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A Reflection On 2017: Substance Use And Suicide

Well, the end of 2017 is here. And what a year it has been. Regardless of who you are, I believe most people would agree that 2017 was a tumultuous year. For myself, I launched my career as a substance abuse counselor at an incredible facility with amazing coworkers and peers, planned my wedding, and explored dog ownership (fingers crossed, 2018). On the downside, I’ve experienced stress and frustration about politics, financial challenges, and the losses of family and friends.

And that’s what brings me to this blog topic. I lost a close friend as well as celebrities I admired to suicide. Of those who did complete suicide, most struggled with substance abuse. As I sit in my office reflecting on this year, I am struck with a sense of overwhelming sadness, hopelessness, and anger. Imagine, living with an addiction and all the stress, depression, social upheaval, and pain associated with addiction. Then, add on top of that,mental illness, another debilitating, heavily stigmatized condition. Finally, toss in suicidal thoughts from both; how can we expect anyone to make it? I’m so frustrated with the perception of addiction, mental illness, and suicide that people can’t talk about it without feeling judged or scared. So people stay silent, battling themselves for months or years because of feared and actual judgment until they reach a breaking point: cry out for help or die.

We should not be waiting until crisis before making life changing decisions. We can change this reality. We can normalize people’s experiences. We can talk more openly about addiction, mental health, and suicide. We can advocate for appropriate funding and distribution for care services. We can demonstrate support, compassion, and acceptance, not judgment, prejudice, and fear. If you are struggling with addiction, mental health, or dual diagnosis disorder, know you are not alone and there is help more available than you think. If you are not, you may play an integral role in someone else’s recovery by offering a helping and supportive hand or ear.

A new year approaches. A new opportunity. New resolutions. We can collectively make a change and save thousands. I understand what I discuss is not easy or comfortable. But if one person can start making this change, it can have a ripple effect and potentially save hundreds, if not thousands. Never underestimate the power and range of human connection, ranging from texting someone to check up on them and smiling at a stranger to accompanying someone to treatment or saying “it’s okay” to someone in distress. The effect of our words, for better or worse, carries on and touches others in ways we will never truly know.

By Aaron Tempel LGPC, Addictions and Mental Health Therapist



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