Wednesday, September 12, 2012

National Suicide Prevention Week: September 9-15

     September 9-15 is National Suicide Prevention Week.  Suicide is one of the most difficult losses imaginable.  I remember sitting with a family at the funeral home after a young father of two had died by suicide. I'll call him Jim.   Years earlier Jim's father had died by suicide, also.  What I remember most about that difficult time of being with the family as they planned Jim's funeral service is how his mother kept pleading for understanding and expressing disbelief.  "How could he do this to his wife and children?!  He knew how hard it was for us after his dad died.  He knew.  How could he do this? "
     Like all soul-full questions surrounding the time of the death of a loved one, there are no easy answers to why someone would take their own life.  Personally, I've come to believe that such persons are in deep, deep pain and have lost the ability to believe that their pain will never end.  All they can think about is making the pain stop. I think, as far as it goes,  that is true.  However,  I am learning that the urge to take one's own life can be much more complicated.

     For example:

90% of people who kill themselves are suffering from one or more mental illnesses*, such as major depression- especially when combined with drug or alcohol abuse; bipolar disorder; post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or eating disorders.  Most of these disorders that can lead to suicide are recognizable and treatable.

Signs of depression include:  
change in sleep patterns
change in appetite or weight
intense anxiety, agitation and irritability, or a feelings of "winding down"
fatigue and loss of energy
excessive or inappropriate guilt
trouble concentrating or forgetfullness

Signs of imminent risk for suicide include:
verbal threat to hurt of kill oneself (It is a myth that if someone talks about suicide they won't do it)
seeking ways to kill oneself (gun, pill or other means)
having a plan or preparations made to harm oneself
Engaging in reckless or risky behaviors
Increase in violent or self-destructive behaviors
Increasing alcohol or drug use
withdrawal from family, friends and activities once enjoyed

50-75% of all persons who complete suicide give some warning of their intentions to a friend or family member.  ALWAYS take the warning signs of suicide seriously.  Let the person you are concerned about know you are concerned and give specific reasons as to why you have become concerned. You must ask if they have considered hurting or killing themselves.  This is hard.  But how much harder will it be if they hurt themselves and you know you didn't ask?  Find out if they are seeing a therapist or are on any medication.  You cannot argue a person out of suicide. You can let them know that they are not alone.  You can reassure them that help is available.  You can make sure they seek professional help immediately by taking them or going with them or calling for assistance, if needed.  If you believe the risk is so high they cannot wait to be seen in a mental health facility you may need to take them to an emergency room for immediate intervention.   (This is a  huge issue for our small, rural communities.  The wait to see a psychiatrist - the doctor's who actually prescribe the meds that treat depression- can easily be 6 months long.) 
     Never leave a loved one who is actively suicidal alone.  Remove all firearms, weapons, drugs, sharp objects etc. from the area.  Take them to an emergency room and or call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  Friends and family members of those who suffer from mental illness or are suicidal carry a significant burden.  If your loved one is struggling with depression or another major mental illness, you need information and understanding just as much as they need treatment.  NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness is a wonderful organization that offers classes and support groups for the loved ones of persons suffering from mental illnesses.   Visit their site at

If you are grieving the death of a loved one by suicide or if you would like to learn more about suicide prevention, I commend to you the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention at  There is much information here as well as on-line support groups. 

* Mental illnesses are medical conditions that disrupt a person's thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning. Just as diabetes is a disorder of the pancreas, mental illnesses are medical conditions that often result in a diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life.  (from  Mental Illnesses, as the name implies, are disorders of the brain.