Podcast: Suicide Awareness


Tova and Wellspring Executive Director Dr. Leigh Byers discuss the prevalence of suicide, risk factors and ways to support others. Pastor Todd Peterson joins them to share his personal experience and advice.


Host: Tova Kreps, LCSW
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Guest: Dr. Leigh Byers
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Guest: Pastor Todd Peterson
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00:01                                     Welcome to wellspring on the air where professional Christian counselors share practical life and Bible insights. Why? Because hearts and minds matter. We're glad you joined our show today to hear from our host, Tova craps president of wellspring counseling in Miami. Tova is a licensed therapist with many years of experience as a Christian counselor. Tovah teaches, writes, and consults and life. FM is pleased to have wellspring counseling, restoring hearts and minds in our community.

00:28                                     Welcome to wellspring on the air. I'm Tova co founder and president of wellspring counseling. Today's program is a little bit of a heavy program. We're going to talk about suicide awareness, but we don't want it to just be happy. We want it to be hopeful because we all want to be very aware of the people around us so that we can love them well, see them when they need to be seen and intervene and even for ourselves if we have these thoughts of suicide. That's what this program is about today. Suicide awareness, what it's like, what's going on out there? How can we can respond? What some of the stigmas and myths are about it. And with me on the show today, I have our executive director, dr Leah buyers. Hi Tovah. I'm privileged to be here today. Thank you. Yeah. I decided to have Leah join me today because this is something near and dear to her, her heart and something that we at wellspring are working to put material out on and to teach about.

01:18                                     Make sure we train our therapists about, it's a very, very important topic. And Leah, why is this important to you? Well, about seven years ago we had two teenage family members, one on my husband's side and one on my side, a niece and a nephew who were both committed suicide within six months of each other. And it was a very profound time for us and especially for our siblings who were the parents of these children. Yeah. You know, it's interesting as I've been teaching on this, and I'm doing this in a couple of different venues, and I asked people, how many people do you know who've committed suicide? I don't ask, do you know someone? I ask how many? Because everybody knows someone. Sometimes it's someone close, someone personal in their lives, a loved one. Sometimes it's just someone they knew, um, you know, as a school colleague or something.

02:06                                     But everybody knows someone. It's a huge issue in our country. Um, I wanna give a little bit of stats as we begin here. One of the things is that it has increased in about 24% in the last 15 years or so. So, um, an amazing number. So suicide is increasing. Uh, the most common way of suicide, committing suicide is firearms. And so maybe that relates to the accessibility of that. I'm not wanting to get onto that topic today at all, but it is just statistically true. Uh, then suffocation and poisoning and are lesser. But people find a way to do this in, in lots of ways and it's just a tragedy. We have some other statistics just to put them out there. Uh, one is that in America right now, every 12 minutes on an average, someone in the United States of America commit suicide. That's shocking. That's a shocking statistic.

03:01                                     The world health organization says it's about a million people a year worldwide that took their lives in that, those that we know of, you know, so it crosses culture. Basically it crosses culture of the leading causes of death in America to number 10 which again is, is shocking just compared to all the other things that we try to prevent all the diseases we try to prevent, you know, cancer and all these things that are so important to prevent but, but right up there as a leading cause of death as suicide. So we need to take some effort to figure out how we can be more aware of it and help make sure people get help. Absolutely. And I think, you know, just listening to these statistics that the awareness is not just making people aware who want to commit suicide, how to do it. And that's sometimes what you hear.

03:44                                     It's really making people aware that there's hope and there's help, right? Not, not just more how tos, like wellspring actually has produced some content to kind of counter that show on Netflix called 13 reasons why. And it's called 13 reasons why not? Because 13 reasons why actually displays a young woman's, a video recording of why she committed suicide and um, they've even had to pull some episodes for this other season that's just come up recently because it's, it's something people, this statistics went up in teen suicides after the show and they can't avoid that. So we're not about that. We're about the hope and all the reasons why not. And that's why we're here today for sure. That's what we want to talk about. One of the other statistics I do want to mention is that for every suicide, there are approximately 25 at tamps and that's the place where we need to spend some energy and effort in looking at people do attempt.

