly and efficiently.
There are many pitfalls too
Not everyone reaching out is a potential suicide. These are, in fact, a very small percentage of callers. The great majority comprises loners, abandoned people, depressives, men and women trapped in oppressing relationships or other humiliating situations, and lots of people just looking for a chat with an anonymous person. There are many curious, too.
Some people are ill-mannered, and many can also have bad intentions. Commonly, sexual deviants and offenders call to prey on an attendant. Sociopaths and revolts also call looking for someone to lash out. Even good-intentioned callers can be manipulative and wily.
Some widespread myths can do more harm than good
When trying to give support to people suffering psychologically and emotionally, listening is indeed the first step.
But it takes a lot more than good intentions and passive listening to help people in difficulty. It’s actually quite easy to do more hard than good due to the many myths surrounding the issue.
Back to the topic of suicide prevention, here are some of my findings and lessons learned that could help with detecting and perhaps helping others in need.
Be attentive to red flags
It’s true that people intent on taking their own life plan the act and give clues they’re about to commit suicide. The closer we are (friends, brothers, parents, coworkers, etc.), the easier it is to “catch” these signals early on.
It’s not an A+B=C thing, though, much less about ticking a list. Instead, with those you know, suicide prevention is an emotional connection, something more intuitive. Trust your feelings. If you feel something’s wrong or different with the person in question, look for help.
Listening and giving support sounds easy, but it requires training and attention
Suicide prevention groups around the world employ specific techniques to provide effective support. The assistance is based on non-judging, non-guiding, unbiased, plain-hearing strategies. It’s also 100% confidential and anonymous on both ends of the line.
Listening is different than hearing. Society has conditioned us to “hear” others without actually paying attention: 90% of the time, we’re more centered in our own thoughts and arguments, even when the topic is of high interest. The fact is that most of us are much better talkers than listeners. Also, we tend to avoid difficult topics conversations or deflect unwanted conversations.
Flipping those switches is really hard and something that we can only achieve actively and consciously. But it’s the only way to create genuine connections and real empathy. Some people do it naturally, but most of us need to focus and work on it.
Other common mistakes in suicide prevention
Some strategies are unproductive or even harmful. In general, trying any subtle or indirect approach to convince, nudge, influence, direct, manipulate, appease, or even speak out our opinions is verboten. Specifically, anyone trying to help others in despair should avoid the following:
- Condemning (Saying that taking one’s own life is something crazy, or weakness, etc.);
- Lecturing (Offering solutions, counsels, tell her person to forget and move on);
- Trivializing (Saying things such as “there are worse things in life,” or that the person “has been through worse’, or that ‘there’s always someone else going through something worse,” etc. );
- “Positive pushing” or incentivizing (For example, telling the person to think positive, that life is good, that there’s always a silver lining to everything, etc.).
- Giving specific advice (This is akin to tell the person that they don’t know what’s best for them).
- Investigating (Asking too much or trying to get into details and personal information)
- Telling personal stories (Ah, the ego. Who cares what some anonymous Joe or Jane has to tell, or did/didn’t do in this or that situation? Certainly not the person suffering an emotional breakdown and calling you for help).
What can work: genuine empathy
The local CVV (lifeline support center) has a “Person-Centered Attention” method—a strategy based on the principles listed above and some others. Voluntaries are trained to avoid mistakes, even subtle ones, that can cause the retraction of the assisted.
To establish a genuine connection with another person, we must strip from our biases, prejudices, and judgments. As well, our religious, sexual, political, social beliefs, opinions, and even let our personal experiences aside to truly put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and understand their feelings.
As I said, it’s easier said than done. But in doing that, we can then reach and provide help to almost anyone.
How this helps us
Humans are very complex, and working with support is really, really hard and taxing – psychologically, emotionally, and to be honest, even physically.
But in the end, it’s also a huge lesson in empathy and human psychology – if we can manage to stay at the same time detached and connected to all these facets of behavior and psyche.
We can employ the knowledge acquired, the empathy developed, and many other aspects to improve ourselves, our personal and social lives, relationships, and even our professional lives. According to my limited experience and what others more involved with human (or animal) assistance say, it can be soothing for the soul.
We don’t have to take part in an organization
These things can be done in private forms, daily, or whenever and however we can. However, going out there and joining others has the added bonus of revealing that, as bad as things may be, there are always many people doing good things. Helping the world become a slightly better place is very rewarding and positive.
Suicide prevention help is available
- National Suicide Prevention Line: 800-273-8255
- Veteran’s Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255 (press 1)
- Crisis Hotline: Text HOME to 741-741
- This website lists global suicide hotlines: International Suicide Hotlines
What advice do you have for those struggling with their mental health?
If you’ve ever struggled with depression, anxiety, or suicidal thoughts, what did you find that helped you the most? Share your hard-earned wisdom on suicide prevention in the comments. You never know when a simple comment on a website might make a true difference in somebody’s life.
Please note that the comments will be strictly moderated regarding the topic of suicide prevention. As much as words from a stranger can help a person who is struggling, they can also harm.
Fabian Ommar is a 50-year-old middle-class worker living in São Paulo, Brazil. Far from being the super-tactical or highly trained military survivor type, he is the average joe who since his youth has been involved with self-reliance and outdoor activities and the practical side of balancing life between a big city and rural/wilderness settings. Since the 2008 world economic crisis, he has been training and helping others in his area to become better prepared for the “constant, slow-burning SHTF” of living in a 3rd world country.
Fabian’s ebook, Street Survivalism: A Practical Training Guide To Life In The City, is a practical training method for common city dwellers based on the lifestyle of the homeless (real-life survivors) to be more psychologically, mentally, and physically prepared to deal with the harsh reality of the streets during normal or difficult times.
You can follow Fabian on Instagram @stoicsurvivor