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Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Why not add some moral support to that hotline number?

    I'm a fairly opinionated person. Which is good, in the main, because I'm in the business of presenting opinions, bolstered by a scaffolding of fact, of course, to give them form and structure.
     So if I don't have a view on something, I tend not to write about it. Thus, no columns on ... oh for instance ... golf. Never done it. Don't have strong feelings about those who do. If you like golf, well, go for it. It's a free country, at least for now.
     But on Sunday I wrote about the sign at right that Metra has put around its station in Northbrook in order to discourage suicides. I felt ... uncertain ... about them (they are two that I noticed). But I couldn't exactly say why. There was discussion here, but there was also a spirited conversation on my Facebook page, and reader Sarah E. Lauzen offered a key to my unease by posting this flier:

     This struck me as something of actual use to people considering suicide. Don't get me wrong -- a phone number for a suicide hotline no doubt helps certain people. But there is also a not-my-table aspect to it — the problem isn't being addressed, it's being delegated. The above could save a person immediately. Then I thought of Galway Kinnell's lovely poem "Wait," which I used to frame the Time chapter in my new book. Kinnell wrote it for a student who was considering killing herself after a failed love affair. It begins:
Wait, for now.
Distrust everything, if you have to.
But trust the hours. Haven't they
carried you everywhere, up to now?
Personal events will become interesting again.
Hair will become interesting.
Pain will become interesting.
     You can read the entire poem here.
    Metra should post the "Everything is Awful" questions, or the Kinnell poem, AND the hotline number. To just have the number is minimal and reeks of the same societal indifference that nudges people toward suicide in the first place. Which is why the signs troubled me. It's as if, on the bridges downtown, they placed, not a life ring behind glass, but a number to call to request a life ring. Big difference.
    Oh. And while we're on the subject of Sunday. I used the word "Masonic" to describe the sign with the shaking hands. I was not implying something dark or indifferent about Masons, not suggesting they wouldn't leap to assist those in need. It's just that Masonic banners sometimes use the shaking hands iconography being discussed. As Sigmund Freud said, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.


  1. neil , you still seem troubled that this sign might be ineffective as an aide of any kind to someone on the verge of killing themselves. while its likely someone hurtling towards the tracks would not notice the sign , you did. and this is the purpose of a sign such as this or say a late night public service announcement. that is, to raise awareness about this issue amongst the general population and present information about where to find resources to help family members or friends of a person who is struggling. with the attention you are bringing to this sign in your column being an example of the type of thing that can come from someone seeing it

  2. thanks neil for pursuing and posting (w/poetry--k. i like alliteration). i love the idea of having both of these available. its true that if i saw that sign w/phone # posted, i would wonder, then figure someone had committed suicide, perhaps right there where i was standing. okay. but the "Everything is Awful" grabs my attention, these practical ?s make me pause--interrupt the negative "i suck, life sucks" thoughts w/very doable suggestions, actions.
    AND the poetry also STOPS me, gives me pause. soemthing to think on. good literature can seep in and reach places (like liquid through cracks)one didnt think possible anymore during the very darkest times.
    what would it take to get these posted as signs? for reals.
    i think my poster isa tad more practical--if i had to choose only one. but the opening lines of this poem are like a hand reaching out (or down,to the tracks) to pull one back.
    And we come back to the hands image...
    sorry so long..just made me think more.
    thank you for sparking all this thought...and spreading awareness, caring.
    and yesteray was "world suicide prevention day". like everyday should not be this!

  3. I think adding the "Wait" poem, or something like it would be good. I believe the most important message that needs to be sent is to wait, because things will very likely get better shortly and if they commit suicide it's too late.

