Casey J. Cornelius (00:03):
Hey everyone, and welcome to the latest episode of the ForCollegeForLife podcast. My name is Casey Cornelius, and I am the host of this podcast, along with being the founder and president of America’s leading College speaking agency ForCollegeForLife . In these episodes, I get the distinct pleasure of interviewing the folks who make us who we are, our speakers, consultants, authors, all the people who make up our team. And in each of these episodes, especially the fast 15 minute ones, what we try to do is talk about topics that we believe to be important on campuses and in organizations across the country with those who are the leading voices on that topic. Today, I get the pleasure of interviewing none other than Jessi Beyer. Jessi, why don’t I, come on, bring you to the mic.
Jessi Beyer (00:54):
Thank you so much for having me, Casey. I’m really excited to be here.
Casey J. Cornelius (00:57):
I’m excited too. Thanks for joining me. And I know, by the way, I know we’re limited on time, but I know that our first podcast got such rave reviews. People were like, it sounds like you were just having a conversation. It’s because Jessi’s very easy to talk to. So this is really easy. Although let’s be clear, we’re not talking about easy topics today. We’re actually going to be talking about a topic that is, I know really important to you, but also one that is really tough to talk about. So we’re going to be talking about suicide today, so a little care warning at the beginning. If this is a topic that you find particularly challenging or so forth, just know that some of the things that we’re going to be talking about over the next couple of minutes fall into that category. So Jessi, I want to start with this question. What are some of the most common misconceptions about suicide?
Jessi Beyer (01:43):
That’s a really good place to start, and I think it’s important to start there because suicide is such a heavy word. Everyone has an opinion about it. Most people know someone who has either thought about suicide or died by suicide, and so there’s a lot of feelings and trauma and grief related to this word. So I think it’s important to start with, like you said, what people get wrong about it. And the two things that I see and hear the most that people get wrong about suicide is number one, that it’s the easy way out, that they want to die, that they’re just done and they just want to die. And two is that it’s a cry for help. They’re just looking for attention. They don’t actually mean, both of those things can be very damaging to someone who’s thinking about suicide because there’s so much judgment wrapped up in it.
So in terms of the first one, they just want to die. Oftentimes, that’s not actually true. They don’t necessarily want to die. They want whatever pain they’re going through to stop. And if you look at some people’s lives who are struggling with suicidal ideation, meaning they’re thinking about dying by suicide, their lives have been really, really hard. Maybe they’ve struggled with childhood abuse. Maybe they’ve been raped or been sexually assaulted. Maybe they’ve had challenges with drugs and other substances. And if you look at all of those things in a way, you’re like, I get it. I get why you want the pain to stop. I get why you’re tired. I get why you’re exhausted. But people who are thinking about suicide, oftentimes, they don’t know of any other option. So it’s not, yes, I want to die. It is my greatest life aspiration to die.
It’s more, I am so exhausted and so in pain, and I don’t know of any other way to make it stop than dying. And that’s why suicide prevention and mental health education is so important, and we’ll get into that in a second. But the other misconception that it’s just a cry for help, that they just want attention. Sometimes that’s true, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it, and I don’t think there’s anything shameful about it. Like the people who say, oh, it’s just a cry for help thing. Again, if you look at people’s lives, maybe they’ve been neglected, maybe they’ve been abandoned, maybe they’ve been cheated on over and over and over again. They feel invisible. They feel alone. They just want someone to look at them and to see their pain, and to acknowledge it and validate it and make them feel a little less alone in what they’re going through. At the same time, even if it is just a cry for help, and I do that with heavy air quotes, someone who is willing to put a gun to their head or pour a bottle of pills down their throat, that is a serious concern. It’s not just a cry for help, even if what they’re looking for is help with that action, that is something very serious, very important, that can’t just be brushed off with, oh, they’re just a teenager. They’re just looking for attention
Casey J. Cornelius (04:31):
To the moment that you said this, and I’ve thought about this topic a lot, obviously over the years until the moment you said this, this never occurred to me. I am doing air quotes as well. Just a cry for help isn’t just a cry for help enough. We be looking at that as something that is serious enough in and of itself, as opposed to something that we dismiss.
