The Lifesaving Gift of Friendship

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FriendshipMany of us are still shocked by the recent deaths of two icons by suicide. The news underscores yet again how we do not always know the deep pain people are struggling with in their private worlds. How could it be possible that people who seem to be living life large are in such a dark place they would choose to end their lives?

As we grapple with this tragic news, we struggle to figure out what is going on in our world today. Suicide rates have been climbing higher each year, especially for women. The suicide rates for women rose 50 percent from 2000 to 2016 according to the National Center for Statistics.

Susan McClanahan, PhD., chief clinical officer at the Insight Behavioral Centers, suggests the causes are multifactorial. She believes socioeconomic and sociocultural trends may play a part in these rising rates of suicide. We know that the virtual world we live in today is not always the best for our emotional health. While there are numerous positive factors to social media, such as long lost friends finding each other again after decades, there is still no substitute for face-to-face connection with our friends and family. That face-to-face connection is where the actual health benefits of human interaction happens for women. There is a release of oxytocin as we “tend and befriend” each other (this phenomenon was identified in a UCLA study in 2000).

Conversations and interactions are being replaced with technology. Go into any restaurant and watch how many people are sitting with their heads down looking at their cell phones instead of talking to those sitting across the table from them. Our trend to disconnect from real people in real time in favor of our hand-held electronics is at epidemic proportions in our culture!

Although the causes of the increasing suicide rates are complex and multifactorial, they are certainly raising a huge red flag as we ponder what we can do to reverse this trend. Mental illness is, of course, at the top of the list for the culprits we immediately blame for suicide deaths. There is very often a tendency to isolate during severe depression and this only hastens the downward spiral. Talking with the depressed person and asking if they are having thoughts of suicide or have a plan for how they might carry it out is critical. If they are actively suicidal, getting them to a hospital or calling 911 is imperative. When severely depressed individuals get into the deep darkness of their hopelessness, they no longer can find their voice, and irrational thinking takes over. At this point, those nearest to the individual become the lifeline to getting them help quickly.

In looking at the rising rates of women taking their own lives, we have to pause and question how we stop this trend and seek some solutions. How do we increase our emotional well-being and lessen our chances of becoming depressed and hopeless? One of the key elements to being emotionally healthy for women is to be in connection with our girlfriends, where we find comfort, validation, joy, and happiness.

Research continues to show that sharing connections with others helps people live longer and healthier lives. Never underestimate the healing power that comes from sharing in special friendships during the ups and downs of life! Our friendships help restore the broken parts of our bodies, our souls, and our hearts. The gift of friendship is a key to promoting longevity, helping us find our centered selves in the midst of chaos, and letting us lead our most meaningful and happiest lives. If you have a friend or relative who you think may be suffering from depression, connect with them today and help them find the professional help they need. You may be the one who shines the light they desperately need to walk out of the darkness before it is too late.

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