Preventing Suicide

Sincere Smile Can Be Life-Saving

Many years ago, as a crisis counselor at Marin Suicide Prevention, I read an article posted on the bulletin board about survivors who had tried but failed to commit suicide by jumping off the Golden Gate bridge Bridge.  All said they were glad to be alive, confirming that suicide is a permanent solution for a temporary problem. Many of them said that if some stranger had just acknowledged their humanity with a smile, they would have changed their mind about trying to end their life.

This excerpt from the article by Dr. Robert Simon, confirms the life-saving value of a smile:
“I asked Mr. Hines whether if someone had smiled at him when he was on the bridge, given the severity of his mental illness, would it have prevented his suicide attempt? He answered, “Yes, a smile would have most definitely helped in my case. If the smile is genuine and caring, and it looks like the person is approachable, that person could have such an impact on a suicidal person at the moment of desperation. They could well save a life.”

I recalled the horror-stricken figure in Edvard Munch’s “The Scream.” One sees indifferent people strolling in the background…  When we smile and say hello to strangers or strangers smile and recognize us, what human transaction takes place? What do we feel in either situation? Is the smile and hello saying, “You are a person just like me; I recognize and respect you”? Are we making a human connection that closes our separateness, even for a moment? Durkheim, in his early study of suicide, identified anomie, or social isolation, and impersonality as contributors to suicide. A smile may puncture the lethal bubble of isolation and aloneness that often precedes suicide. I recallMartin Buber’s “I and Thou,” a respect for the unique being of others. Perhaps a smile may convey the message, “You are a valued person. I respect your being. Live!” I also wonder if, in some instances, a smile stirs veiled, primal memories of a parent’s loving smile. We should not overlook the power of simple human connection contained in a smile, even a smile between strangers. A smile or friendly word may tip the balance toward life, countering an impulsive urge toward a lethal act.”

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