04:40                                     And that's a risk factor. If you've attempted suicide before, you're a higher risk of attempting in the future and it may have been a failed attempt or a partial attempt. What it does put someone at risk of attempts in the future. Let's talk for just a minute about who commit suicide. The important thing is that everyone of any type of category fits is statistically men do commit suicide more often than women. Um, I think they're just more determined or when they make a decision they just follow through. Maybe it goes with that male personality. Uh, it's particularly high among American Indian men and white men, um, are the highest statistics for numbers of suicides. When you look at ages, Leah, I know you, you've seen this statistics about ages that that doesn't seem to really have any, um, statistically that much higher in one group versus another across age groups.

05:31                                     The only astonishing is that although it's very low that ages five to 14 is even on the list. That to me is actually actually interestingly under five. They don't count them as suicide. I think they actually exist at times, but they don't count it as that. They actually counted as as I guess homicide. I'm accidental. I don't know how they can, I just know it's not on the stats because of that. But it is interesting. I was surprised that these statistics, because I thought it was 25 and under and 16 over and I and the new reports that are out by the CDC, that's not true. It's pretty much across the board. There seems to be a bump in middle age and the forties and 50s and then again in the elderly years. That reason I think it's higher than the elderly years is that for every four attempts there's a success in the elderly population.

06:15                                     They, they've got a lot of pills on hand. They figured it out. They, when they make a decision, they make a decision versus the one in 25 in the younger ages. Correct. Yeah. So let's just talk about what a definition of suicide is. Maybe it's self evident, but I want to put a couple of words out here. For us. Suicide is when a person directs violence at themselves with the intent to end their lives and they die because of their actions. So that again is self evident. But as suicide attempt is not so obvious, a potentially self-injurious behavior with a nonfatal outcome for which there's evidence of some intent to die. I want to comment on that because we sometimes say, Oh, they didn't really want to die, or they didn't make a full attempt to, or maybe there was no injuries, so we don't call it an attempt, but anything with that intent at all, whether it's a failed attempt or a partial intent is considered a suicide attempt.

07:05                                     Now, a suicide ideation is the thought of engaging in suicidal behavior with or without a specific plan so you're not attempting what you're thinking about it. That's really important. That's who we want to reach with hope and help is people with suicide ideation and those who are considering attempting. I want to rule out a word that isn't not a great word, which is suicide gesture because it's really like a dismissive kind of a phrase, Oh, they made a gesture at suicide. Oh, like they didn't really mean it like they didn't intend it or they're just trying to get attention and that's a myth I wanted to bunk right now. People who make a quote gesture are actually in the realm of ideation or an attempt and they are actually in trouble and maybe they are asking for a cry to help because they think they'd like to die.

07:49                                     And so they do need help. We need to attend to those. We need to not dismiss those. Even if someone is just doing it, quote for attention, they need attention and it means the exact same attention that any other quote attempt would need. So I just want to get rid of that math real quickly while we can. Let's talk about some risk factors in this. So a risk factor does not mean it's a predictor that someone will commit suicide. It just means that statistically people who have these risks are more correlated with successful suicides. So people who've had a prior suicide attempt, it's a risk factors that increases the likelihood of them succeeding people with depression and mental illness. So I want to talk about that. It's a, it's a big deal. Sometimes people commit suicide, not because you know they're just wanting to die, but because their brain isn't working right.

08:38                                     So that could be bipolar disorder. It could be being in some sort of a manic phase where somebody who's got that bipolar, it could be someone with severe depression. They're really not themselves. They're not thinking they're normal logical things. They're trapped in very negative thoughts. Somebody, for instance, a mental illness of obsessive compulsive disorder can get stuck. It's like a broken record. They're stuck on the track. Everybody would be better off without me or I'd be better off dead. So mental illness and severe depression are high risk factors for suicide. Again, because at that moment in time, those people are more at risk of making a decision that's permanent, that didn't need to be a permanent decision. Substance abuse is another risk factor. Obviously. Again, you're not in your right mind if you're under some sort of a substance, and so you may make a decision that you wouldn't made in a sober state.

