A Matter of Life and Death


I remember . . . as a senior in high school during lunch time, a classmate, (someone I had known since kindergarten) had come back drunk and upset.  He was mumbling and confronting some other guys. One couldn’t really understand what he was saying. The bell rang and we all went back to class, all except this classmate. We later learned he had gone home and taken his life not long after we saw him. Mind boggling - what was so bad that he would want to end it all? Why? Was there anything any of us could have said or done? We didn’t know. The questions lingered loudly within each of us.

How about you? What comes up for you? What memory or thought? Or maybe you don't linger on it and instead -  quickly toss it out of your thoughts. Most of us have close contacts to someone who has experienced a loved one’s death by suicide.


Sucide has become an epidemic.


Suicide has become an epidemic! There are 35,000 completed suicides per year in the United Stated  with known attempts numbering 650,000 per year. 90% of people who die by suicide have a treatable mental illness.  Most people give some indications that are thinking of taking their life. Although some people do keep it highly concealed giving no indication of their intent. 

We all need to be aware of signs and how to seek help. Severe major depression and bi-polar disorders are two of the main mental illnesses associated with suicide. Adding substance abuse to the mental illness increases chances of suicide. 

Many people who have attempted suicide state they were initially angry at loved ones for intervening but also state they were intent on carrying out their death and are now thankful the intervening took place. 


Be aware of signs that could indicate your loved one is having suicidal thoughts. Click here for list of signs.

riends and family can be hesitant to intervene or impose. Your friend or family member may get mad, but as long as they're breathing there is hope. Many people who have attempted suicide said they were initially angry at loved ones for intervening, but also state they were intent on carrying out their death and are now thankful the intervening took place. 


 Here's some tips for family and friends.

1. Be Open, Direct, Ask Questions.

Talk about suicide.Have a dialogue with the person. Ask the person if they're thinking of taking their life. Talking about suicide does not put the idea in a person's head. Instead, it creates an opportunity for your loved one to speak about what they're experiencing and opens the door for seeking help. 
       "Do you ever feel so badly you think about suicide?"
       "Have you ever thought you would be better off dead?"

2. Ask about a Plan

If a person has thought about the way they would take their life, the greater probability of them carrying it out. By asking these questions, you will be able to assess if the person is in immediate danger.
        "Have you thought about a way you would take your life?"
        "Have you thought about when and where you would do it?" 

3. Seek Help

Never keep a plan a secret. If you think a life is in danger, try to convince the person to go to the doctor, a professional counselor and tell the family to enlist a 24 hour watch on the person and call the police or 9-1-1. Do not leave the person alone. This is not the time to worry about losing the person's trust or friendship. It's better to lose a friendship and trust than attend a funeral.  Most of the time, they will thank you for saving their life. 

4. Educate Yourself

The more you know the better you'll be able to notice warning signs. There are multiple online sites with valuable information.  Go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org,  American Association of Suicidology,  suicidology.org andAssociation Foundation for Suicide Prevention (afsp.org) for education and valuable resources. Contact a local survivors of suicide (SOS) organization, mental health professional or clinic for resources in your area.  

5. Be Aware.  

Notice if your loved one has shown any of the warning signs. Pay attention to their lifestyle, changes in mood and behavior, a renewed sense of happiness and calm after a period of distress.  A state of calm or happiness after distress may indicate the person has decided to carry out their plan to take their life. Educate yourself. Contact suicidepreventiononlifeline.org or Call 1-800-273-8255. This is a resource for you and the person you're concerned about. 

6.  LIsten with your Heart  

Do not try to talk someone out of their self hatred or hopeless thoughts. It will not work. Don't minimize their problems or shame them. Contradicting what someone feels does not change their feelings. Trying to convince someone with mental illness and/or suicidal thoughts that it's not that bad only increases their pain and prevents them from sharing what's going on inside them. Reassure them help is available, they can feel better and their thoughts are temporary.

