Memories

Two nights ago, I started doing something that I haven’t been able to stop. I started writing about my past. I started writing down any and all memories that I could think of, unhindered and unfiltered. I then started to categorize them into Good, Neutral, Bad, and Good/Bad memories. I can’t really explain why I started doing this, but I haven’t really been able to stop writing for about two days now. Any free time I get, I jot down a memory that comes to me, which will lead to another memory…so on and so forth.

The process has been incredible. All of these memories are inside my head, just filed away somewhere and pulling them out/recalling the details of events has been both challenging and incredibly therapeutic in some ways. This is an exercise that I would recommend to my clients. I just decided to do it on my own for whatever reason. The memories I choose are generally before high school, as in, any time after high school seems closer to “recently happened” rather than “past”. Semantics. I would say that about 98% of my memories are things that I would be able to share with my two sisters and parents, as they are all characters in said memories. 1% of my memories they don’t know because only I experienced them, and the last 1% are memories that I don’t see myself telling anyone. Some things belong in memory.

I have written about 11 pages so far, or 6,500 words, and if I had to do maths on what I’ve done, I could probably write another 20-30 pages (12-18,000 words). It goes without saying that I am not going to start posting my memories to everyone, as that cheapens my experiences and I’d like to share those with someone special someday….not the rest of the world. Still, there is an example memory that I can share with you all, and I think it accurately reflects my process. Enjoy this memory of mine, circa August 1999.

Once, my family and the Zehrs, a family I grew up with knowing and hanging out with, took a vacation to Michigan. It was Robyn, Nicole, and myself in my family. Ashley (Nicoles age) Alaina (my age) and Allie (Robyns age) in the Zehr family. We rented a beach house somewhere off Lake Michigan. I still remember pulling up to that house. Turquoise in color and fully awesome. I ran into the house and threw my stuff on the bed that I called dibs for. I then ran to the backyard…we had a HOT TUB! This was awesome. I was never allowed in the hot tub before. We jumped into our suits and ran down the beach. Freshly sun screened and eager, we marveled at the size of the waves. Equal parts frightened and gitty, we made sandcastles, sand towns, rivers of water, and sand angels. We burried each other, and swam in the lake to wash off. We ended up in the hot tub, me with my cubs hat and shirt still on, the others being crazy…which was business as usual. I remember that house being so beautiful and reeked of  “summer” with scents of sunscreen, bugspray, and BBQ. The house even looked like summer with shells everywhere, rope, sailing pictures, fish art pieces, wicker furniture, plenty of windows to let the sunlight in, etc. I loved it. Our families took turns cooking dinner, and we would all congregate around the big glass table to eat. Unrelated, but this is around the time that Prince of Egypt came out, and I was listening to the soundtrack the entire trip, ha. Loved that movie. To this day, both the Peterson family and the Zehrs remember fondly on that trip and how incredibly relaxing/fun it was. It was a golden week. Untouchable.

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Suicide in New Zealand: The Story They Don’t Want Public

You’ve heard me say it before. New Zealand currently has one of the highest youth suicide rates out of all the countries in the OECD. Still, suicide, and talking about suicide, is Taboo in New Zealand. People don’t like to talk about it…more than in the U.S. Further than that, in NZ…you can’t talk about it.

If you are a citizen in New Zealand, then it is not news to you that if a sibling, parent, relative, spouse, or friend commits suicide, you CAN NOT disclose ANY information about the suicide for fear that the action will result in a “copy-cat” suicide and encourage other potential victims to kill themselves. It’s against the law in NZ to go against this. Yeah. You can be prosecuted if you talk to the media about it, write a blog about someones suicide, or print about it in the paper exposing the details.

Not only was this completely shocking to me, but it furthermore drove me to anger. Those left to grieve after the suicide are unable to talk about much of anything regarding what happened to their loved one without the Coroners permission. According to The Coroners Act of 2006:

“If a coroner has found a death to be self-inflicted, no person may, without a coroner’s authority or permission under section 72, make public a particular of the death other than

  • (a)the name, address, and occupation of the person concerned; and
  • (b)the fact that the coroner has found the death to be self-inflicted.”