09:26                                     People who have a family history of mental health or substance abuse disorder, a family history of suicide actually makes it more likely. It's like they did it. I can do it. It's a terrible negative thought pattern and cycle I history of trauma and violence abuse. This is particularly true for youth. There's a high correlation for youth who committed suicide, who are actually suffering from abuse in their homes or somehow in their early life and they, they just don't see a way out. They don't know there's hope for the future and they just, they just want a way out. Tovah what I'm also noticing is that suicide does not discriminate and that people of all genders, ages and ethnicities can be at risk and I think this is really important in that one of the reasons that we're doing this program today is that it's not just suicide prevention month here in the U S it's a global effort to bring awareness to suicide and so we're seeing that this is happening globally.

10:16                                     It's a global trend. It's, it's concerning and it's because it is affecting everybody. It really is true. You know, other correlated risk factors is having a gun or having access to that in your home being in prison or in jail is actually, I can see why that would be a trial to live with being in prison or jail, being exposed to other people's suicidal behavior. So maybe a sibling who's doing a self-injury behavior or tempting suicide as a predictor of someone else in the family considering the same option having a medical illness. And this can be a terminal illness where someone says, I just can't face this terminal ending. And, and, and to the end it's too hard or it can be chronic medical illness where someone says this is just too hard to live with on a daily basis. Having a recent loss or a stressful event is another, um, risk factor.

11:08                                     So it really, that risk factors about, wow, I can't see my life in the future because of this major thing that's happened to me. It's like the inability to predict a happy future and that's a temporary state. When people are in grief and loss, they don't know that that's going to pass. That will change. It's the actually the stages of grief is to have to rewrite your life in the future based on what's just happened. And so sometimes people get stuck at that state and they don't, they can't picture themselves rewriting it but they can. They really can. There's a high risk factor of people who are isolated or a very alone. And I think that relates to our elderly population too, but it may be our youth who, who don't have places to turn in their homes and go to it. But Lee, I want to move to warning signs and symptoms cause this is really how we can take care of ourselves and the people around us.

11:56                                     So I know you have some of those that you brought with us today. So tell us some of the warning signs and symptoms that we should look for in our loved ones and those around us. Well some of them are just people talking about suicide, a preoccupation with death, no hope for the future. Self-loathing, self-hatred. Let me stop on that one for a second. You know that self-loathing, self-hatred. Sometimes we could say, I could see why you're depressed because you think so mad about yourself, but it's really the other way around because you're depressed. You think negative thoughts about yourself. Does that make sense? It's not a low self esteem. It's actually a symptom of depression to have all those negative thoughts about yourself. Wow. Well, uh, also withdrawing from others self destructive behavior, seeking out lethal means. I assume that just means looking for things either on the internet or, you know, shopping for a gun or what have you.

12:48                                     It does. And the risky behavior, you know, someone who might have been having suicidal ideation may begin to like flirt with death. So they may drive really fast or, uh, take big risks it with, with vehicles, with drug use for instance. They may just, Oh, I don't care, I'll just double it, or whatever. And so people begin to take those risks and they're just, they're flirting with the idea. Wow. Getting a, in order saying goodbye. I actually, I find this one to be quite alarming because Erin, sometimes I've heard and known and even in our family with one of the teenagers that passed away, there was a sort of really a season of feeling. You could sense the relief that there was a, you know, he was organizing some things and he, he was sort of making plans to move forward, but they were just perceiving it as he was getting better.

13:38                                     Yeah. That happens a lot when someone's been, had a lot of suicidal ideation, had some attempts, is in these risk categories, and then suddenly there's this calm and it's like, Oh, I feel so much better. And it's actually because they made a decision. They're no longer wrestling. It's important to know that people wrestle with suicide. People don't just want to die. There's great ambivalence about it and that's why there's a calm before it because they've crossed that line of ambivalence. But people who, who commit suicide, they're not wanting to be dead. They're wanting to not be in pain anymore. They're wanting to not face what's in front of them. They're wanting to not have to live in the life they're in. Um, and they usually have profound ambivalence in the process and that's why we need to be available to those people because let's capture them in their ambivalence and give them a reason for hope and for surviving and that they can face their life in a positive, healthy way.

