The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, June 11, 2010

Awareness of warning signs is key to suicide prevention

After the second suicide in a year of a Concord-Carlisle High School student, Concord Carlisle Parents Initiative (CCPI) brought in outside experts to talk about suicide awareness and prevention in the June 1 program “Being Present During Difficult Times.” While it is never just one issue that drives someone to take his or her own life, most of those who die by suicide have an underlying, treatable mental health or substance abuse problem. If these types of problems were better addressed, the number of suicides might be reduced by up to 90%, according to Deborah Helms of the Samaritans of Merrimack Valley. She was the primary speaker, assisted by representatives from Families for Depression Awareness and the Eliot Center. “Mental illness is the same as a medical illness. It needs to be treated,” Helms said.

Sobering statistics

Helms presented many unsettling statistics. She said suicide is the second most likely cause of death in college-age youths and the third leading cause of death for ages 15 to 24. In 2006, there were roughly 4,200 youth suicides in the U.S.

Homicides are reported in the media far more than suicides. However, Helms said that the rate of people dying by suicide is 2.5 to three times greater than those dying by homicide. In 2007 in Massachusetts, there were 183 homicides and 504 suicides. Suicides are not always reported as such, she said. Obituaries may state that the person died suddenly, rather than state it was a suicide. Also, drug overdoses and one-car accidents are often defined as accidents, when they may have been intentional. Only a third of those who die by suicide leave notes.

Risk highest in spring

More suicides happen in springtime than any other time of year. Helms explained that everybody starts feeling better with new green growth outside except those who are depressed and they generally feel worse. She said high school and first-year college students take their own lives in the spring because of the pressure they are under from academics, taking SATs, getting into college and the transition of leaving home and going to college.

“Females attempt suicide three times more often than males,” said Helms. She said males are four times more likely to die by suicide than females. “Generally, males don’t talk about their feelings nor do they seek help.” Helms explained that males are more likely to use firearms so their attempts are more likely to lead to death. However, she said that suicide by firearms is less common in Massachusetts with its strict gun laws compared with some states in the west where more people have guns.

Seventy percent of people who talk about attempting suicide actually follow through by either attempting or dying by suicide. Another disturbing fact is that if someone has attempted suicide, they are far more likely to attempt it again. Just because their mental state improves, they are still at risk.

In the 2007 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 18,500 Massachusetts high school students, about 6%, had stated they had attempted suicide at least once in the past year. Helms stated it is estimated that for every one youth suicide death, there are between 100 and 200 attempts. “In a typical U.S. classroom, three students (two girls and one boy) have attempted suicide in the past 12 months.”

In the 2008 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 137 Concord-Carlisle High School (CCHS) students, 12%, reported having seriously considered attempting suicide and 46 CCHS students reported actually having attempted suicide at least once in the previous year. Among those who reported having attempted suicide, a third had to receive medical treatment as a result. [See www.concordpublicschools.net/curriculum/pdfs/2008-emerson-cchsYRBS.pdf.]

Warning signs

Helms spoke about risk factors that may contribute to a suicidal crisis. Some of these are: a family history of mental health issues, previous suicide attempts, physical, drug or domestic abuse, job loss, financial loss, the loss of a family member or friend, being widowed, divorced or a suicide survivor, lack of a support network and poor help-seeking skills. Access to the means to kill oneself is another risk.

Warning signs include: preoccupation with suicide or death, withdrawal from family, friends, sports and social activities, drastic changes in behavior, feelings of profound sadness, hopelessness or worthlessness, depression and anxiety. Other warning signs include: loss of interest in work, school, hobbies and social activities, a decline in academic performances, more absenteeism from school and self-imposed perfectionism. Aggressive or impulsive behavior such as binge drinking, may also be outward signs of depression and suicidal crisis.

The 2008 youth survey stated that 29% of CCHS students “reported binge drinking, which is defined as having five or more drinks of alcohol in a row within a couple of hours, at least once in the 30 days prior to the survey. The incidence increased across the grades in high school, with 14% of freshmen to 43% of seniors” reporting this behavior.

Helms described those with suicidal thoughts. “They can’t see a future without pain. They are very tired of living this way.” She spoke of the hopelessness they feel. “You can hear it in their voice.”

If someone has been depressed and is suddenly cheerful, Helms said, “Pay attention. They have a plan [to take their own life].” She strongly advised questioning them to see how well they have thought through the plan. “Do they have the means to follow through?” Ask them, “Does anyone else know about this plan?” The more details given, the more the person is in imminent danger. Call 911 if the risk of suicide is high.

Helms gave more advice. She said if your friend starts talking about taking his/her life, you should remain calm and show the person you care. Acknowledge the pain they are in. She said many are afraid and think of reasons not to step in, but “those reasons should go right out the window.” She said to tell the person there are other ways to deal with this. Remind them they have been through tough times before and got through it. “Don’t agree to confidentiality,” Helms warned, explaining that it was better to have a friend mad with you for getting others involved to help, than not having that friend around anymore. Also, by getting adults involved, such as a teacher, a counselor or mental health professional, the burden is lifted off the friend. Other suggestions include removing lethal means from the person’s environment and not leaving them alone if they are in imminent danger of suicide.

Protective measures

Helms also spoke about protective factors that counteract all the risk factors and warning signs associated with suicide. She said a sense of humor, support networks, such as those of family and friends, the ability to express emotions, the ability to ask for help, problem-solving skills, religious affiliation and a sense of hope and optimism help people through depressing times. She recommended eating nutritiously and exercising. “Be flexible and stay connected to family and friends.”

