Several months ago a friend of mine and I started the Plus Suicide Project on Google +. We created it in response to the increasing number of teen suicides that we saw occurring in the LBGT teen community. However, I felt that I didn't have enough information at my command to deal with this situation in the appropriate manner. Last night I attend a training seminar that is designed toward suicide prevention and make us the first line of defense in the fight against it. The program is designed to train Gatekeepers, these are compassionate, caring individuals that are trained to develop the knowledge, attitude and skills to identify people at risk for suicide. They are trained to manage a crisis situation and get the individual help and assistance as needed. After going through the course I wanted to share some of the information that I learned from it with you. I think it is important to cover the facts about suicide and explore the myths and misconceptions that individuals have about suicide.
If we want to be able to make a difference in peoples lives and help them when they are in crisis, we need to have a firm understanding about what suicide is and what we can do to help the individual that is going through it at every point. Like they say to be forewarned is to be forearmed and it is my hope that the information that is provided here will give you a strong foundation to understand that suicide is a real threat. That it can come from any corner and hit anyone. Depression and a feeling of isolation and not belonging are some of the key factors that lead a person to consider and even try suicide. But let's explore the facts first.
Did you know in the United States one person commits suicide every 17 minutes? I bet you didn't. Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death in youths ages 15-24 and the 2nd cause of death for ages 25-34. There are 764,000 suicide attempts each year, and that the elderly have the highest rate of suicide. One out of every 100,000 elderly people commit suicide each day. Suicide is the 11th leading cause of death in the U.S. Whatever your beliefs about suicide they are irrelevant, suicide is real and seems like it is the only option left to these people. Most really don't want to die, but cannot see any other alternative and they are just wanting their pain to stop. More people that are contemplating suicide are more comfortable speaking with a clergy member or other member of their church than they are of talking to a mental health professional for a number of reasons, one of which is that it doesn't cost anything, and that they think that a member of their church or even their pastor is part of their family and is there to listen an help them. However, most clergy members and church family is not prepared and doesn't know what to do when in a crisis situation. It is important to be compassionate, caring and a good listener, and never ever leave the person in crisis alone.
So what are some facts and myths that you should be aware of when dealing with a person that is in crisis. Myth: If you ask someone about his/her suicidal intent, you may encourage the idea of completing suicide. Fact: Talking about or asking about suicide will not cause a person to kill himself and will in fact lower their anxiety level and act as a deterrent to suicidal behavior. Myth: Suicide happens without warning and people who talk about killing themselves rarely complete suicide. Fact: Most people who commit suicide have reached out and have given warning clues either verbal or otherwise of their intentions. 80% of those that did commit suicide left definite warning signs of their intent. Fact: Talking about suicide can be a plea for help, not an attempt to manipulate. Fact: Most of those that have committed suicide have spent a lot of time thinking and planning their death in great detail. Myth: If a person is contemplating suicide and asks you not to tell anyone it is important not to break that trust given too you. Fact: When dealing with a suicidal person, you should never ever pledge to keep their confidentiality. The person needs to be followed up on and probably should be referred to help for further assistance. You probably should get a trained professional involved so that they can provide appropriate resources to help the person.
Another myth is that Suicide is more common in people from a higher socioeconomic status. Fact: statistics clearly show there is no typical victim, suicide can happen to anyone from any economical group. Another myth is: A person who has lost a close family member to suicide has a lower risk of suicide because they have learned the pain it causes. Fact: Research has actually shown that a family history of suicide is a significant risk factor and survivors are SIX times as likely to die by suicide than the general public. Myth: You can tell by looking at someone that they may be more likely to commit suicide. Fact: There is no way a person can determine by look alone if a person is likely to commit suicide. There can be no sign of depression, a person can be smiling and bubbly on the outside but still be totally shattered and broken on the inside.
We have become so adapt in wearing our outside masks that we can keep almost anyone in the dark as to our moods and feelings hidden behind. Keep this firmly in mind you cannot look at a person and tell what they are thinking, nor can you tell what they are thinking about suicide. Communication is the key in dealing with situations like this, just like I have pointed out in several posts. Communication and the ability to listen are extremely important in dealing with everyone. You need to really pay attention to what someone is telling you and listen for key words that might indicate that they are thinking about suicide. Compassionate listening and demonstrating that you are sincere in your concerns for another person may just be enough to save another persons life. I have told you before that casual conversation can lead you to many unfamiliar and unexpected places, and this one of them. You never know who might be reaching out to you for help, you have to be paying attention and be a conscientious listener.
So who do you think should have the responsibility of identifying people who may be suicidal or at risk of committing suicide? Do you think it should be the pastor, counselors or mental health professionals? The truth of the matter a person who is thinking about suicide may not have any interaction with one of these professionals, and you are the only one they have. You maybe the only person they are willing to be open and talk with about what they are going through, so it needs to be your responsibility to get them help, so you need to know how to recognize the signs of personal crisis and potential suicide. It is always better to be safe than sorry. Keep in mind that people on drugs or alcohol who are talking about suicide are probably considering it. Remember that drugs and alcohol have a tendency to induce depression and can act to remove inhibitions that would normally prevent a person from contemplating suicide. Research suggest that 20-50% of individuals who have committed suicide have had an alcohol or drug problem. Keep in mind that unless you know the whole story everyone has the potential for suicide there are some factors that make a person more at risk than others, but we will get into that in another article.
What I want you to understand from this is that suicide is a big deal, these statistics that I have been reading show that suicide occurs almost double the homicide rate. Yet we hear more about the homicides than we ever do about the suicides. Bullying, rejection, pain, loss, humiliation and a million other factors can drive someone toward suicide. Be open, receptive and responsive to the needs and concerns of others, be aware of their words, and listen for their cries for help. You will hear them, you will know in your heart that something is off. Talk to them, get them to open up to you and offer them kindness, compassion and help.
Remember that a person who commits suicide leaves behind them 6 people that are suffering and in pain because of their loss. No one is immune to depression, anxiety, fear, and the pile up of emotional baggage that can pull a person under to the point where they feel they are trapped and have no way out.
I hope this opened your eyes a little, there is a silent world out there where people are just disappearing in to the night, lost and alone begging for help to end their pain and suffering. All we have to do is listen and we might be the one that saves another persons life through just a simple act of kindness and caring. Everything is possible.
As always my hopes and dreams are with you,