14:31                                     One of the ones that strikes me in, and this is just as you were saying that there's so many different ways that we can be affected by suicide as I've have extremely close family member whose spouse committed suicide. And one of the things that the spouse did was called several of the family members and sort of just had this, it was a strange saying goodbye. He was basically saying goodbye and you know, to me that something that would have been a trigger if we'd even known, you know, that that was going on, you know, we didn't understand and that's why we were trying to say these things. These are things to be aware of, to not take lightly, Hey, call me. And it was kind of a bizarre conversation. Goodbye. We needed to pick up the phone and make an action, take an action. When we see these, I'm a warning signs and symptoms.

15:17                                     I mean, the worst that happens is they're like, no, I'm doing fine or whatever. You know, but, but us pursuing and looking insane. Tell me about your life as a whole. How are you feeling about life in general and asking some deeper questions, you know, to kind of summarize, I wanted to just talk about the, the why and this is the world according to toe, but the, why do people commit suicide? There really three broad reasons. One is that they're not thinking clearly. That goes back to the mental illness, substance abuse, those kinds of things. They literally are take an act that's a permanent act because they're not thinking in their right mind. Those people, we need to protect from those things. That's where we may be need to put somebody in a hospital so that they can be safe during that time. We also, um, people commit suicide because they have unbearable circumstances.

16:02                                     So maybe it's an exposure to their failures. You know, they got found out in their affair or they went bankrupt for these men or abuse or life after the loss of a loved one or terminal illness. It basically says, I can't face the life in front of me and for those people we need to give them hope that they can through Christ. We can do everything. We can face the life in front of us. And there are some amazing testimonies for people that have come out of after failures and after that where their life is better than it ever was. Where there is hope and a new sense of who they are in God and all sorts of those things. God can recreate our lives after major losses. And the other one is that there's a hopeless future. So this may be our elderly people with chronic pain or isolation people, they I, my life can never be better and those people we also need to be giving hope to.

16:51                                     Your life can be better than it is today by having meaningful life with Jesus, by connecting with the church, by, by making a difference in other people's lives. There are a lot of ways, even someone who's alone and isolated that they could get involved somewhere, they could reach someone, these, these people who think that they don't have a future, they do. So again, I just kind of want to review this is what we're offering to people. There is hope and it's interesting in terms of depression, there are 20 to 25% of Americans have suffered depression at some point in their life, but 80 to 90% of those that get treatment have success in their treatment. So again, we need, there is hope that's out there and we need to make sure we are coming alongside people when they are depressed and saying, let's find that hope. We're going to take a break now and we're glad you're with us. If you're just joining us, I'm with dr Leah buyers', our executive director at wellspring and we are talking about suicide awareness. We'll come back and talk about ways we can help people who may be thinking about suicide or those who've experienced it and are suffering from the aftermath.

17:51                                     Wellspring now offers professional Christian counseling at six locations in Dade County. Therapist are now taking clients at two new locations, one at crossbridge, Miami Springs, and key Biscayne for more information, (786) 573-7010 or wellspring miami.org for more information.

18:12                                     Welcome back to our show. Today we're talking about suicide awareness and it's a very important topic. This is the month of suicide awareness, but it's something we always need to be aware of. If you miss the beginning of the show, you can find us on your local podcast, wellspring on the air, but otherwise die right in. And we're going to continue talking about suicide awareness with me. I have dr Leah Byers and we've just added in an extra guest, Todd Peterson. Welcome Todd.

18:35                                     Hi, how are you

18:36                                     and Leo, would you introduce Todd to us? Happily? Uh, taught pastor Todd Peterson is a dear brother of mine. And, uh, we worked together for about 10 years at wayside Baptist church and Todd is now the pastor of the pulse Miami church that meets in tropical park and he is just a, a faithful servant of the Lord and just, uh, just also a, someone that's a trained mental health professional in addition to being a pastor. So we're so excited that Todd, you've agreed to be on the show and we know that there's a personal reason for that. So we're looking forward to hearing what you have to share. Yes,

19:12                                     thank you. You're too kind. I was concerned about what you might do.

