Questions and answers on World Suicide Prevention Day posed to Recovery Direct by Independent Online Newspapers.
What is the organisation’s role in suicide prevention?
Recovery Direct deals with helping people voice many deep-seated issues though highly progressive “talk therapy”. People don’t simply wake up one day and want to commit suicide. Invariably they are driven to a point whereby suicide seems like the only way out of the pain they are experiencing.
This psychological pain we call “trauma”; unlike trauma in a hospital emergency room; psychological trauma is not always outwardly visible as these trauma sufferers tend to “put on a mask”, “deny” or “hide” their pain from the outside world and MAY only share what is going on in their heads to a very select few – if any.
Staying with the emergency room analogy is quite helpful.
We typically perceive “trauma” as being one big horrific event and certainly, in many cases it is horribly severe or disturbing events. However, it does not have to be a “severe” or a “disturbing single event” memories don’t simply just disappear, they can collect and compound over time especially the hurtful ones can be subconsciously re-sparked even years after the events.
Psychological trauma can be complicated as people may have grown up their entire lives in toxic environments (fighting caregivers, abuse, neglect, victimisation, bullying, narcissistic personalities etc) when confronted in their adult life with distorted behaviours a range of unhealthy defence mechanisms can effectively render the person unable to process seek help or make sense of a distant haze of many emotionally charged memories that are resurfacing from as far back in their early childhood.
It’s not about “just getting over it”. If left unresolved these traumatic events can unfold into a range of self-destructive behaviours that are the indicators that past trauma is bubbling it’s a way to the surface in present-day and which needs to be professionally managed and contained before it spirals out of control.
Symptomatic behaviours can include many things like substance use disorders, eating disorders, depression, anxiety, gambling, sex etc and in the far extremity suicide.
This is why Recovery Directs entire ethos revolves around helping people come to terms with their past trauma and map out a meaningful solution can help each individual get their lives back on track and hopefully long before suicide crosses their radar.
It is important to look at suicide from the perspective of it being a symptom of a problem and not as the problem itself. When that analogy is applied there is a great opportunity to address the underlying issues causing the problems that propel a person toward committing suicide.
What Are Your thoughts on World Suicide Prevention day happening 10 September?
We have to bear in mind that suicide is not a day of the year scenario, suicide is an all-year-round societal dilemma. While we support the thought that awareness places suicide onto the general public’s radar. Campaigns in themselves do very little to actively address the issues that people actually face “in the moment” where it can all end.
Awareness campaigns need to be more active in providing immediate “turn to” solutions in the long term. Generic messages don’t help. People at the point of suicide do have options, they simply don’t see them as they are clouded in a fog of emotional turmoil.
They need to talk, they need to know it’s ok to talk too. They need to know that they can survive past trauma.
Addressing suicide as a symptom of an underlying emotional problem is the key. Most frequently these problems are created by interpersonal relationship issues, abuse and violence. Recovery Direct’s core focus is on understanding those issues and helping people address avenues before the spiral into the finality of suicide.
The Recovery Direct blog features many articles that open up the conversations as to “what is actually going on” and provides migration of thought from the insurmountable to the surmountable, with a particular focus on relationships, stigmas and getting and seeking help “in the moment” that help is required.
In regards to the stigma of individuals not wanting to seek help because ‘it makes them seem, weak’?
In South Africa seeking help for mental health is an act of courage and it shouldn’t be. Somewhere along the way society picked up the mistaken idea that people need to deal with psychological challenges on their own “get over it”, “take this pill”, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” etc.
These perceptions are bourn out of highly destructive viewpoints that we were raised in and are still supported today.
Once people understand the restorative benefits of natural talk therapy in the treatment of depression, substance use disorders etc the stigmas crumble and seeking help from a qualified mental health professional can be as normalised as much as going to see a medical doctor for a severe injury or illness.
How can we get people who suffer from depression to seek help?
The process of “seeking help” simply requires encouragement and support from third parties, friends and family. Typically a person with severe depression is in a state where they actually don’t know what to do.
The problems they face weigh heavily on them and that “fog” of emotional turmoil distort the breakpoint as to where and when they should actually get professional help, this until their life collapses into oblivion.
What we have to understand is that mental health is equally as important as going to the gym or eating healthily. As human beings, we need to speak to other humans to help normalise our emotional turmoil. Getting people to recognise this is the actual challenge.
That emotional turmoil however big or small needs to be dealt with if it has sat with you for longer than a couple of weeks. You don’t need a fancy centre like Recovery Direct to get emotional support and help but speaking to a person that “not emotionally connected” to the event is an important first step.
What programs are run at the facility in Cape Town?
The Recovery Direct Centre is touted as a rehab centre for substance use disorders however that is not actually the basis of our work.
Our centre is trauma and complex trauma therapy centre, but yes a large contingent of cases are related to substance use disorders.
In effect we enable people to start working on their emotional, psychological, psychosocial and personal development catalysts that will enable them to lead constructive and connected lives again.
The format of this is usually measured on the severity of the issues at hand. Centric to the individual recovery is the focus on dealing with the individual and their respective layers of emotional weight. In some cases, people enter into full-time residential care as in the case with self-destructive substance issues or enter into outpatient or group therapy programmes.
The topics we deal with are about as broad as the complexities of human interaction. Reforming poorly established behaviours that stem from dysfunctional childhood experiences to the many formats of abuse, neglect and other traumas that befall parent/child or other interpersonal relationships.
The distinction of Recovery Direct with other centres is the method of therapy. One on one sessions are provided by two separate qualified therapists each day that work cases in a wider team. This dynamic enables faster exposure and containment of issues that are driving the behaviours. The support structure and schedule of the centre are focused on care.
Care, empathy and support are the keys to getting to the root of the problem and addressing it in a meaningful way.
Approximately how many calls or visits in regards to suicide is seen at the facility?
People don’t typically call Recovery Direct and say “hey I’m suicidal”.
Suicide doesn’t work that way, however, we are absolutely aware that the undercurrent of most callers which require residential treatment has the potential for suicide. The confidential assessment process prior to any admission addresses the actual understanding of what is going on for the person for them to be seeking help. Even then the presence of suicidal thoughts may only emerge in counselling sessions further on from the assessment.
Which age groups are seen the most in regards to counselling?
Mental health treatment is not confined to age groups, ethnicity or gender it affects people in different stages of their lives across the board. Identity issues and self-esteem problems perhaps more prevalent in teens, high-stress careers, divorces and dysfunctional coping mechanisms in midlife all play into the mix.
Do you think there has been a rise in suicide over the years?
We don’t know the official statistics offhand but suicide is linked to the prevalence of severe depression and frequent substance use issues in South Africa. Certainly social media and the pending societal issues coupled with destructive relationships can influence a rise in suicide rates and South Africa in the present state could be seeing an increase given the social dysfunctions of our society.
What could the factors of suicide be?
Generally depression and an overwhelming sense of being trapped and helpless. People often feel like it is harder to deal with their emotions than to end their lives.
Invariably suicidal people are not seeking help and this is why when you see someone in distress encouraging them to at least speak to a qualified therapist is so important.
Factors such as detoxing from stimulants like cocaine, cat, benzodiazepines and methamphetamines or even stopping prescription medications can nose-dive people into chronically depressed states where the threat of suicide is most prevalent and for which centres like Recovery Direct play such an active role in personal support.