The nightmare scenario

I have a recurring nightmare in which someone I know kills themselves and I’m forever haunted by the idea that somehow, some way, I should have done something to prevent it.

Although no one can control the choices and behaviour of another person, I think this is a pretty common fear, and a pretty common reaction when something horrible does happen. We want to be there for people, we want to help them, especially in their darkest hour. But how?

In the article “The Best Way To Save People From Suicide”, Jason Cherkis explores a technique that’s making a difference for some people.

A simple solution

He explains that suicide is a growing epidemic; with more than twice as many suicides as homicides in the US, they are the 10th leading cause of death. And they don’t discriminate. Cherkis reports that every demographic and every state are affected more or less equally by suicide.

It’s also a problem that almost no one, including health professionals, knows how to deal with. But the seeds of a solution may have been planted during the second World War when a young soldier named Jeremy Motto found himself more and more reliant on casual but consistent letters he received from a girl he had dated briefly back home but barely knew.

Jeremy went on to study psychology and become a doctor, and launched a study that interviewed thousands of people and sent them letters every few weeks or months over a period of several years. Just casual messages like, “We hope you’re doing well and if you would like to contact us we’d be glad to hear from you.”

The results were amazing:

“In the first two years following hospitalization, the suicide rate of the control group was nearly twice as high as that of the contact group.”

Whoa! Just by keeping in touch, the suicide rate was cut in half. That’s results you can take to the bank, folks. Wow.

The very superficiality of the connection might be what makes it work. There’s no pressure, no expectations, no prying into anything difficult or personal. It’s just a regular reminder that somebody out there is thinking of the person and cares a little.

Checking in is for everyone

So what does all this clinical psychiatric mumbo jumbo have to do with my nightmares? Well, who says only researchers can do check ins?

If I want to do my part to make sure my social circle is in good mental health, one thing I can do is adopt a practice of regularly checking in with the people I know. Just to keep those ties in place.

How, you might ask, is one supposed to know which of their contacts are in such despair that they need check ins?

Since these kinds of struggle are so often invisible, it’s impossible to know. But does it matter? After all, what have we got to lose by checking in with people, whether we know them to be struggling or not? It’s always nice to know someone is thinking of you, isn’t it? So there’s really no downside.

To check in with one person every day, it would take less than 5 minutes. In less than 5 minutes a day, each of us could be checking in with 30 different people a month! That’s powerful stuff.

The hard part is remembering to do it, keeping up with it, picking people to check in with.

A tool to make it easier

If you’d like some help getting in the habit, you might want to try our 30 Day Social Life Boot Camp online challenge. We’ll send you an email reminder every day for a month with specific instructions for a quick task to check in with someone you know, or make a connection with someone new.

Look at it from the other side. How many people regularly check in with you? Personally, I’ve had times when I could have fallen off the edge of the earth and no one would notice for several days. That’s not a nice feeling, but it’s not because no one cares. We’re just not in the habit of reaching out. But imagine if even 5 or 10 people in everyone’s life did do it. It would be a totally different story. It would feel darn good, wouldn’t it?

So why not be that for some of the people you know? Be a checker inner. At the very least, it will brighten someone’s day. And who knows? You might even save a life.