In my last blog post, I shared the CDC’s recent findings on the rising tide of mid-life suicides over the past decade. I proposed that the background forces driving this alarming trend include such recession-related issues as unemployment or underemployment, foreclosures and bankruptcies. I also referred to military combat experience as another potent source of the kind of stress that leads to suicide—a fact also borne out by recently published statistics. The magnitude of people experiencing these and other sources of distress and burnout leads me to call what we’re seeing now a hidden epidemic.
And, in fact, that phrase is a key part of the title of my new book, Trauma: Healing the Hidden Epidemic. In it, in simple language, I cover the causes and symptoms of emotional trauma and share practical guidelines for healing and resolution. After forty-three years of private practice working with patients suffering from PTSD, depression, anxiety, addiction, phobias, and childhood abuse, I’ve come to believe that emotional trauma is at the core of most of our mental health challenges.
But I’ve never been an intellectual, in spite of the diplomas on my wall. I’m unwaveringly committed to therapy that works, that makes a practical difference in the lives of the people who walk through the doors of my institute. I closed my last blog post promising to answer the question, “How in my own life and the lives of my patients have I been able to help create emotional healing for modern-day stresses and crises?” I’ll say again today that I have a message to share of hope and reinvention.
In my estimation, suicides (and other self-destructive behaviors) arise from despair and hopelessness in the face of crisis or a challenge to change. Let me take that statement apart.
First, let me define what I mean by crisis. From the chapter, “Crises and Hard Times” in my book:
A crisis is different from the daily challenges of living. Crises are life-defining moments, periods, or stages. As opposed to the normal fears and anxieties that come up on any given day, they are unique. A crisis is an event that completely overwhelms us. It is terrifying. We spend every ounce of energy, every thought, every effort to ensure our survival.
Crises can build slowly or come on suddenly. Either way, once we become aware that we are in one, we may already be overwhelmed, feeling unable to find answers, unequipped to go on. We are squarely faced with the following challenge: Is this crisis going to be the end, or is it going to be a turning point in my life?
No matter how helpless we feel, we always have choices. But in order to make choices, to act, we must feel a sense of personal power. In simple terms, the strength we find within us in the face of a crisis makes the difference between “the end”—collapse—and “a turning point”—reinvention.
When we come to the place where we want to yell, “Things can’t go on like this!”, where the need for change is absolute, we face the choice between despair and hope, between giving up and growing up. Change requires the belief in the possibility of something better, the courage to make a decision, and the strength to turn that decision into action.
Where does emotional trauma come into this picture? Trauma in the present moment, trauma from our past lives, and, especially, a potent combination of the two, can disrupt and sabotage every step of the reinvention process I’ve outlined above. We can have every intention, every desire to move forward in life in spite of pain and difficulties, and never fully understand that the wounds we carry inside keep getting in the way.
That’s the hidden epidemic I’m talking about. And, as with other health epidemics, professional help is often needed to survive and heal. How can we find help in a crisis, for ourselves or for a loved one? Many experienced counselors and therapists and many valuable resources are available. Including my new book, Trauma: Healing the Hidden Epidemic.