I learned about this Act by having a one-on-one chat with Maria Bradshaw, CEO and founder of CASPER, a Suicide Prevention organisation created after her son died from, according to the Coroner, “self-inflicted causes.” Angered by not being able to talk about her son, she challenges the “research” done on the topic of media influence on suicide here.

With the research that I did on the subject, there were many professionals in both camps of the issue. On the side advocating that bringing up the topic of suicide/doing media pieces on suicides is detrimental, this is said:

“Graphic representation of suicides, pictures of spots and the method adopted are often the trigger.” (The Times of India)

“…the way the media presents stories on suicide can have a direct influence on the public’s perception of suicide and its related mental health issues.” (Australian Psychological Society)

“…the greater the amount of coverage of suicide in the media, the greater the increase in suicide rate.” (Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health)

And yet, on the other side, experts have this to say:

Chief coroner MacLean said the current restrictions were based on fear of copycat deaths, but he did not believe this was a significant factor in New Zealand.” (nzherald)

“A healthy person talking about a suicide or being aware of a suicide among family or friends does not put them at greater risk for attempting suicide. And mere exposure to suicide does not alone put someone at greater risk for suicide.” (SAVE)

“Talking about suicide can only decrease the likelihood that someone will act on suicidal feelings. There is almost no risk that raising the topic with someone who is not considering suicide will prompt him/her to do it.” (Canadian Mental Health Association)

“There is no research evidence that indicates talking to people about suicide, in the context of care, respect, and prevention, increases their risk of suicidal ideation or suicidal behaviours.” (Crisis Center, British Columbia)

While others are seeing the middle ground:

“Some studies find significant increases in suicide after a widely publicized suicide story, while other research finds no effect.” (Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health)

“It’s important to talk about it, but rather than suicide details, media reports could mention how to reach for help.” (Dr. Lakshmi)

According to Australian Psychological Society, “Media reporting (of suicide) can be very helpful, but I think it is also critical (to report) on how the tragedy has impacted on other people – and what was going on that led to the suicide” (Gregor, 2004). Gregor continues to say that it is how we report these stories rather than solely that we report them, that effects suicide rates.

“Psychologists have an important role to play in assisting the media with its coverage of suicide. It is important to ensure that journalists are made fully aware of the potential influence such coverage can have on a depressed person who may, or may not, already be having suicidal thoughts. In their dealings with the media on such issues, psychologists should:

Raise awareness of the mental health issues that so often contribute to suicide, highlighting the treatments and alternatives to suicide;

Encourage use of language that does not glamorise or sensationalise suicide, or present suicide as a solution to problems;

Advise the journalist to avoid explicit details of the method or location of any particular suicide;

When commenting on the suicide of a celebrity, advise the journalist to seek comment on the wastefulness of the act (an air of tragedy coupled with the celebrity’s new “legendary” status can add a perceived glamour and attraction to a vulnerable adolescent);

Provide information on support services and help line contacts (for example, SANE Helpline, Kids Help Line, Lifeline, and the APS referral service), including telephone numbers and any other contact details, so these can be included in the media report.

Finally, should you see an example of irresponsible journalism, contact the media outlet.”

I love this perspective of the entire issue, because it is only through education and “normalizing” suicide that teens can know who to talk to, where to go for help, and realize that they are NOT the only person going through what they are going through. Furthermore, education helps those people involved in that persons life to recognize the signs of suicide and know where to point the person showing those signs.

Reform is desperately needed with how we approach suicide in New Zealand; Research, education, advocation, implementation of policy, law reform, program creation, referring families, as well as not just prescribing medications without marrying that with counselling services. Too many teens and adolescents have died due to improper practice by psychologists, or counsellors. Throwing medication at problems without guiding the patient and following up with them can cause misuse of medications, and even worsen the depression. Practitioners MUST use research to find what works best instead of either: Doing what is current because it’s current, or doing what has worked in the past simply because it worked in the past.

The answer is NOT sweeping the problem under the mat and forgetting about it. To decrease rates of suicide, we need to provide resources and support, not isolate those who have experienced this tragedy. Reform is expected regarding rules around media reporting of suicide in NZ early 2014 by the law commission. I can only hope that this country starts using “Best Practice” to treat issues around suicide rather than just what has worked in the past.

