How to Save a Life

06/05/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

After losing six students to suicide, David Skorton, the President of Cornell University, has urged a public discussion on America's rising suicide deaths. A person dies by suicide every 16 minutes in America and an attempt is estimated to be made once every minute. Suicide is an American epidemic. That is a fact we can no longer deny.

So where do we begin our conversation to end these wasted deaths? The discussion has to begin in the home. Parents need to speak to their children and help them feel safe to express themselves, even if they are in trouble. It is only through talking about our negative feelings that a person can heal.

I work as a writer and a spiritual teacher, my phone is ringing off the hook with people calling for help because they feel suicidal. I try to tell them 'You don't really want to die -- you just don't want to live like this.' I then pray, as they put down the phone, they will make it through another night. But I'm fully aware that unless there is a shift in society, their loneliness and shame about their depression will lead to their early death.

Our society revolves around numbing feelings -- through alcohol, drugs, shopping, sex, sport and food. We will do anything to escape feeling bad, even if that donut or drink makes us feel hung over and ill. We are addicted to feeling good and feeling high, instead of dealing with our real emotions. There is such a stigma in society and an overemphasis on physical strength and mental intellectualism instead of emotional development and the soul. This stigma of emotional expression is why so many are committing suicide because they feel judged and too ashamed to ask for help.

The problem is that most parents are in denial of their own emotions. This has been passed down from generation to generation. Instead of talking about his true feelings, father is engrossed in the football, numbing his pain by watching television. He is teaching his son to revere someone or something outside of himself, instead of teaching him to love himself and communicate about how he feels. This is also true of the mothers and daughters who deny sharing their deep down depression; replacing intimate expression with trips to the mall. They are buying and beautifying or packing in a heavy schedule of gymnastics; doing anything to numb the emptiness and fill the emotional void.

This distraction of material and physical things is not helping people to heal, nor is it taking away the stigma in society and creating a safe place for our children to be human and honestly express themselves.

Schools are also contributing to this emotional disconnect because, so often, students are punished and taught not to express or be themselves. It seems to most teenagers that no one wants to listen and they are right. No one has time anymore to lend a kind and loving ear. In England, where I was born, when people have a problem, someone switches the kettle on and says 'Let me make you a nice cup of tea and you can tell me all about it.' By the time you have shared your woes and taken your final gulp of hot tea, things seem a little brighter. A problem shared is a problem halved.

But because of the heavy scheduling and lack of emotional intimacy, our youth are entering the workforce, emotionally numb and engrained with the sole belief 'I must push harder; I am what I earn.' They step on the treadmill of life and shove their true feelings and passions aside, so they can prove themselves and buy that shiny new car. If they don't succeed in buying the car, then we judge them and say they have failed. Then the media steps in and we all feel judged, unloved and less than the celebrity on the cover. Yes, every tier in society must take responsibility for the 55,000 suicide deaths that take place every year in America.

What I find to be the greatest tragedy is that many of those who are taking their lives, are highly refined, sensitive souls who we can learn much from. You see, the suicide victims find that the drugs, the chocolate, the sex, the clothes and the sports team on the television, do not help them numb their feelings. They can't ignore the emotionally disconnected and cruel world we live in. Perhaps it is time for us all to become as sensitive; listen to what they have to say and make a change. Change the definition of what it means to be a successful person. Stop focusing so much on those that score a touchdown or earn a grade A, rather reemphasize the success of healing the heart and soul.