7. Find Help Together

If loved one is not in immediate danger, assist the person in finding a professional counselor and a doctor. Help make the phone call or attend the first session. This is a time to follow through and not worry about being intrusive. Assure the person they can get help, heal, feel better.

Suicide is preventable. The majority of people with suicide attempts and completion gave some indications through statements, behavior or social media. YOUR ACTIONS CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE.  if you would like to talk and receive additional information, contact me at  patty@counselingfresno.org or (559) 577 3994. 

Suicide Hotline is 1-800-273-8255.

Posted on October 1, 2015 and filed under loss, grief.

Tips to Help a Friend Grieve Suicide Loss


Suicide survivors often suffer alone and in silence. The social stigma that accompanies death by suicide can leave them feeling abandoned which only complicates their grief.  Survivors grief is already overwhelming and complex. Not only are survivors experiencing grief of their loved one, they are experiencing unexpected traumatic loss and the social stigma of death by suicide. They need support more than ever. 

According to the American Association of Suicidology, a quarter million people in the US become suicide survivors each year. 

If a  friend or family member has experienced the death of a loved one from suicide,  you may not know what to say or do.  Here are some tips that will help you come alongside them and provide positive action. 

  • Focus on needs of survivors NOT the act itself

Survivors need the same, (if not more) support as others in grief. Squash your curious instincts to know more about the death. Be caring and compassionate. Tend to the practical and emotional needs of the person. 

  • Be prepared for intensity of emotions

Grief after suicide is complicated and survivors may be overwhelmed with their feelings that are stronger, more intense than grief from other types of death. They may have explosive anger and struggle with guilt and shame. They may need to tell their story over and over again. Listen and be compassionate. Survivors need to be free to express whatever they are feeling in order to heal.

  • Examine your own personal attitudes

This is not the time to express your attitudes or beliefs about suicide. It would be helpful for you to research why you believe what you do about suicide - There are a lot of false beliefs and thoughts that do not help survivors. For those with religious beliefs, the statement, “The deceased will not go to heaven” is falsely stated and causes added injury to survivors. For more information see Kay Warren's article and Catholic Digest.

  • Stay connected

Survivors can be “cut off” or avoided because of the type of death. This can happen with any death but is magnified with suicide.  The stigma surrounding suicide can cause shame for the survivor and a sense of “helplessness” for relationships. Fight the urge to flee. Intentionally make contacts, visits, send notes, texts . . . stay connected. Your physical presence without criticism is a valuable tool for healing. 

  •  Refrain from blame

Survivors often judge their own actions, attitudes, and responsibilities related to the death. They can be plagued with “why” questions and “if only” statements adding to self guilt. Do not agree or disagree, just listen and do not blame any one else either. The urge to refute the self blame comes up, (“You couldn’t have known” or “there’s nothing you could have done”), stop yourself from saying those statements. Let the person come to their own conclusion. They just need you to listen. 

  • Adopt a “teach me” attitude

Listen and allow the person to tell you what they need and what they’re going through without judgement. Refrain from  offering a cliche or trite statement to “fix” what the person is thinking or feeling. Do not state, "I know how you feel" or "I can imagine what you're going through." You don't . . . even if you have experienced a death by suicide. Everyone's grief is unique and the relationships are all different. Allow the person to speak their thoughts aloud. You don't have to say much of anything and you do not have to answer their questions. Survivors need to state their thoughts and questions. Answers are not needed. Learn from them.


If you or someone you know is feeling hopeless or has expressed not wanting to live, get help now. Call 1-800-273-8255. For more resources and ways to help loved ones, go to the suicide prevention prevention lifeline  and  survivors of suicide sites. 

For professional counseling, referrals and resources, give me a call or sign up for my emotional health and wellness newsletter. 


4 Quick Tips to Handle the Unexpected

Before I knew I it, I was hanging partially upside down with only a lap belt that kept me from falling. 

