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Archives Talking about suicide

January 8, 2020

By Mary Beth Bracy
Contributing writer

Noelle Garcia, a nationally renowned Catholic speaker and musician, teaches extensively about suicide.

“Suicide is very common at this point,” she said. “Most people have lost somebody or they themselves have suffered or know somebody who is affected.”

Garcia presents at various conferences and venues, including for young adults.

In an interview with the NCC, Garcia talked about her Lighthouse Media CD “13 Reasons Why You Matter.”

In your talk “13 Reasons Why You Matter,” you mention the terrifying statistic about suicide being the second-leading cause of death for youth and young adults. Why do you think that there is such an increase in anxiety, depression, and suicide today?

There have been a lot of studies correlating the rise in anxiety to the rise in cellphone use and social media. That’s something that pretty typically has been shown to cause changes in the brain, addictive behavior. Some of the SPECT scans [imaging used to measure brain function] have shown that there’s no difference between somebody who’s addicted to drugs and somebody who is addicted to their phone. And that’s a little scary because most of us are glued to our cellphones. So the increased anxiety is correlated to that, I think that’s addicting. I also think we are under the illusion of community because we have so many friends and followers and likes [on social media] that we aren’t building authentic in person relationships, face to face eye contact conversations. And we know, even from infancy, how important relationship is in being able to thrive as a human being.

When it comes to suicide I think we don’t know how to cope with pain and, for many people, it’s not that they want to die but it’s that they want an end to the pain. So I think, as Christian people, as Catholic people, we need to bring back the idea that there is virtue in suffering, there is hope, that the suffering is not the end; that while pain is a part of life – there are situations where we choose pain when we see the good that’s going to be, but some people can’t see the good – we have to ask how is this changing me, how is this helping make me more dependent on the community, how can I get relief through medicine and therapy. Seeing the purpose to the pain, the purpose to the suffering, that it’s not just this overwhelming sadness that’s going to keep you down for the rest of your life, but that there’s hope in the midst of that . . . . It was redemptive suffering that helped me through my struggles.

When I saw your CD, I thought it was going to attack the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why.” One of the things I found very interesting is how you said that we shouldn’t avoid discussing suicide with young people because they’re already thinking about it.

I mentioned it briefly [at a conference], but the adults said that she shouldn’t be talking about this … The feedback from the kids [was that] I was the highest rated speaker, and they were like we’ve never heard somebody from the Church talk about this before, thank you for talking about this. So, we can’t teach them the value of life just by assuming that they know it. We can’t teach kids not to think about suicide, but what we can tell them is we are here for you through this. I never watched the series because parts of the previews and what I heard about it were too difficult for me to deal with because I had family members who had attempted suicide and I couldn’t watch it, it was just too hard for me to watch. I was on the way to the airport one day, and I thought if that girl, that character, had 13 reasons why she decided to end her life, I can come up with 13 reasons why somebody matters, thirteen reasons why they’re important.Don’t consider suicide because of this and this and this, but you matter because of this and this and this.

You also talk about the stigma that comes from the term “mental” illness. How can we create a culture where everyone is treated with dignity?

I think, in general, in society we value life based on its usefulness and how independent it is; we don’t like to be dependent. We don’t define dignity and life beginning at conception, and so it becomes very much based on our opinion of that person and that life. So, naturally, someone who is dealing with an illness, particularly an unseen illness like mental illness, is stigmatized and seen as broken. Someone who is suffering from mental illness is not always capable of asking for help or even asking for support, just a listening ear. So, when we look at the people in our closest relationships and we say “oh, I haven’t seen this person in awhile,” it really is incumbent upon us to reach out ourselves. I think that that will start to break somewhat of the stigma because people aren’t isolated and having to mask their pain by trying to fit in with the crowd because we have taken it upon ourselves to allow them that vulnerability.

One thing that I mentioned that’s from a book by Dylan Klebold’s mother, (Dylan Klebold was one of the Columbine shooters, killers), and his mother wrote a book where in her research she’s come across the term “brain illness” because [the] brain is part of the body . . . She likes the term brain illness to reduce the stigma of mental illness because mental is being kind of imaginary, or in the thought, but [brain] is an actual physical part of the body.

What do you think that parents and teachers or other individuals can do, especially those who work with young adults, to help them foster greater brain health or to help them in general?

Establishing time to have fun together is super important, we don’t do that, we’re all so busy it’s hard. Even thinking, oh my gosh, I need to find time to spend one on one with my child. My daughter asked me today if I would take her on a date, I have five kids and each one said, “take me on a date, take me on a date!” And I thought, oh my gosh, when am I going to have time, but that’s the most important thing as parents and teachers is to build relationships. They will learn what they need to learn through that relationship, but the primary thing is spending time getting to know what are their strengths, what are their weaknesses, what are their dreams, and then to have a bigger picture dialogue. And even praying for each other, praying with each other, we don’t do that as much as we should, other than going to Mass on Sunday… I know a mom who asks her kids every day: “When did you see Christ today?” It’s a simple question and it probably was awkward at first, but now they not only think of where did I see Christ but they are also looking for Christ throughout their day.

Are there any other strategies you would recommend?

Some schools … have started introducing time for meditation, a time with just quiet, to quiet the brain. The brain needs rest and we’re not giving our brain rest at all when we are on our phones all night and checking it when we get a notification in the middle of the night. Taking time to rest brains, I think, is really important. There is journaling. But also, if anxiety is debilitating where somebody cannot function, then I think they should definitely see a medical professional because it’s possible either a medication is required or a dietary change.

Are there any warning signs that people should look for with depression or possible suicide?

The biggest thing is, from what I’ve heard and from what I’ve seen in my own family, is withdrawal. They are no longer interested in things that were fun and that they enjoyed anymore, a lot of self-deprecation. And then also if there is a sudden change and all of a sudden they’re upbeat that’s a big warning sign. I’ve heard that from psychologists and I’ve also seen it in our community. There was a boy whose girlfriend died by suicide and then, all of a sudden, he seemed to be doing great, he wasn’t depressed anymore, and then a few days later he died by suicide. So, sometimes if there is a sudden switch – to all of a sudden they’re really upbeat – we feel like that’s great, they’re not depressed anymore, but a lot of times it’s because they’ve made the decision to end their life and their resolved with that. So, just being aware of sudden changes in behavior is important.

Also, taking into account break ups and crises, especially with young people, but even with middle age people a job loss, those are all things where we really need to reach out and support them.

For more information on Noelle Garcia’s ministry and materials visit https://www.mqministries.net/

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