19:17                                     Yeah. That were brother. We tell on our brothers. Don't wait. Okay. Well, thank you for joining us today talking about suicide issues. And we've called you as the pastor of the pulse church because we know that in the last year, you about a year ago now, you had a suicide in your church of one of your leaders. And so, uh, I'd like you to just tell us about how that major tragic loss has affected you and your church.

19:44                                     Well, actually, if you don't mind, I just want to start out by, by just praising God and thanking him for just having the foresight to, to raise you up. Tovah to start wellspring. Cause honestly, I don't know where we would have been without you guys and, and obviously God had been raising you up for such a time as this for us. And so, you know, I'm thankful for that. Um, and you know, it affected our church in a really tough way because, you know, Eddie was one of these, uh, people who, he wasn't a person who struggles with life, right? He was somebody who kind of seemed like you figured it out. He was a leader and he was the person that you would go to for advice. I mean, he was a person that a pastor would go to for advice. And so it was devastating to us spiritually. Uh, obviously emotionally and even just mentally just trying to get our heads around, you know, like if, if this guy who seemed to have had everything figured out, um, committed suicide and then, you know, what, what hope do I have? And, uh, and it really affected the way that we approached God. I would have to say that we were spiritually numb for about four months. Um, and it was, it was just a very, very tough time. We had a hard time, you know, even beginning to process through it.

21:11                                     Yeah, you really did. And I want to thank you for the vote of confidence to wellspring and on, for the listener out there. We did come alongside the church and I want to say that, um, we are seeing his name on the air because the, the wife of Eddie, uh, dr Eddie Burke, um, his wife has given her testimony and her permission for us to share their story. Her name is Madeline Burke, and we are, she is sharing her testimony at wellspring. We've come alongside her in the aftermath in this last year of all of this. So, so that is who we're speaking about. And Todd, Eddie was absolutely successful. A teacher very involved in your church, right? He was a one of the church planners and on the worship team, is that correct?

21:51                                     Yes, yes he was.

21:54                                     And um, so again, for the listener, just Eddie suicide really was one of those that falls into that category of mental illness. He was severely depressed and this was really out of character for him. But the negative thoughts during that timeframe, uh, really did cause him to act in a way that was completely inconsistent with his regular character and was a shock and a surprise to everyone involved in this. So any other thoughts about how that affected your church and any advice you may have for others who may be dealing with the aftermath of suicide in their families or homes or,

22:26                                     well, you know, it's, it's hard to give advice. I'm still sad, you know, and, uh, it's, you know, there's, there's still days that, um, better tough I guess for, for me as a pastor. It was, he, I, I had dealt with suicide before, um, with, with somebody who administered to, I was a youth pastor before, and one of my students, um, committed suicide and I had to do the funeral and, and that was tough. Um, but again, uh, he, he struggled with life. And so, you know, you could kind of get your, your, your mind around it. Um, and, and I, as a pastor, I, I deal with hard times a lot, uh, deal with, uh, you know, I've done funerals. I've, I've been there and, and people's worst times in their life. And, and I always go through, you know, a, a period of sadness after that, but I do a pretty good job of bouncing back.

23:25                                     But what scared me about this is I was months and I'm going, I'm not bouncing back. Like, I would have these, these moments of just deep despair, paralyzing despair, where I just, I couldn't do anything. And, and I thought, wow, there's, you know, there's something wrong with me. And, uh, one of your Eric, uh, sat down with me and, um, he said something very simple, but yet it just had, it made all the difference for me. He said, you know what Todd? He says, you're not okay, but it's, but that's okay. And this, this process is gonna take longer than, than you thought it was going to take. But that's just the process. And so if, if I were to say, if I were to give any advice to somebody who's dealing with this, I would have to tell you you're not okay. But that's okay. It's part of the process. It's going to take longer than you think is part of the process.

