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The Best Way to Stop Suicide

July 31, 2022 | by Sarah Pachter

Caring words can make all the difference.

Kevin Hines was 19 when he stood by the edge of the Golden Gate Bridge and jumped. He is one of few people who survived the drop. In a CBS interview he said that the moment his feet left the ledge he regretted jumping. He stated, “If just one person had showed me an ounce of concern, I wouldn’t have jumped.”

The Golden Gate Bridge is a majestic attraction and iconic landmark in San Francisco. It’s also the world’s leading suicide location. Every two weeks, someone jumps to their death. Almost everyone living in the Bay area knows someone who has jumped.

Kevin Hines at the bridge

Hines believes that caring words can make all the difference in dealing with those suffering from suicidal thoughts. When he was hospitalized from injuries, he received a note that said, “You’re a good person and you matter.” This made all the difference in his recovery. “A note is tangible, something you can hold onto, and read over and over for support.” Today he travels around the country talking about suicide prevention and the lifesaving benefit of caring letters.

Caring Letters

Dr. Jerome Motto, a psychologist who worked with suicidal patients after World War II, recounts the story of one patient who jumped from the Golden Gate Bridge to his death. “I went to this guy’s apartment afterward with the assistant medical examiner. The guy was in his thirties, lived alone, pretty bare apartment. He’d written a note and left it on his bureau. It said, ‘I’m going to walk to the bridge. If one person smiles at me on the way, I will not jump.’ Motto said, “That was it. It’s so needless, the number of people who are lost.”

The suicide note said: “I’m going to walk to the bridge. If one person smiles at me on the way, I will not jump.”

This story sparked Motto to discover and develop a system that has proven to effectively prevent suicide; it’s called “The Caring Letters” Model.

During service in World War II, he received letters from a woman he had met before being drafted. He maintained that those letters gave him the will to survive. After the War they never reconnected but he attributed his life to her.

The letters were not romantic and were often simply a few sentences about her daily routine or mundane topics. She had been persistent in writing them, regardless of whether or not he responded. He felt this proved her genuine concern for him.

Using this as his inspiration, his theory was simple. Therapists would send short letters expressing interest in the patient contemplating suicide. The letter was to merely try to connect with the patient applying zero pressure for the patient to change their ways.

Dr. Jerome Motto

“Caring Letters” that Motto later instituted has positively impacted the world. The program directly correlates to the decrease the number of suicide in patients, and is currently the only proven method in suicide prevention.

Saving a Life, One letter at a Time

Don’t underestimate the power of a good word, a caring letter, or a smile.

It’s not enough to refrain from speaking negatively; use your words to invigorate someone with positivity.

My older sister was once walking in New York City with a friend. They passed a woman who was wearing a flower pin, a trend at the time. My sister paused, flashed her a bright smile, and said, “Hey! I like your flower pin, it’s so cute!”

They kept walking in opposite directions, but the woman turned around and raced back towards my sister.

“Here, I want you to have this.” She started to remove the flower pin.

My sister quickly responded, “No, no, you don’t understand! I don’t want it, I just wanted to give you a compliment!”

The woman said, “You have to have it, I insist. I want you to remember what you did for me today. You‘ll never really know what your smile did for me, today specifically. My day is now transformed.”

Showing people that we see them and care has a transformative power.

My sister gave me the flower pin after telling me the story, and I still have it today. It’s a reminder that the power of a good word is infinite. With a quick hello we can literally infuse someone with life. Showing people that we see them and care has a transformative power.

Gratitude Letters

A woman named Jackie suffered an unimaginable horror when her three daughters were killed in a car accident. Her sister-in-law, the driver, was operating the vehicle under the influence of both alcohol and drugs. Jackie’s life was shattered and her depression was severe.

In an interview, Jackie described the outpouring of love and support from her family, friends and community. Collectively, they lifted her from the depths of unimaginable pain and carried her back to life. They sent gifts, made meals, wrote cards, and took turns spending time with her to make sure she was psychologically okay. They never left her side.

At one point, Jackie was determined to end her life and join her children in heaven. But she was adamant to first write a thank you note to everyone who helped her. “I may have been suicidal, but I wasn’t rude,” she told Janice Kaplan, author of Gratitude Diaries.

She thanked every person who helped in her time of need. By the time she was finished writing her cards, her words of appreciation had lifted her out of despair and she no longer wanted to die. This woman literally thanked her way through depression.

Light at the End of the Tunnel

In the midst of his bouts of suicidal thoughts, Kevin Hines says that he did not see hope or a future. Hines reflects that even today "there are days that I do not see light at the end of the tunnel. I just know it is there." And with that knowledge, he is able to press forward.

May we all have the strength to encourage others and help save lives.




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