    Linda B

  4. Perhaps if we heard from someone who actually was about to kill himself, but did not...for some reason.


    1. Eleven years back, I went to the ER and checked myself into a hospital to keep from killing myself. I certainly can't speak for everybody feeling suicidal, and perhaps not even for most who face an episode of suicidal tendencies, as opposed to persistent chronic always there feelings of suicide, but I think what happened to me and echoed in most of the depressed folks in my life is that it becomes much much more difficult to break out of a spiral of thought and see "reasonable" alternatives or explanations. Nevertheless, reminders of those alternatives are always helpful, and while I like Mr. Steinberg's poem idea very much, the hotline sign works, too. I mean knowing stuff is out there helps. It's likely why I made it to the hospital -- because I knew I could get help. People call the hotline. People call RAINN to deal with rape and invest and abuse. People call AA hotlines when they want to deal with drinking. People call prayer lines. I'm sure the signs have helped folks -- I hope that reassures Mr. Steinberg. There are other ways, but maybe lets see other ways as additions to what is out there now rather than replacements.

      As an aside -- I'm the Mason that responded in the last thread on this topic, and in many ways the stuff there has helped keep me on the mental health-positive side. The teachings (all of which reinforce stuff we could learn through family, school, civics, religion, etc. -- nothing weird about them, alas) are presented in such a way that serve as reminders to stay involved with others, to do good, to try to reach ideals. They reinforce my meditation practice, and both together provide continual reminders to be patient, to treat folks kindly, to remember that life and people both tend much more to the good side than the bad, etc. Even when Lodge devolves into disagreements and people behaving badly, and even when I question whether a men-only organization has benefits wouldn't go away if it were co-ed, I remember that what I'm supposed to learn is stuff I can practice.

    2. Ugh. Sorry for my confused grammar!

    3. I think that's the nicest thing anyone has ever said about the blog. Thanks Bill. I'm glad it helps keep you on an even keel. Me too.

  5. Signage is a form of advertising, and people who work in advertising learn quickly that they're often only part of the sales process, particularly where what is being sold is complicated and multidimensional. They learn that their striking images and undying prose will not be studied but only glimpsed in passing. And remembered only with constant repetition. When working in the business, I often had to explain to my superiors that why we didn't address this or that wonderful feature of what was being offered was because it was just too Goddamned complicated. Instead we often relied on a noticeable headline and one or two memorable images (e.g. the handshake) and a means (an 800 number, a self addressed mailer) to put the viewer together with a person prepared to get into the details.

    The flyer and the poem are indeed compelling and posting them couldn't hurt, but my suspicion is that they would soon blend into the landscape of non descript notices decorating train station walls and go unread.

    Am grateful for the bit of arcana about Masonic iconography. I grew up in a family of Masons but you seem more familiar with their symbology than I.

    Tom Evans

  6. That flier is great. How is it being distributed?

  7. Thanks for your explanation for using Masonic to describe the sign. I probably shouldn't have questioned it, knowing the wordsmith that you are, but I'm so used to defending Masons especially after that bloody Dan Brown tripe that people believed that it's sort of an auto reaction.

  8. Neil, First of all, thank you for bringing to the public's attention this serious problem (rail suicide), especially at Metra. (Rail Suicide and Trespassing account for 75% of rail fatalities nationally, even though the occasional derailment or highway crossing incident is usually the thing people think about regarding rail safety).
    Both the flyer and the poem are excellent for getting someone to slow down and think about what is going through their head. They would be most effective, however, focused on that small part of the population that someone has recognized as potentially suicidal. Using them in an indiscriminate manner, however, would probably be counterproductive, because they COULD induce suicidial ideation in a seriously depressed person.
    In my opinion, it would be better to invest in tools that can potentially identify suicidal persons around railways, and invest in physical barriers to make rail suicide more difficult.
    Metra has invested in employee training to identify suicidal behavior and earlier this year, there was a success story.
    Where Metra (and communities that Metra serves) must start to do is to make engineering changes to their stations, crossings, and rights-of-way. There are hardly any suicides on CTA trains, primarily because there are grade separations and turnstiles, etc., that make the use of the tracks much more difficult. It will be a long process and an expensive one, but it is necessary to stop these very preventable deaths.


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