Editor's note: The following is a transcript of the 12th episode of Therefore, What? — a podcast from Deseret News opinion editor Boyd Matheson. It's been edited for clarity.
Boyd Matheson: This week is Suicide Prevention Week. How to avoid tragic endings and ensure everyone has the resources and opportunities they need for better tomorrows beginning today on this episode of Therefore, What? Therefore, what is a weekly podcast that breaks down the news while breaking down barriers, challenges you and the status quo, explores timely topics and timeless principles, and leaves you confident to face what's next. I'm Boyd Matheson, opinion editor for the Deseret News, and this is Therefore, What?
During the past several years, my colleagues at the Deseret News have researched, reported and highlighted the challenges of America's growing suicide epidemic. We've seen it here in the state of Utah, youth suicide alone in Utah has nearly quadrupled in the last five years. And that's the challenge. This week, in the midst of all of the other things that are going on around the country, Americans are rightly focusing on suicide prevention. And I would suggest that we don't wait until it's too late. We need to make sure that everyone has the right perspective, the right tools, the right skills, that not only prevent suicide, but will ease depression, and empower individuals to really create their own happiness, their own success. Now, I recognize that only those people who have gone to the brink and back really know the crushing, the suffocating, the mind-reeling moments that precede a suicide attempt. And those of you who have had conversations with people who have been to that space know how harrowing that can be. However, we also need to remember that there are a lot of people around us every single day who do get the overwhelming discouragement, that loss of hope, the feelings of being absolutely worthless, all those things that can accompany that debilitating anxiety and depression.
So often we're looking solely at the suicide component to this, the tragic endings, but we need to make sure that we're also dealing with things further up the food chain. That we're taking time to recognize when we've got a teen or a colleague at work, a good friend who is struggling with anxiety or depression, and helping them get the right kinds of tools. So I want to offer up just a couple of thoughts today, as we go through this podcast, of things that we can look for, things that can make a difference in terms of our perspective, that can prevent us from getting to that moment, that suffocating moment, that crushing moment, that mind-reeling moment that can lead us to the ultimate in tragic endings. I believe we have a lot more great beginnings ahead of us. So in all the trials, all the challenges, all the experiences of life, a lot of times we don't know if something is necessarily good or bad. Ending a relationship, losing a job, you know, may seem traumatic and devastating to begin with. But in the end, it may be the best thing that ever happens to you. And so often we find that we just get stuck in that circular thinking that is really a downward spiral. And so some days, we know that it's just hard. Some days we know it's really discouraging out there. We know sometimes it hurts on the inside just to be awake. And if you've experienced that, again, whether it's from a loss of a loved one, or a relationship, whether you're buried under a mountain of debt, whether you just don't understand your place in the world. All of those things can be absolutely crushing. And sometimes, I know, it's hard to figure out what tomorrow might bring. That can be a pretty daunting, a pretty difficult task just to get out of bed in the morning. And if you start your morning with the news on, sometimes you really just want to pull the covers over your head and stay inside.
And so I wanted to talk through how do we do that? How do we make sure that we don't allow the negative or challenging things of life to put us into that kind of spiral where anxiety, depression and other tragedies are on the horizon. And so we have to do a number of things. One, as we always talk about, we have to get comfortable having uncomfortable conversations. We need to learn to talk through personal issues, we need to learn to listen, we need to really learn to listen to loved ones who suffer with depression or thoughts of self harm. We need to empower the people around us with strategies and skills starting very young in our grade schools, and junior highs and high schools.
In college today, the No. 1 reason why a starting student today doesn't complete and graduate is anxiety and depression. And so we've got to make sure we're giving them the right kind of tools to deal with those things, skills to navigate failure, skills to navigate accomplishment. So many people get stuck after they've actually had a great achievement. We need to help people, especially our young people, young girls, in particular, make sure they have a positive self-image. That they avoid viewing life through the lens of comparison. All of those things can be helpful, because tough times are going to come to everyone. We know that, that's part of the deal here in life. And so we need to make sure we're creating those opportunities, and the right kind of perspective. Perspective is such a big part of learning to navigate life.
The reporter Bob Woodward, who has been in the news a lot lately, has some really interesting wisdom. He once said to me, "Boyd, life is navigation. It's learning to keep the right perspective and navigate through really hard things." And this is one of those lessons that I learned the hard way, as I learn most of my lessons. The school of hard knocks has my picture on if you look it up in the dictionary. But growing up, I had one obsession growing up. I was a basketball fanatic. And I spent hours, often six to eight hours a day, six days a week, from the time I was in junior high playing and practicing basketball because I had one goal, I had one dream, and that was I was going to play basketball in college.