24:24                                     It's really good advice. You know, I, I want to throw a little bit of advice in here for people handling with someone else in the aftermath of suicide. It's the things not to say, not to ask, Oh, did you have any warning signs? Because you just trigger them to think I had cut a shadow. What had done something different? That's a normal part of the process. The truth is nobody can predict the actions of another person. We're not Dodd. We don't see the future. And as we do this show and talk to people about ways of being alert and responding to people when we see them in great need and talking about suicide openly and asking people how they're doing, that's all good advice. But in the aftermath, that truth is, we're not God and we, we really can't predict these things. And so I think we want to be sensitive to other people not prying into their business.

25:09                                     You know? What did you know, what were the signs? I know this has happened to a lot of people in the aftermath where everyone else, we're just trying to figure out, you know, the story so that we can feel safe ourselves. And the truth is we can't figure out the stories sometimes. There's nothing to be figured out. It's just is when my niece passed away, it was, um, I had the opportunity to share at the Memorial and I had this epiphany that people have two sides to suicide. They either want to feel guilty, we don't wanna feel guilty, but we do or we want to blame. So if I didn't do it, then somebody must have somebody must've been able to do something. So guilt and blame are just two sides of the same coin. When you're trying to deal with this type of, and you know, you have someone I hopefully old stigmas you know about could have Christianity.

25:54                                     Maybe you're not really a Christian if you're going, if you commit suicide and all of that is just harmful and hurtful. Uh, the truth is you can be a strong Christian and still have an affair. You can, you can be a Christian and have an addiction and you can be Christian. You can commit suicide and how and why God allows these things are beyond our answers. We have the side of eternity. Um, but, but we need to not be judging and blaming and guilting other people. We need to just be present with those. We love, appreciate life as we have it and love as well as we can. And then we just live with what does happen around us. We have all sorts of tragedies that happen around us. And this is just one more type of tragedy that when we can, we try to prevent and when we can't, we just grieve the loss of a loved one. And that's really the state you're in.

26:42                                     Well, and, and eh,

26:44                                     there's one other thing that I like to say to people who are, who are dealing with this is you are going to ask the question. It is human. If you are going to ask the question, what could I have done right? And, and here's what's gonna happen. Everybody in the world is going to tell you there's nothing you could've done. Um, you know, you couldn't have seen this happening and, and you know that you should, you shouldn't ask that question. And here's the truth of it. Them saying that doesn't help anything, right? It, it doesn't make you feel better when they say that. However they're right. I mean, you know, I'd be like, I went through this and people would say, Oh, you know, there were three different professionals, two mental health professionals and a, and a health professional who were involved in, in Eddie's life before this, who, who were trying to help him through this time.

27:40                                     I was one of them. And, and if, if, if we didn't see this coming, you know, the average person just wasn't gonna cause it good to see this coming. And, and, you know, and of course I went through all of the guilt feelings, you know, going, man, I, you know, how many years of training have I had? And, and I, I just, you know, I could have done more. And at the end of the day, the truth of the matter is, you probably couldn't have done more. And even if you could have, it doesn't help anything by sitting around and, and beating yourself up over something that you really couldn't have done. And so it's, it's, uh, I know that this is not a simple thing. I, I don't, I'm, I'm kind of, you know, it's like, Oh well we're going to ask this question and it doesn't help anything.

28:29I get it, but I'm just trying to give you the, the intricate details of, of my emotions, a, a mental health professional, a pastor, what I went through. And so I think that anybody else who is going through this needs to understand that. Again, you're not okay and that's okay. I think that's a really good place for us to wrap up. We are out of time and I think you've said it really well. Thank you for joining us on this show and to our listener. If this is hitting home for you for some reason, someone in your home or your own thoughts and ideations of suicide, please get help. Please just take yourself seriously. Know that you matter. Know that there's hope out there for everyone. There is hope. There's hope for depression. There's hope for answers. We also want you to know that a wellspring, we have a blog on this. We have some resources on our website. You can look this up. You can find other resources. We'll connect you to other places and we also want to give you the national hotline for anyone listening today who needs to call immediately. The number is 1-800-273-TALK, (800) 273-8255 get help today. If this is you or your loved one, we thank you Todd for joining us and uh, Leah and it's time to wrap up.

PodcastAlexandra Delgado