A recent article on suicide was published by The New Zealand Herald recently. I recommend reading it. It’s both good, bad, and slightly encouraging. If you made it this far, thank you. This is close to my heart, and something I get very passionate about. Please be informed, as this is not an individual problem, but a shared national tragedy. Thank You.

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References:

Bradshaw, M. (2013) Copycat Suicide. CASPER. Retrieved from http://www.casper.org.nz/copycat-suicide

Coroners Act 2006. New Zealand Legislation. Retrieved from http://www.legislation.govt.nz/act/public/2006/0038/latest/DLM377809.html

Crisis Centre. FAQs about suicide. Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention Centre of British Columbia. Retrieved from http://www.crisiscentre.bc.ca/get-help/frequently-asked-questions-about-suicide/#2

Experts: Images, details trigger copycat suicides. (Jul 31, 2013) Times of India. Retrieved from http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2013-07-31/chennai/40913991_1_copycat-suicides-third-floor-dr-lakshmi-vijaykumar

Gregor, S. (August, 2004) Copycat suicide: The influence of the media. Australian Psychological Society. Retrieved from http://www.psychology.org.au/Content.aspx?ID=1830

McCracken, H. (2013) Suicide rates rise for women, drop for men. The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved from http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11114600

Mindframe Media and Mental Health (MMMH) Project; Mental Health Branch, Department of Health and Aged Care; and The Australian Press Council.

Preventing suicide. (2010) Canadian Mental Health Association. Retrieved from http://www.cmha.ca/mental_health/preventing-suicide/#.UlXhpBaofkY

Suicide and depression. (2013). SAVE (Suicide Awareness Voices of Education). Retrieved from http://www.save.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=home.viewpage&page_id=705c8cb8-9321-f1bd-867e811b1b404c94

Stack, S. (2003) Media coverage as a risk factor in suicide. J Epidemiology Community Health ;57:238-240 doi:10.1136/jech.57.4.238

Better Things Are Yet to Come

mission man2

So, this post may be a little deep, but my blog is also about letting readers into my head.

I’d be lying to you if I told you that I was hanging in here. That I was tough. That I was taking all the bad and outweighing it with the good. I’d be lying because we all know that when things get down to the wire…we think. What if? What then? What now? It’s a very common place for our minds to go. Whether you believe in a God or you don’t, it’s near impossible to fence in the wandering thoughts of doubt. When everything starts crumbling around you, and you don’t have a leg to stand on, a friend to call to, or a hope to cling to…doubt steps in. Doubt that it’ll get better. Doubt that the people you trust in will come through. Doubt that the job you’ve been needing is finally here.

This is a very dangerous place to stay for too long. I would know. Thoughts like this begin to erode at truth. And this is what needs to stay at the forefront: Truth. You see, I began to swim in the doubt. It became a struggle to get around questions like: At what point do I begin planning my move back home? What did it all mean if I leave before I’m ready? Was all of this pointless? Have I failed? How can I possibly face my friends who supported me, or my family who prayed for me? The thing is: I have days when I can’t stop thinking about   these questions. This in no way means I have quit, but it isn’t helpful either.

If you know my journey so far, you know that I felt strongly called to this country and it’s people. It was all I wanted to do for three and half years. Studying, graduating, filling out paperwork, raising funds, and working. This “calling” ran through my veins and I’m sure that I annoyed many of my friends in the process. Living and working here is more than a feeling I had, it is a deep rooted belonging.

Something you will not know about me (because it’s usually only revealed when I’m cornered or get truly angry about something) is that I am very determined and outspoken. I refuse to give up on this call, I refuse to give into these crippling thoughts, and I refuse to stop trying until I have a reason to stop.

Because I am a Christian, I always believe that there are better things to come. Hope. And wow, I don’t think it’s much of a coincidence that my iTunes, on random, is now playing Greater Things Are Yet to Come as I type this sentence. And I DO believe that ‘greater things are still to be done in this city.’ I have to believe that the future holds better things. I am NOT done here. And if for some reason I am supposed to leave…I trust in Truth, not Doubt. I refuse.

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