Looking Good On The Outside – Covering Up What’s Inside


Looking Good On The Outside – Covering Up What’s Inside

As the world reels from the suicide deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, it’s a potent reminder of how vulnerable we all can be. We know celebrities and anyone with a public persona struggle with the conflict of looking good on the outside – covering up what’s inside, but I think it’s a pressure we all face. And it’s killing us.

The last 25 years of my career were spent in various aspects of suicide prevention, running a state-wide crisis line, organizing the state suicide prevention board and doing countless interventions. It makes Kate and Anthony’s deaths poignant. The Center for Disease Control, which tracks the data, reports that death by suicide has been on the rise for the past 5 years and it’s increased by 25% since 1999. That’s after a decade of decline.[1] What’s going on that suicide rates are on the rise?

I just finished conducting a training in Virginia on Trauma Informed Care. One of it’s premises is that many, in fact most, people carry the scars of trauma while trying to act normal. Trauma can be caused by a wide range of things from the exposure or experience of interpersonal physical and sexual violence, war experiences, accidents and natural disasters.

The research data is staggering – it shows that men and women who are involved in the criminal justice system have close to the same rate of trauma: 96% of women and 86% of men.  Another study shows that the rate of trauma among people going to an ER is 70% and 55% to 99% of substance users have experienced trauma.[2] The FBI reports that there are 1.2 million violent crimes a year – it too is going up after a decade of significant reduction. 3  This data shows we are a nation experiencing tremendous stress.

I think that the pressure to maintain a public face, while silencing internal stress or fears that don’t match are catching up with us. Our culture is more steeped in chaos and fear than it’s been in decades. Add to that the reductions to affordable health care services and the changes in delivery that have created barriers to accessing treatment. We are more vulnerable to being alone with mental health issues than I’ve seen in all my years in the field.

Here are some thoughts on how to reduce the barriers to getting help with internal difficulties.

We All Have Baggage We’re Covering Up

In last week’s training, one of the participants talked about how we all have baggage. Some days it’s so light we can fold it up and stick in our pocket, other days it rolls behind us like luggage and still others, it’s too heavy to lift. Most of the time, we don’t know from one day to the next what our friends and colleagues are dealing with. We see their public face.

Can I make a suggestion? For the next week, try being honest about what you are dealing with. What I’ve noticed is that while everyone likes being around happy people, stronger relationships are created when we get real about what we are dealing with. The honesty humanizes and bonds us. If we’d move past always showing our public face, we’d all be closer and more connected. It’d make a difference.

Try being more honest and open about what is going on with you – it’ll get you the support you need.

We Can All Be A Friend – Here’s How – Use QPR

One of the methods of suicide prevention that I taught and advocate for is called QPR. It’s helped save thousands of lives. Paul Quinett’s model is based on the belief that suicide intervention is something we can all take responsibility for – like how we have learned CPR to save lives. 4

QPR stands for Question, Persuade and Refer. If you sense someone is having a hard time – ask the question. Are you thinking of taking your life or dying by suicide? You’d be surprised how that simple invitation for dialog opens a door that most people who have the thoughts have kept closed. If you get a yes response, you then begin to persuade them to get help. You can be a life line, a ray of hope that talking can make a difference. And then refer them to help. Help them find a provider or make a call to the suicide hot line. Help is confidential and can launch a person in the right direction to make life changes they are unable to make on their own. If you are concerned about someone being suicidal, call the Suicide Life Line 1-800-273- TALK (8255) 5

You don’t have to be trained to be a friend – ask the question, persuade them to get help and make a referral.

Stop Covering up – Get Real And Get Support

If your baggage gets too heavy at times, please get the support you need. Depression, anxiety and trauma are highly treatable problems. You are not alone; the rates are very high everywhere. Talking about its impact can help you find new ways to carry on with your life without it weighing you down. Rather than feeling overly burdened with life problems, get support and new perspectives on how to respond. Bringing the thoughts out in the open is the first step to looking for other options to solve your feelings of hopelessness. Use the Suicide Lifeline (1-800-talk (8255) as a starting place or look for local providers and make the call.

There are always options. Give yourself a chance to find them.

Does this speak to you? Don’t keep pressuring yourself to maintain a public face that everything is fine, when it’s not. Speaking your truth can open a door for new solutions you haven’t considered. Drop your baggage and get the help you need. You can also help others – QPR is a tool that allows you to intervene when you suspect a friend is in trouble. Try it – it makes a difference. And finally, getting real means that you can receive help in finding the resources that will make a difference. You don’t have to be alone with it.

If you’d like to explore this for yourself or a loved one, please reach out. I can be contacted through my website, www.spectrumtransformation.com. I’m happy to assist in what ever way you need. Use my Free Consultation button to reach me. I’d be honored to help.


Resources and References

  1. CDC data on increased suicide rates: https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2018/p0607-suicide-prevention.htm
  2. FBI reports violence rates increased the last two years: https://www.fbi.gov/news/pressrel/press-releases/fbi-releases-2016-crime-statistics
  3. High trauma rates: Policy Research and Associates, 2011 and Harris & Fallot, 2001,
  4. QPR resource: https://qprinstitute.com/
  5. Suicide hot line and chat services: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
  6.  Photo from Upliftconnect.com



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