Jessi Beyer (04:55):
Absolutely. And that’s so frustrating to me, is I see college staff members and educators. I see parents, I see first responders, I see mental health professionals that when someone calls 9 1 1 or walks into their office and says, Hey, I’m going to kill myself tonight. I’m really going to do it this time. The response that those people give is like, oh, it’s just a cry for help. They don’t actually mean it. And to your point, that’s enough. Even if they don’t mean it, even if they’re not going to take their life that night, they still need help. They are asking for help in a way, and it is on us, on the people who care about them and love them to offer that help and to offer that support, which is why I’m so glad we’re having this conversation today.
Casey J. Cornelius (05:36):
Oh, and what an epiphany moment, folks. If you’re not yet familiar with Jessi’s work, I encourage you to visit ForCollegeForLife.com/jessi. No e, no Y’s, none of those other kind of things, just j e s ss I, Jessi, I’ve heard you say this phrase, and I don’t want to put the words in your mouth in so many words, but I want to ask you this. What do most programs, keynotes, workshop, what do most programs about suicide prevention get wrong?
Jessi Beyer (06:08):
Well, I want to start by saying that I’m really, really glad there are so many different suicide prevention trainings out there. I’m so happy that we’re talking about it. I’m so glad we’re educating people about it. But where a lot of those programs go wrong is they just kind of stop. They say, okay, figure out if this person is struggling with suicidal ideation, and then either take him to a therapist or take him to the hospital, and they don’t actually really give any steps for what you as that peer support person can do, because there’s lots you can do. I also want to be very clear. I’m not saying never call their therapist or never take them to the hospital or call 9 1 1. Please do those things. Those are great support methods, but at the same time, there are actually things that you can do.
And so a lot of times people who go through these types of trainings, myself included, because taken multiple of them, they’re kind of like, great, I was so excited I was going to learn how to support my friend, and now I just kind of feel like I’m pawning them off onto someone else without really being able to do anything. And then what also happens is sometimes that person is the person who’s having suicidal ideation is like, I don’t want to go to the hospital. I don’t want to talk to a therapist. You’re my friend. You’re the person I trust. I want to talk to you. And so now we’re kind of in this place of like, okay, I know this person needs help, but they don’t want to get help. So how do I make them get help, but can I make them get help? And it’s just this very difficult situation when a lot of that could be alleviated by you, the peer support person actually enacting some different strategies that can help keep that person who’s struggling with suicidal ideation safe.
Casey J. Cornelius (07:43):
I think it’s a fantastic point. I also want to spend just a second on some of the language that we use around suicide and recognizing the fact that in probably the last year, two, three years, some of this language has evolved, which is really positive from my perspective. Can you talk a little bit about how the phrase, for example, committed suicide is no longer in common usage and vernacular?
Jessi Beyer (08:09):
Yeah, definitely. So like you said, committed suicide is not the standard term anymore, partially because suicide was decriminalized multiple decades ago. And number two, because there’s a lot of judgment associated with that. So when you commit something, there has kind of this criminal implication, you did something wrong by doing this. There’s the judgment, there’s the blame, there’s the threat of punishment. And with suicide, we want to de-stigmatize it as much as possible to remove some of that shame and barriers to care and things like that. So we don’t say committed suicide anymore. We try not to say that someone is suicidal, because again, that ties their identity and who they are to the fact that they are thinking about suicide when in reality that is just a thought that they’re having or a behavior that they’re doing. It is not their whole identity. So the words that we try to use are things like thinking about suicide, someone with suicidal ideation, someone who’s considering suicide, different verbs like that.
So someone who is blank that really helped separate that identity from the person. And then if someone did complete suicide, we say they died by suicide or their cause of death was suicide or they killed themselves, something like that. We also try to avoid things like successful suicide attempts or even completed suicide attempts, because that puts kind of this, I don’t know, a positive spin on it. They were successful when in reality, that’s a loss, that’s a tragedy when someone dies by suicide. So those are some of the verbiage things that are changing, and we’re hopeful they’re going to continue to change over the next couple of years.
Casey J. Cornelius (09:47):
Absolutely. And for those who are listening who want to learn more, there’s a lot of resources out there. I want to ask you two quick questions before we have to go today, Jessi. The first one is, I heard someone recently, I apologize that I can’t attribute this to anyone specific, but when talking with a friend, talking with a loved one, the power of asking the question, are you thinking about hurting yourself as opposed to even using the word suicide to begin with? Where do you land on that concept?