Area resources

Other speakers included a representative from the Eliot Center in Concord, who described how the center provides a large number of mental health services to children, adolescents, adults and seniors in the areas of developmental disabilities, early intervention, counseling, substance abuse and youth programming. See www.eliotchs.org.

Ashley Dezen explained that the organization Families for Depression Awareness was started a decade ago by Julie Totten after Totten lost her brother to suicide. After learning about the symptoms of depression, she recognized them in her father and helped him seek treatment. Dezen said of Totten, “She saved her Dad and he is still around.” Dezen also reported that the group runs online support groups. The two handed out educational materials and spoke about several programs aimed at helping families recognize and cope with depressive disorders. (See sidebar for additional resources.)

Community outreach and response

About 30 people came to the Suicide Awareness and Prevention meeting. When reached by email after the talk, CCPI Co-Chair Regine Ryder said, “We had hoped for better attendance.” She said over 60 students had indicated on Face Book that they were planning on coming, but only one attended.

On the following evening, another program, “Healing and Hope: A Community Coming Together after a Suicide” was held at the Trinitarian Congregational Church in Concord. Ryder said that about 15 people attended. “It was very personal. We had more students who articulated their concerns and troubles quite clearly.” 

There have been a number of outreaches to students, faculty and the community over the last month. In CCHS Principal Peter Badalament’s June Newsletter, he states, “The school is working closely with the Riverside Trauma Center, an organization that provides support to schools and communities following suicides. They have conducted staff suicide prevention training and are helping us to plan student support groups and provide more resources to parents. Several members of the Administration and Guidance staff attended a two-day suicide prevention conference sponsored by a state-wide organization. The Center for Parents and Teachers created a community-based coalition to address the issue of suicide prevention. Short-term and long-term groups are developing strategies and programming for current and future implementation. The Community Chest is working on funding a town-wide position to help coordinate the response efforts. The Eliot Center and numerous organizations within the faith community have been sponsoring grief support groups.”

Ryder defines the community-based groups this way, “A long-term response team is trying to find solutions and better options for students and the schools on preventing suicides. The short-term response team is working on finding support for students, parents, teachers and staff from now throughout the summer.” ∆

Where to get help

The following are sources for information, counseling and support related to suicide prevention:

• Samaritans of Merrimack Valley toll free and confidential crisis help lines: 1-866-912-4673 and 978-327-6607

• Samaritans of Merrimack Valley confidential teen line: 1-978-688-8336

• Samaritans Statewide Crisis Help Line 1-877-870-HOPE (4673)

Suicide Awareness

and Prevention websites

www.familyserviceinc.com/samaritans, www.masspreventssuicide.org,

www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org,

www.suicidology.org

www.afsp.org, www.sprc.org,

www.namimass.org

Suggested reading

• “Night Fall Fast – Understanding Suicide” by Kay Redfield Jamison

• “Suicide: The Forever Decision” by Paul G. Quinnett

• “Why I Jumped” by Wanda Dyson

• “Suicide – Why?” by Adina Wrobleski

•“Waking Up: Climbing through the Darkness” by Terry L. Wise

•“Healing After the Suicide of a Loved one” by Ann Smolin and John Guinan

• “After Suicide” by John Hewett

• “When Nothing Matters Anymore: A Survivor Guide for Depressed Teens” by Ben Cobain ∆

Where to get help

The following are sources for information, counseling and support related to suicide prevention:

• Samaritans of Merrimack Valley toll free and confidential crisis help lines: 1-866-912-4673 and 978-327-6607

• Samaritans of Merrimack Valley confidential teen line: 1-978-688-8336

• Samaritans Statewide Crisis Help Line 1-877-870-HOPE (4673)

Suicide Awareness

and Prevention websites

www.familyserviceinc.com/samaritans, www.masspreventssuicide.org,

www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org,

www.suicidology.org

www.afsp.org, www.sprc.org,

www.namimass.org

Suggested reading

• “Night Fall Fast – Understanding Suicide” by Kay Redfield Jamison

• “Suicide: The Forever Decision” by Paul G. Quinnett

• “Why I Jumped” by Wanda Dyson

• “Suicide – Why?” by Adina Wrobleski

•“Waking Up: Climbing through the Darkness” by Terry L. Wise

•“Healing After the Suicide of a Loved one” by Ann Smolin and John Guinan

• “After Suicide” by John Hewett

• “When Nothing Matters Anymore: A Survivor Guide for Depressed Teens” by Ben Cobain ∆

Where to get help

The following are sources for information, counseling and support related to suicide prevention:

• Samaritans of Merrimack Valley toll free and confidential crisis help lines: 1-866-912-4673 and 978-327-6607

• Samaritans of Merrimack Valley confidential teen line: 1-978-688-8336

• Samaritans Statewide Crisis Help Line 1-877-870-HOPE (4673)

Suicide Awareness

and Prevention websites

www.familyserviceinc.com/samaritans, www.masspreventssuicide.org,

www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org,

www.suicidology.org

www.afsp.org, www.sprc.org,

www.namimass.org

Suggested reading

• “Night Fall Fast – Understanding Suicide” by Kay Redfield Jamison

• “Suicide: The Forever Decision” by Paul G. Quinnett

• “Why I Jumped” by Wanda Dyson

• “Suicide – Why?” by Adina Wrobleski

•“Waking Up: Climbing through the Darkness” by Terry L. Wise

•“Healing After the Suicide of a Loved one” by Ann Smolin and John Guinan

• “After Suicide” by John Hewett

• “When Nothing Matters Anymore: A Survivor Guide for Depressed Teens” by Ben Cobain ∆


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