By Alex Coleman
On September 30, 2020 the Ballard Center for Social Impact will be hosting a Q&A panel following a showing of the movie, The S Word. The goal? We have to talk about suicide. Every year, the number of suicides committed increases by the thousands. There are countless things that factor into that statistic, but the bottom line is that something needs to change. An associate teaching professor for BYU Nursing, Dr. Leslie Miles, has been asked to be a panelist and is nothing short of qualified to help direct the conversation surrounding this traditionally touchy issue. She is accompanied by a psychologist and a representative from BYU counseling.
Dr. Miles has been working in psychiatric care for over 30 years, and there’s plenty of parts of psychiatric care to which she’s drawn. For one, she finds the long-term relationships she’s been able to develop with her clients to be a very appealing part of the job. “Some of my clients say ‘we’re gonna grow old together,’ and I’m like, yeah we are,” she says. “And isn’t that amazing to have a healthcare provider you’re going to grow old with?” She continues, “Psych is not only about life, but relationships and people’s perception of themselves, and how they manage and cope with issues and stressors.
As a psychiatric healthcare provider, Dr. Miles is no stranger to helping people through suicidal thoughts and tendencies. In her particular line of work it is important to be someone that her patients are able to reach regularly, as mental health is something that is dynamic and prone to some serious highs and lows alike. Of her experience, she says, “When you are in mental health and psych, you cannot pass people off. You are in it for the long haul.” When those difficult conversations need to be had, Dr. Miles has a phrase that she repeatedly falls back on to drive the love home. When people are feeling hopeless, she says, “You know what? When I’ve given up hope, I’ll let you know. Until then, we have a lot of other things we can try.” It’s a testament to her love and determination to improve the quality of life for the people who have trusted her with their healthcare.
One of the most prevalent issues in the mental health arena is suicide, and the Ballard Center’s showing of the movie The S Word and the ensuing panel and discussion is an important attempt at decreasing the stigma around it. Even in the nursing field, Dr. Miles comments that it’s a really difficult subject to broach. In her years of being a professor for BYU’s College of Nursing, she has had to coach many students through the process of being comfortable talking about a patient’s suicidal thoughts “the way they would talk about a bowel movement. It’s uncomfortable, but it has to be done.” She continues, “I love that they entitled the film The S Word … Somehow it has trouble rolling off the tongue. The reality is, a lot of people have suicidal thoughts, but the shame and fear of the stigma keep them from speaking up.”
For many people, one of the most terrifying things about having suicidal thoughts is that it feels contrary to our value system. “Can you imagine being that scared,” Dr. Miles stresses, “and you can’t even tell your closest friends or your family? That’s a horrible situation to be in.” The movie shows how, often, one of the things that hurts families who have affected by suicide the most is the fact that their loved ones didn’t feel comfortable telling them that they were dealing with suicidal thoughts.
So what can we do right now in order to combat this growing phenomenon? Dr. Miles had a few suggestions. First, she pointed out how in general, it is vital to get away from conversations that make people feel even more guilty about having suicidal thoughts. “A big question that people don’t ask is, ‘What stopped you from acting on that?’ It’s empowering that people choose to live. That’s where the hope comes in.”
Another suggestion that she has is that people “develop a repertoire of coping skills and strategies that you can utilize when things get rough.” The highest risk group for suicide is teenagers and college-age individuals. There are lots of resources available, including the state crisis lines. “Do not let the stigma [around getting help] stop you, don’t let the feeling of being a burden stop you, don’t let the rumor mill about treatment stop you. If you are feeling suicidal, you get help.”
One of the biggest concepts that the movie asks viewers to consider is how important it is not to be scared of talking about suicide. “I think one thing this film does is destigmatizes suicide and gives you some background on the importance of hope,” Dr. Miles comments. “It shows how really, suicide and the stigma around it is a societal issue. It’d be nice if we could wave a magic wand and say we’re going to change society but really, changing society means everybody taking the effort to be informed. You have to learn how to talk about things that you might feel uncomfortable talking about.”
BYU’s Ballard Center has provided a way to view the movie for free. In addition, for every student who registers to view the film, $2 will be donated on behalf of the student by the Cook Center for Human Connection to Hope4Utah, “an organization focused on implementing suicide prevention in Utah schools.” This is a great opportunity to be a part of the solution right now. To register or learn more about how to view the film, go to peeryfilms.byu.edu.