Thursday, August 14, 2014

You Can Help Prevent Suicide

Much has been said in the wake of the suicide of Robin Williams. Some very unfortunate things have been said with the intention of extending comfort to those left behind, perhaps without realizing that these sentiments might encourage others contemplating suicide to complete the act. Some very callous things have been said with the aim of condemning the act of self murder.

Probably some of what has been said has been a response to grief. We all likely feel some grief over Williams' tragic death, since he touched so many lives. Common responses to grief include shock, numbness, sadness, irritability, anger, guilt, anxiety, loneliness, fatigue, helplessness, yearning, emancipation, and relief. So it is understandable that people have responded in so many different ways.

I believe there are some useful things that can be garnered from this tragedy. Those times when we are tempted to believe that fame and/or wealth constitute the key to happiness, we can reflect on the myriads of famous and/or wealthy people that have lived unhappy lives out of public view (or even in public view). Williams joins a long list of celebrities and wealthy people that have committed suicide. Happiness must be derived from more meaningful sources than fame and fortune.

Depression is poorly understood by the general populace. I have gained much more understanding about depression since my son first exhibited suicidal tendencies a couple of years ago. (Click here to see a somewhat humorous attempt to help people understand mental illness better.) Some say that depression is more of an emptiness than a sadness.

Besides emptiness and hopelessness, symptoms of depression can include "depressed mood (sadness), poor concentration, insomnia, fatigue, appetite disturbances, excessive guilt and thoughts of suicide." Symptoms can come and go; they may last for months or years. Depression affects people across all demographics.

Effective treatments are available for people experiencing depression. Proper treatment doesn't mean that these individuals won't still struggle with the disease. It means that it can become manageable for them.

The trouble is that the disease can be fickle and treatment must flex accordingly. Those suffering from major depression are not always able to rationally or objectively judge when their treatment is adequate, especially when the pain gets to the point that ending one's own life seems like a viable solution.

The vast majority of people that contemplate suicide can be helped. This often requires others to recognize when someone is suicidal or on the road to being so. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, those at highest risk for suicide include people:
  • With mental disorders (including substance abuse issues).
  • That have previously attempted suicide.
  • With a family history of attempted or completed suicide.
  • Dealing with a serious medical condition and/or pain.
  • That have experienced a highly stressful life event.
  • Experiencing long term stress.
  • That have been exposed to the suicide of another.
  • With access to lethal methods at a time of increased risk.

Williams had a long history of grappling with substance abuse. His wife now says that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease. That put him squarely in the population of those at higher risk for suicide.

But even those that don't fit readily into any of these categories can experience depression and have suicidal tendencies. That's why it is important for people in general to be aware of symptoms of impending suicide. These include:
  • Talking about wanting to kill themselves, or saying they wish they were dead.
  • Looking for a way to kill themselves, such as hoarding medicine or buying a gun.
  • Talking about a specific suicide plan.
  • Feeling hopeless or having no reason to live.
  • Feeling trapped, desperate, or needing to escape from an intolerable situation.
  • Having the feeling of being a burden to others.
  • Feeling humiliated.
  • Having intense anxiety and/or panic attacks.
  • Losing interest in things, or losing the ability to experience pleasure.
  • Insomnia.
  • Becoming socially isolated and withdrawn from friends, family, and others.
  • Acting irritable or agitated.
  • Showing rage, or talking about seeking revenge for being victimized or rejected, whether or not the situations the person describes seem real.
  • Settling affairs, giving away important items, or otherwise making end of life preparations.
  • Suddenly seeming to be relieved after a period of being down.

The AFSP says, "If someone you know shows the warning signs above, the time to act is now." Ask questions to find out what they experiencing and what they are planning. "Do not try to argue [or guilt] someone out of suicide. Instead, let them know that you care, that they are not alone and that they can get help." Get professional help. "Take the person to a walk-in clinic at a psychiatric hospital or a hospital emergency room." Call 911 or the national suicide prevention hotline at 800-273-TALK (8255).

These steps may seem drastic. But if they can save a life, they are worth it. The moment our son mentioned his suicidal thoughts we calmly (at least we acted outwardly calm) got professional help. Most people that contemplate suicide mention it to someone. If that someone is you, do what is necessary to save a life.

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