This was not the pleasant ride on a path that I had expected.

It began as a nice Saturday in the mountains where my husband had taken me for a drive. Oh yeah, another part I should add, it was a ride in his four wheel drive vehicle up mountain rock paths. We went through a forest of evergreen trees, through a stream trickling water, up a waterfall pathway (no water) and onto other marked trails. Then the unexpected happened, we were slung off the path before we realized what happened, rolling over and stopped by a tree. I thanked God for the tree; otherwise we would have kept rolling. 


As a therapist, I help others deal with hurts and pain, including, “the unexpected”.


Here’s some quick tips that help.

1. Stay Put and Hang On

When life is out of control, you’re thrown off your normal path, it can be best to stay put (at least temporarily). Ride out whatever is going on; hang on to the familiar. Ground yourself with what is right in front of you. The unexpected can alert your brain to go in reactionary mode causing you to do and say things you may regret and make the situation worse.  Have you ever overreacted to a situation? . . .Yeah, met too. By staying put, you send the message to the fight/flight part of your brain to calm down. This will allow your brain to get or stay calm and respond with clarity rather than react. 

 In my story, I hung on to the overhead handles that I knew had been placed there to help brace myself, to keep me from banging my head or  . . . who knows whatever else.

2. Check Yourself

It’s important to realize in what ways your’e okay.

It’s important to pause for a moment (or two), take a breath and see how you are doing physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Are there some self needs that you can tend to or  areas where you need help. As important as it is to tend to your needs, it’s important to realize in what ways you are okay. It will help you to stay calm.

For us that meant literally checking in with ourselves and with each other to see if we were physically and emotionally ok. We were able to breathe a sigh of relief and look to what was next.

it’s important to realize in what ways you’re okay.

3. Reach Out for Help  

Seek the help of those around you whether it’s friends, family,  helpful people/organizations or a therapist, counselor, pastor, other professional.  You may not know the answers or which direction to go, but others can offer valuable resources, point you in the right direction and give practical help. We are meant for relationships, community and connectedness. Help is available. You need to ask and accept it. I know it’s not always easy, but others are more than willing to help . . . it’s actually a blessing for them. (Research shows we have a feel good chemical released in our brains - oxytocin- when we help others)   

Needless to say, hanging at an angle on the high side of a vehicle tipped over, we weren’t sure what to do next.  Thankfully, people came running to help us and give us direction. I was instructed to climb out a window which meant unbuckling the only strap holding me from falling downward and climb against gravity. Putting one foot and another on the internal roll bar, I climbed up, went out the window and had to fall toward a man who assured that he would catch me. 


4. Keep Moving Forward 

Here’s where you put one foot in front of the other to keep going and not become stuck. The unexpected has a way of causing paralysis. If you stay put for too long, your brain can become stuck, frozen in fear, unable to move at all. That’s why it’s vital to do something to keep going. I don’t expect you to climb a mountain, but do something that is familiar, something “normal” like talk to a friend, go to the store, do a task around the house or yard, go for coffee. It will calm your brain to know you can function and the hyper-alert signal will decrease.The longer you stay stuck the harder it is to move on any path.

Keep Moving Forward

To finish the story, our vehicle was pulled back over with the help of others using winches on their vehicles. Other than cosmetic damage and a lot of fluids being lost, our vehicle was still drivable. So . . . we kept going, not along the same path, but we still kept going. I must admit I was a little hesitant to go on a harder rock climb, but my husband went to keep from fear from settling in. I joined him as we went along the rest of the trails and enjoying the day. As a therapist I knew to keep checking in with myself, breathe deeply and assure myself we were fine (Extra tip on ways to keep your brain from staying in fight/flight mode or being hyper-aroused).


Posted on July 21, 2015 and filed under anxiety, loss, trauma, stuck.