That was the deal. And I was willing to pay the price for it. So I did that. I practiced a good six to eight hours a day, six days a week from junior high through high school, got to my senior year in high school, things looked good. It was like the dream was right there. I thought everything was going great. But then as my senior year started to wind down, so did my right shoulder. And they got to the point where it would pretty much dislocate wherever it wanted to. I don't know if any of you listening have ever had the joyous experience of waking up in the morning on one side of your bed with your shoulder over on the other. I could just tell you, it is not a good thing. It's very painful.
I went to the doctor, the doctor looked at it and said, you know what, we gotta operate. We got to reconstruct that thing. And then he was as blunt and honest as he could be. And he said, "Boyd, your chances of coming back and playing competitive basketball are somewhere between slim and none." And of course, I was devastated. It was so unfair. I had worked so hard. I had done it by the book. I had done everything just right. And now it was all unraveling before my eyes. So I did the natural thing. I immediately went into denial, didn't want to talk about it, didn't want to deal with it. Just kept practicing, thought it will go away. But of course it didn't. It kept getting worse until finally I just, I had to have the surgery done. And I'll never forget. I was sitting down in my room, very discouraged, depressed, frustrated, everything that was my identity was wrapped up in basketball. And now it was just disappearing. And as I was down there, feeling very, very sorry for myself, the phone rang and it was for me. And it was a very well-known, well-respected man in our neighborhood. He called and he asked if I'd come over to his house and I had no idea why he would want to talk to me or what he'd want to talk to me about.
But I agreed and jumped in my car, drove over to his place and he met me at the front door and, no smile, no handshake, no how you doing, no thanks for coming over. He just turned around. He walked me back into his den. And we sat down and he told me this story.
He said a long time ago, there was an old man and the old man lived in a little village, and the only possession the old man had, his only form of wealth, his only way to provide for himself, was this horse. And one night in the little village, there was a big storm, thunder, lightning. The horse got spooked. And as it raced about the corral, it broke through one of the gates and it ran off into the desert. Well, the next morning, the people of the village were going around, assessing the damage from the storm. When they got to the old man's home they saw the broken gate, they saw the empty corral, and the people of the village said to the old man, "oh, this is so awful. This is so terrible. Here you've lost your horse, your only possession, your only way to provide for yourself, what an awful, what a terrible thing." And the old man looked at the people. And he said, "no, you don't know this is so bad. You don't know this is an awful or a terrible thing."
Well, days went by and one night the horse returned and brought with it 50 wild horses it had been running with out in the desert. Now the people of the village came by and they're all saying, "oh, this is so great. This is so wonderful. You have all of these horses, all this wealth, you'll never have another worry, what a great, what a wonderful thing." But the old man looked at the people and he said, "no, you don't know this is so good. You don't know this is a great or a wonderful thing."
Well, the old man had a son who was one of the great young warriors in the village, had spent a lot of time perfecting his skill with the sword and the sling and one day as he was out breaking in one of those new horses he was thrown and his leg was crushed. Never again would he be able to use those skills he worked so hard to develop. Again the people of the village came by, "oh what a tragedy, how awful, here this great young warrior is now crippled, what an awful, what a terrible thing. But again the old man looked at the people and said, "no, you don't know this is so bad. You don't know this is an awful or a terrible thing."
Well, it wasn't many days later that the cry of war was heard throughout the land, the warlords came to the village and gathered all those that were able to fight and led them off to a terrible battle. And that was the end of the story. He told me to remember it, stood up, walked me out of the house, I got in my car, started to drive home, was half waiting for Paul Harvey to come on with the rest of the story. But that was the story. And I'll never forget, after I had my surgery I was in the hospital for a few days after. And as my friends and family and coaches came to visit, they all started the same. They all began, "Boyd, this is so awful. This is so terrible. Here you've practiced all these years, and it's over, what an awful, what a terrible thing." And without even thinking I was responding, "no, you don't know, this is so bad. You don't know if this is an awful or a terrible thing."
