The Life You Save May Be Your Own

My apologies to those who have been waiting. Someone who I see personally reminded me that I hadn’t posted anything for quite some time, and I reiterated that I first started this with the avowed intention of creating only original material, but a busy schedule is the enemy of reflection, and I have been busy.

The topic that I’m thinking of right now is hardly original– suicide, and the prevention of suicide. The intention to write more about it was galvanized into action by reading an item on the NPR website about cutting suicide risk after a hospitalization for an attempt. One of the key points in the story is that suicidal thoughts, feelings, and urges don’t last very long– anything from a few minutes to a few hours. For those who have followed this blog, you may remember my post about how the negative mood time dilation effect can make an hour seem like forever. Still, it’s endurable, and survivable. Some of the ways to get through this crisis time are skills such as those taught in DBT; self-soothing, distraction, and turning the mind.

The story also points out that what has worked is creating a safety plan with the help of a trained professional. I have done the safety plans  with a number of people who were in crisis, and all of them are alive today.  If you are thinking of doing the safety plan on your own without use of a professional, my suggestion is to contact a professional mental health person as soon as possible, but if you feel an urgent need to create a safety plan for yourself, then go ahead– but get the professional help.

The other thing that I have written about before which relates to this is the truth that we can be experiencing very strong negative emotions– grief being chief among them– without having a mental disorder. We can also, alas, have strong grief and other negative emotions concurrently with a mental disorder. Life doesn’t allow us to put one problem on hold while dealing with another, unfortunately. My image for this has always been that the ship of my life is at sea with a leak in the hull and a fire on deck. If I only fight the fire, the ship sinks. If I only fix the leak, the ship burns to the waterline. Sometimes there’s no getting around it. But experience shows that when we get through the crisis, life can have good things for us again on the other side– or even in the middle of the crisis.

When I think of this topic I remember a client I had who shot himself in the head– before I ever met him. By some miracle, no part of his brain was definitively damaged, and he recovered. By the time I met him, he was seeking help for other problems, and was no longer suicidal. In fact, after his attempt, he had endured trials that would have made other people become suicidal, but was not. Sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel really is daylight.


(image from


About jamesmatter

Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT) in private practice in San Francisco. I work with adults, adolescents, and couples, with focus on substance use and abuse and co-occurring disorders (having both a mental illness and an addiction).
This entry was posted in behavioral health, Depression, Distress tolerance, Emotions, Grief, mental health, suicide, Suicide prevention and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s