by Certified Coach Alissa Gauger, MBA
A tan and black striped butterfly with hints of blue in its wings literally landed on my client's shoulder as she spoke. Britney* was ironically doing a metaphor coaching exercise with me outside using a butterfly as the metaphor for her career. Britney was smart, attractive, quick to smile; and, though still only in her late 20s, already considered to be extremely successful in her career by her friends, family and colleagues.
Success was in the eye of the beholder. Secretly, Britney struggled privately and worried she had chosen the wrong career. The butterfly served to emphasize her point that, while the insect was so attractive and drew her in, she felt she could never really get that close to feeling good about herself in her work. We were doing equus coaching on that summer evening in Wisconsin. As the evening progressed, the horses helped to uncover even more agonizing pain that Britney had been holding in and suffering with. We gently explored it together as it showed up.
After the session, I recommended that Britney talk with a therapist and get a checkup from her doctor. I added that talking with a psychiatrist would also be a good idea as another resource. She waved my suggestions off, saying she'd already done all that. She assured me she was fine, even though she had shared that she felt hopeless, trapped, anxious, unable to sleep and had not told anyone but me what she was going through. She confessed to me she was happy she had a life insurance policy that would "cover her" just in case she "couldn't go on." I offered to help her find the right fit in a professional, to work with her health care team, to check in with her regularly--really anything to connect her to help.
As a life coach, we are not trained to treat mental illness or people experiencing thoughts of suicide. We are, however, always on the lookout for symptoms and warning signs that let us know it's time to connect our clients with mental health resources and professionals. Someone like Britney appeared to be very happy and successful to others, and yet confided that she felt like a burden to her husband and that she felt very isolated in her pain. She said sometimes she couldn't get out of bed, but that she could call in sick and get by. As a financial advisor, you may find yourself being confided in. Are you prepared?
More people die by suicide than by homicide. According to the Centers for Disease control, 2013, there were 41,149 deaths by suicide in the United States. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death; homicide ranks 16th. It is the second leading cause of death for 15 - 24 year olds.
When you work in an intense career such as running your own financial practice, mentoring others, working with stressed out clients and pushing yourself to your personal limit, I think it's important to equip yourself with some information that you hopefully will never need. Watch your fellow Financial Representatives with compassion as they navigate this challenging career. If someone jokes about cashing in their policy, seems like they are not coping well or talks about wanting to "end it" check in with that person privately to make sure they are okay. Keep checking. Keep checking again.
Take a moment to put this phone number in your phone: 1-800-273-8255. It is a confidential lifeline. If you or someone else calls it will not go in anyone's medical records. If you are ever in trouble or talking with someone who is, you can just push call on your phone or 3-way call this number with the person who needs help if you have it ready to go. It's free. It's a resource. You never know, right?
I bring this topic up because I know many of you have already been impacted by suicide. The more we can support each other and talk about it, hopefully the more lives can be saved. Despite aggressive therapy and treatment by mental health professionals, Britney ended her own life to the shock and bottomless pain of everyone who ever knew her. Her light went out and the world will never be right without her in it.
My hope is her death can help others. There may be people you know just like her who appear to have it all together who really need to know that life can get better and that people care about them.
· Talking about wanting to die or to kill themselves.
· Looking for a way to kill themselves, such as searching online or buying a gun
· Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live.
· Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain.
· Talking about being a burden to others.
· Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs.
· Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly.
· Sleeping too little or too much.
· Withdrawing or isolating themselves.
· Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge.
· Displaying extreme mood swings.
From National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:
Know that you are loved. That life will get better. Please know that there are SO MANY resources to help you and the people you love. Please don't be shy about approaching someone you think might be struggling. The worse error is not doing enough. Sometimes doing everything you can isn't even enough. Asking and offering help may be the most courageous thing you ever do. Let's band together so that each of us know we are never, ever alone and life is worth living because we have each other.
Coaching Tip If someone confides in you that they are thinking about suicide, always take it seriously. Try to assess the timeline, if they are preparing and how immediate the threat is. You may need to call 911 in an extreme situation. Mentally rehearse this so that if this should ever happen (let's hope not) you are better prepared. Tell the person what you are doing in the situation and try to stay in contact (in person, on the phone). If you lose contact, call someone else who can get to them as you continue to get the person help.