And truly, it wasn't. It was actually one of the best things that ever happened to me, because it was during those long hours of rehab and working my way back that I had a chance to focus on things that were a heck of a lot more important than making baskets or winning championships. And the reason I share that story today, particularly in light of this discussion about anxiety, and depression and suicide is that so often we just don't know. We know it hurts, we know it can hurt to be awake sometimes. But there's something in there, there's an opportunity, there's a chance to gain some perspective, perspective is a choice. And as we learn to change our perspective, it's one of the most important tools that we learn. It's probably one of the most important things our children can learn, to really be able to face the challenges of today's world. Because they will have setbacks, they're going to have challenges, they're going to have no good, awful, really bad days at work, with a spouse, and learn to step back and gain that perspective and say, OK, what can I learn? And when those bad things happen? What are we going to do more? Are we gonna murmur and complain and whine, this is so awful, this is so terrible? Or will we ponder, think, what can I learn from this? How can I apply this? How will this make me stronger? How can I share this with somebody else who I know is going through a hard time.
Because you see, we don't deal with these things in a vacuum. And those who ultimately struggle with thoughts of self harm is because they continue to isolate themselves. And they continue to withdraw to the point where they don't feel they have anywhere to go. And that's usually where the end of the end begins.
And so the challenge for all of us is to figure out how do we do that? How do we share that kind of perspective, how do we make sure with our children that they know it's safe to come talk to mom or dad about the struggles they're having, or how devastated they were that they didn't get asked to the dance, or that they lost the student body election, or they failed the test or were embarrassed giving a presentation in front of the class? We have to get comfortable having uncomfortable conversations, because that's the only way we can teach our children, in particular, the skills they're going to need, the perspective they're going to need, to deal with all the challenges of life. And that's the test.
One of the things that we've been trying to do here at the Deseret News is to make sure we are giving people the kinds of tools and resources that will help. And when you look around, you can pretty much know, you don't even have to assume, that many of the people you're going to see today are going to be discouraged. There's gonna be a lot of people you interact with today that are going to be downright depressed. And they might have a smile on their face, they might be looking like they're just cruising through life just fine. But don't take that for granted. Because a lot of them are just really good at masking it. And so our job is to ask better questions, to get more engaged, to be more involved, to be more interested, to have more compassion and more caring for the people around us.
We've talked about this before, that we can't just gloss over failure and setbacks, anxiety and depression. As parents, we cannot and must not when our child is struggling, say, you know, you just need to buck up, you just need to get over it. You just need to move on, you'll be fine. We need to have that courageous vulnerability and have a meaningful discussion, and share moments in our lives where we've been discouraged or frustrated or full of anxiety, or worse. And we have to be willing to share that and talk about that. Those are conversations we need to have in our homes, we need to have in our communities, we need to have them in our schools.
You know, I will never forget, we did one of our Deseret News teens and anxiety events up in Park City. And we had gone through, we'd watched the film "Angst," we'd had a great discussion. And just as we were getting ready to close out our Q&A with the panel, I noticed there was one of the teenagers that was there, that she kept kind of leaning forward like she was going to go stand up at the mic. And then she kind of leaned back and we got all the way to the end. And I said one final question. And she was kind of leaning forward. I thought she was going to get up and then a parent stood up and went and asked the question. And I had this moment where I thought, OK, well, we said this was the last question. And when the panel finished answering the parent question, I just had that moment where, just call on her. And I admit, I was scared. I do not want to embarrass this young girl. But I said we're going to have one more question. And I invited her to ask her question. And it was one of those transformational moments where she didn't even have a question, she got up, and she shared what she was dealing with. She talked about her thoughts of suicide, her thoughts of self harm, her thoughts of just being so far down in that big black hole that we can get into with depression, that she didn't know how to escape and was willing to do anything to escape. And it changed the conversation.
I don't know that I've ever been more grateful for a question because she had the courage to say, I need help, I need help. And with suicide prevention, sometimes they're not going to be able to say it on their own. And so we need to make sure that we are providing the resources and the opportunities, the space, even a text can create enough space for someone to say, yeah, I do need some help, please help. So this week, I hope you're focused and thinking about the people that you care about, the people that are around you, because the solution to this problem is never going to come from the marbled halls of Congress, or some political organization. The answers that we face with anxiety, depression and suicide are going to start in homes and communities, with good friends and neighbors who simply care. That's what it's all about. There's lots of great resources out there, and we'll talk about them in Therefore, What?