Jessi Beyer (10:18):
That’s a really good question, and both my opinion and kind of the current leader, or not leadership, oh my goodness, academia research literature, that’s the L word I was looking for. The current literature where all that stands is you actually want to be very direct. So you want to use the word suicide when you’re asking someone if they’re thinking about suicide. So the way that I, and I’ll explain why in just a second, but the way that I like to do it is if I’m talking with someone and I’m hearing their life story, and there’s all these really hard things that have happened to them, I will say something along the lines of, a lot of times what I’ve heard from people who have struggled with so many traumas and tragedies is that they start to think about suicide. Have you thought about dying by suicide?
And I use the word suicide very specifically, because harm yourself hurt yourself. It’s very vague. Does that mean you’re going to not eat for a day? Does that mean you’re going to cut yourself? Does that mean you are going to die by suicide? There’s so much that can go on in that, and you’re not actually going to get the answer that you probably need. Additionally, when you say it the way that I just said it, of when I talk to other people, I’ve heard this from them, are you thinking about that? It does two things. One, it lets them know they’re not alone. Oh, there’s other people who have been through hard things that are maybe thinking about suicide, and it also takes a little bit of that shame out of the word. So the person who’s listening to me who maybe is thinking about suicide, I just said the word, I probably even said it twice.
It’s kind of that boogeyman in the closet type thing that if you just turn on the light and someone else says the word, it’s a little less scary and a little less shameful. So I’m so glad you asked that question. And to sum up everything I just said, when you are trying to figure out if someone is thinking of suicide, use the word suicide. Use the phrase Kill yourself. Be very direct about that because it will help you get the info that you need and remove some of that shame from the person who’s maybe thinking about it.
Casey J. Cornelius (12:12):
If you’re listening to this episode and you’re hearing insights from Jessi, you want to know more about her work, again, we invite you to visit for college for life.com/Jessi. We recognize the fact that suicide can be not only a personal tragedy, a family tragedy, but also affect loved ones communities, et cetera, et cetera, and we want to be good resources for you. Final question, Jessi, if I can, if there’s someone who’s listening to this and they’re asking themselves, other than programming and so forth, what are some resources that you’d suggest for people who are either feeling suicidal or maybe even know someone who’s feeling suicidal?
Jessi Beyer (12:53):
Yeah. The two resources that I really like to give the first is 9 1 1, the hospital system, the emergency medical system, and I know I gave that a little bit of a bad rap earlier in the conversation, but if you or someone you know is in crisis, you need help. You’re worried about either your or their safety. You’re not sure if that person is going to make it through the night alive, call 9 1 1. A lot of first responder departments, the departments that I work with as well, have copos and social workers that can come out who are mental health professionals and help with situations like that. There are social workers at the hospital that can help with situations like that. It’s not a perfect system by any means, but that’s a conversation for another day. But if it is to the point where you’re like, I don’t know if this person is going to make it to the next day, absolutely, call 9 1 1.
The other resource that is phenomenal is the 9 8 8 hotline. So basically 9 1 1. But for mental health challenges, all you have to do is dial nine, eight, eight on your phone. You’ll be connected with a trained crisis counselor. They can talk to you, or you can sit there with your friend who’s feeling like they might kill themselves and have that conversation with the counselor on the phone with them. I know a lot of the people who work for 9 88 in the Pacific Northwest, personally, they’re all phenomenal. I trust them so, so much. So that is another fantastic resource for anyone who’s struggling and just needs someone to talk to and get advice from and maybe do some safety planning with
Casey J. Cornelius (14:20):
Fantastic. Folks, if you’re listening to this and have benefited by any means from this conversation, please make sure that you share this. Share it with maybe someone in your life, in your circle who might need some assistance as well. Let’s go ahead and, as Jessi said, reduce the shame associated with help seeking behavior and ensure that you and your loved ones and friends and family are here tomorrow. Jessi, thank you so much for this conversation. I know it’s a particularly hard one, but one that you have invested a ton of time and energy and passion into. Again, if you’d like to learn more about Jessi ForCollegeForLife.com/jessi, we also invite you to please do the things that you’re supposed to do with this podcast like and share and subscribe, share across your social media platforms, review us, and also let us know if topics like these or others you’d like to hear more of, we want to give you exactly what you need. So until next time, everyone be well. Thank you so much for listening, and we’ll talk soon.