A Common Misunderstanding About Suicide and Depression

A Conversation with Mental Health Advocate Jennifer Tracy

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Dr. Karin Orvis, the head of the Defense Suicide Prevention Office recently shared a number of common myths about suicide on a nationally disseminated Military Times podcast I co-hosted throughout 2020 called “Seeking the Military Suicide Solution.” One of the myths she discussed was the idea that there is “one solution” to the tragedy of suicide.

The same myth has been a focus of recent conversations with a collaborator of mine, Jennifer Tracy, who has emerged to be a leading influencer in the mental health space. In this blog post, I’ve invited Jennifer to share the benefit of her wisdom and perspective to help us understand the complexity of suicide.

For a change of pace, to break up the usual format, I’m presenting her responses to my questions on this topic.

1)    Jennifer, can you share with us the “story behind the story” that leads you to dispel the myth that there is “one solution” for the tragedy of suicide?

As I wrote about in my book “From the Deepest Darkness to the Light of HOPE,” I have personally struggled with suicidal thoughts.  The first time I had the thought to kill myself, I was scared beyond belief. I had been struggling with depression for some time. I was doing everything I “knew” to do to fight the depression. I was going to counseling every week. I didn’t want to take medication, but I tried it. I went to church and asked my church community to pray.

Eventually, I walked myself into a psychiatric unit because I did not know if I could keep myself safe. It took all my strength to voluntarily walk into an inpatient unit to ask for the help I needed. While I was there, they drew my blood and found out I had a serious thyroid deficiency. I had no estrogen in my system and because of that, I had not slept well in almost two years. After taking Effexor and sleeping medication for 3 months, the suicidal ideation went away altogether.

Here is what I learned from this that I want the world to know: My depression was biological, and it needed to be addressed at a biological level. Therefore, there is no “one solution” for suicidal thinking.

2)    In our conversations, you’ve talked about the need for people to not push one solution they think works. I’ve also observed this problematic pattern. Can you share more about this?

I think people mean well – they offer single solutions because maybe this is what they know has worked for themselves or someone they know. In my case, I was told by well-meaning people to pray about my depression and suicidal thoughts and look for them to be taken from me as a result. These people didn’t mean to harm me, but they had a single fixed idea that depression was caused by a spiritual battle and the solution would come through a spiritual intervention. Now, it’s very clear to me that no amount of praying would have fixed my thyroid.

There is no one cause of depression and no single solution. Some people may struggle with depression because they have lived through a trauma that they have never dealt with. Some may struggle because they don’t know how to grieve those they have lost. Some may have suicidal thoughts because they feel ashamed about something they did, or something that happened to them that they could not control. The work that you and I do with people, when I am coaching or you are counseling people, is to help people figure out their “Why” – the thing that helps us understand why they are struggling with suicidal thoughts. We help people evaluate for themselves what may be at the root of their pain.

3)    Why did you write your book “From the Deepest Darkness to the Light of HOPE”?

During several speaking engagements, when I shared with my audience that I had battled through suicidal ideation, depression, anxiety, and PTSD, I have had a number of people assume that my battle with suicide came after my husband and daughter were killed by a drunk driver.

This is not the truth. This is not my story. It was this mistaken assumption that drove me to write my truth. My battle with suicidal ideation came three years before my husband and daughter were killed. Doing the right thing, going to get help—was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done and it cost me profoundly.

This is also one of many reasons I wanted to team up with you to share key insights and practical tools for mental battles. I’m so proud of the online toolkit and resources we’ve developed together for “Redefine Your Mission.” I want people to overcome their mental health challenges with the right support and a program that works for them, even if it isn’t the same program that worked for other people.

Thank you, Jennifer. I’ve recently learned that “courage” does not simply mean to be “brave” – it means to “show what is in your heart.” Thank you for your courage and for sharing this perspective. I’m honored to share this on my “THRIVE GLOBAL” Blog – a place where I hope to shine new insights and elevate important perspectives like yours that are related to emotional health and wellness. 

To further her reach, Jennifer and I have been collaborating to create and offer a set of online resources to equip people to win their mental health battles. Find these resources at www.redefineyourmission.com

To learn more about Jennifer’s work, follow her at: www.jennifertracy-inspire.com

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