So as we look at how we get to the Therefore, What?, what are we going to do about all of this? And first, we have some great resources. The Deseret News has been focused on these issues, and will continue to be a voice on these issues locally and nationally. If you need specific help, you can go to deseretnews.com/anxiety. Deseretnews.com/anxiety. We also have a Facebook community, Deseret News anxiety community on Facebook. And on these pages, we have a place where you can ask questions, and we will get answers to your questions from experts from around the country.
Our InDepth team has done tremendous work to tap into some of the greatest minds as it deals with anxiety, depression and suicide. So those are tremendous resources. I would also remind everyone that the suicide hotline number is 800-273-8255. Again, suicide hotline 800-273-8255. If you're in the state of Utah, the Safe UT app is something that every young person should have. Not only for their own safety, if they have feelings of self harm, or an idea to commit suicide. But if they see anything in a friend or a fellow student, they can punch that in on an app that's on their phone and with them and can save lives. We know these tools have saved lives around the state of Utah and across the country. And make sure you have access to those and that your loved ones know how to access those kinds of resources.
The other thing I want us to think through as we go through the Therefore, What? component is something that I think is a bit of a struggle. Sometimes, I think the way we have approached anxiety and depression and suicide has been very much an old-school model. It's actually a really old-school model. Joseph Malins, back in 1895, wrote a very clever poem called "The Ambulance Down in the Valley." And I won't recite the poem for you, but the gist of the poem is that in this lovely little community, they had a cliff, an overhang that was one of the beautiful spots to see the entire valley, but it was also a little bit dangerous. And over the years, some of the townsfolk and many visitors who had gone by and gone up to that cliff had slipped and fallen down to the bottom.
And so the community got together and said, well, what should we do? What should we do? And some people said, well, we should put a fence at the top of the cliff, another group of the townsfolk said, no, no, no, what we should do is we should just park an ambulance down in the valley. So that when people do fall, we'll be right there, we'll be right ready for them and we can rush them away to the hospital.
And sometimes I think we've done that. I think we've done that, particularly as it relates to addiction. Addiction is such a critical component, it plays into depression and suicide in such a significant way. And while we've made great advancements of having, you know, injections that can reverse the effects of opioids in someone who has overdosed, and some of these kinds of things, those are good, those are important, those have saved a lot of lives. But in many ways, we're just parking a host of ambulances down in the valley. And what we really need to do is to build the fence at the top. And the way we do that is through those uncomfortable conversations. The way we do that is by providing resources and having those crucial conversations. Some of the things that we've done here at the Deseret News, we've done an entire series around teens and anxiety and the ways that you can start those conversations. So it doesn't have to be anything crazy or revolutionary. It's really simple, it's taking the time to listen, it's taking the time to ask better questions, it's taking the time to be just a little more interested, send a quick text or make a quick phone call or send an email. All of those things can make all the difference in the world when it comes to people.
And we also have to remember too, and this is something that I have hit over and over and over for many years. And that is, as a business consultant, I hate waste. I hate to see waste of any kind within an organization. I hate to see the waste of resources. But the waste that I hate the most is the waste of talent and opportunity for impact. And really, that's what we're talking about. When we're only getting to the deep depression stage. When we're only talking about the tragedy, the loss of life. That's the back end. But we also have to remember that if we can get that fence at the top of the cliff, not only will we save them from a tragic ending, we're going to make sure that people can pursue their own dreams, use all of their talents, maximize all of their opportunities, make a huge impact in their community and neighborhood and maybe even on the world.Comment on this story
And so often we lose that as people start down this path of anxiety, depression and eventually to the tragic ending of suicide. And so we need to get our focus where it belongs at the top of the cliff. And again, providing people, making sure people have the right resources, making sure they can get the right kind of help at the right time to prevent these things from getting to that tragic ending. So I will remind everyone, once again, the suicide hotline is 800-273-8255 … 800-273-8255. If you or anyone you know, or care about, if you think they're on that path. Or if you find yourself in that dark and lonely place, call. You're not alone. And there are people who can help. There are people who are concerned, and there are people who can help you get to a better space.
Remember after the story is told, after the principles presented, after the discussion and debate have been had, the question for all of us is Therefore, What? Don't miss an episode. Subscribe to this podcast on Apple podcasts or wherever you're listening today and be sure to rate this episode and leave us a review. Follow us on Deseretnews.com/podcasts and subscribe to our newsletter. This is Boyd Matheson, opinion editor for the Deseret News. Thanks for engaging on Therefore, What?