5 Tips to Help Relationships Survive & Thrive

Love is in the Air or Does it Feel More like it’s Hit Rock Bottom?

Thoughts of romance, advertisements of love, Valentine’s Day, the bliss of being in love . . .  Those messages all around can make you think about your relationship . . . romance . . .far from it . .  we’re barely surviving!!! 
Truth be know, most relationships go through ups and downs, times where you may not even like your partner and wonder “Are we going to make?” Hang in there.

Here’s 5 timely tips to help your relationship navigate tough times.

Maintain Hope   Hang on to hope, hope that your marriage will survive, hope that it will get better, hope that it will last. When relationships are troubled, feelings of love have waned, many want to throw in the towel and call it quits. Hope can keep you together. Know that your difficulty is time limited. Five years, 1 year or even 6 months from now the turmoil will be a remembrance of a difficult season you survived. On the contrary, it’s easy to give up hope, end it, after all don’t 50% of marriages end in divorce? WRONG - The data we have been fed for years was not a fact but a projection based on the high increase in divorce back in the early 80’s. Corrected research  shows, divorce rate has never reached as high as it was in the 1980’s with the highest being more between 29 - 34%. Many of those have regrets and wish they had hung on. Hope for your marriage - 70% of marriages last.

  1.  Remember Your Story  Take a moment to remember how you met your spouse. What did you like about him/her? What attracted you to him/her? When was the first time you realized you had feelings for him/her? Where did you go? What did you do? How did you feel during those days?  Maybe you want to look at some pictures of those early times or write out the answers to these questions. Your brain can tap into those memories and bring up emotions of attachment and love toward your. spouse. Write your love story and remember.
  2. Look for the Positives   Take the positive challenge. Look for those characteristics, qualities in your spouse that first attracted you to him/her. Set your intention on noticing the positive words, actions, events your spouse says and does. Make a list daily of those positive things. Our brains are funny, they can focus on the things we don’t like and make every irritation seem unbearable. The negatives can scream at us, build on each other and make it seem there is no way the relationship will get better.  Like I said, our brains are funny, YOU CAN  tell yourself to focus on the positives about your spouse.  Your brain will start looking and finding those good things. The positives will build and you will think and feel better about your relationship.
  3. Take Action   Say something, do something to connect to your spouse. It’s the little daily things that matter. Show appreciation for those unending tasks that are done for the house, family, for you. Acknowledge it. Say “thank you.” Do some every day task for your spouse. Maybe it’s making the coffee, helping with dishes, picking up after yourself, something that lightens your partner’s load or whatever may send the message that you notice and you care. 
  4. Connect   Maybe you’re not feeling all lovey, dovey, but you can still do something to connect. Attachment happens when we connect in meaningful ways to one another. In fact, that’s how love happens.  As we spend time with others, our neurotransmitters release attachment hormones that cause us to want to be together, like one another and fall in love. Makes sense that we need to keep those going. No, the “falling in love” feelings can’t last forever, (we’d never get  anything done in a state of bliss, obsessed with one another) nor is it suppose to. But we do need to nurture it. Dr. William Doherty in his book, Take Back Your Marriage, has an entire chapter on connection rituals. Greet one another, give a hug, a kiss , an intentional “Hi, how was your day?”  Text or call during the day. Show interest in one another’s projects, life happenings and concerns outside of the relationship. Plan a time out - away from work, home and kids. Out to dinner, coffee, ice cream, an activity . . .  something that can be shared together. Everyday connections are vital to your relationship

Use these tips to help draw nearer to your partner, to intentionally make an effort to weather the storms and celebrate the victories. Above all, Hold on to HOPE.

Still not sure if you can make it, hard to hang on to hope, give me a call. Let’s talk. Maybe some professional help is needed or I can point you in the right direction. I can help you whether or not your spouse wants help. Changes in one partner can have tremendous effect on the entire relationship. THERE IS HOPE.

Posted on February 10, 2015 .