Oh Teton Valley, it’s with a heavy heart that I write this month’s column. It’s been a hard summer, year really. We’ve had lots of accidents and deaths. So many of us are grieving or know someone who is.
I was at a meeting recently and made the comment that, “By my early thirties I had lost both my parents. And that as an only child, the worst kind of grief is the grief no one asks you about.”
And look, I get it. We don’t want to say or do the wrong thing or make someone feel worse. Which is such a kind, considerate perspective. Except when we’re so afraid of misstepping we don’t say or do anything. Or we put it off, or think it’s not our place.
And it’s not just grief we have a tendency to do this for, but most mental health issues. Substance use, depression, anxiety, PTSD, suicide. Especially suicide. We think “I’m not qualified”, “I don’t want to cause harm”, “Leave it to the professionals.”
But in a community our size, where a lot of us would rather do a whole bunch of other things than consult a professional, that can’t be our strategy in tough moments. We need each other and we all have a role to play in helping navigate dark times.
I think about that a lot, you know in addition to the normal cascade of things that keep a middle-aged woman up at night. How it really does take all of us to have a healthy, thriving community. I often wonder how the Coalition can do better at not just spreading that message, but getting people to live it. Really live it.
That’s especially been on my mind this month as September is National Suicide Prevention Month.
In considering how to frame talking about suicide in a sensitive and meaningful way, I remembered Kevin Hines. Kevin is one of only thirty-six people to survive jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge. Following his attempt he’s gone on to become an author, speaker, and leading suicide prevention advocate. How he tells his story is truly inspiring and I highly recommend you check out his work.
Among the many things he says that’s stuck with me, is, “A pain shared is a pain halved.”
Us counselors are sometimes famous for overanalyzing and making things more complicated than they have to be. Just ask my husband how a simple, “What do you want for dinner?” goes over in our house.
And while I realize that grief and suicide (which are two sides of a very similar coin) are more complex than this. What if one of the simplest, easiest, most cost effective interventions is just being able to share our pain?
To allow ourselves to grieve, and be messy, and imperfect. To answer honestly when someone asks, “How are you?”
And to most importantly ask. To really ask the question. And then listen. Without trying to fix or manage. To just be there.
If what Kevin says is true, a reduction in suffering by half considerably lightens the load we’re all carrying. And we’re all carrying something. Especially grief. It’s the one emotion every single one of us has or will experience.
So if you are grieving let yourself grieve. It’s okay not to be okay. And if you know someone who’s grieving, ask them and keep asking them about it.
It takes all of us openly talking about all things we’d rather not to reduce the suffering in our little valley. Will you be the one to cut the pain in half?
If you are interested in learning more about how to have a more active role in grief support and suicide prevention, please let us know. We are forming a Crisis & Suicide Prevention Task Force to guide individual and community level planning. No prior knowledge or experience is necessary, just a desire to make our beloved community a safe place for all.
If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide or experiencing a crisis of any kind, let someone know. Whether it's calling or texting 988, family, friends, clergy, coaches, or co-workers, reach out.
The Mental Health Coalition provides free and confidential support, as well as six free counseling sessions to those in need. Call or text 208-354-6198, email email@example.com, or find out more on our website mentalhealthcoalitionoftetonvalley.org. Our offices are staffed Monday-Friday from 9am-4pm.
Sara is the Executive Director of the Mental Health Coalition of Teton Valley whose mission is to empower the people of our community to enhance their mental wellness by providing advocacy, education, and access to resources. For more wellness tips and to see what the Coalition is up to, follow them on social media or visit their website www.tetonvalleymentalhealth.com.