By Joseph Boushee
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third story in a series focusing on suicide.
According to a report from the state’s Suicide Prevention Coordinator Karl Rosston, “Suicide Among The Young,” some common warning signs in adolescents include: abrupt changes in personality, giving away prized possessions, and previous suicide attempts.
“Survivors of suicide are seven times more likely to die of suicide,” Viki Waddington, advocate for suicide prevention noted.
Other warning signs, as noted in the report, are: an increase in alcohol or drug use, sleep and eating disturbances, an inability to tolerate frustration, and withdrawal or rebelliousness.
A sudden happy mood following a prolonged period of depression can be another, Terry L. Wise added, who is an international speaker and author on the subject of suicide.
If you suspect someone may be contemplating suicide or showing warning signs, Waddington said you should seek help immediately.
“I think that’s the most important thing: don’t discount the red flags. Trust your intuition,” Waddington said. “If you think something’s wrong, something probably is. Don’t be afraid to look for help even if you’re not sure it’s a serious threat. I would rather err on the side of asking for help than to err on the side of not.”
In some cases, talking to someone about suicide may mean asking difficult questions. “When it comes to possibly saving someone’s life, I urge you to err on the side of invasive,” Wise said.
Rosston’s report urges people not to avoid the topic - talk about the feelings and don’t be afraid to mention the word “suicide.”
“Most people will respond honestly,” the report states. “Many people are hesitant to bring up the subject of suicide for fear that they will be planting the idea in the mind of the person. This is a serious mistake! If the person is suicidal, asking them might lead to a conversation that could prevent the suicide.”
Waddington added, “If someone says or does something that makes little red flags pop up in your brain, you shouldn’t ignore it. The cry for help is a serious one.”
In some cases, a person can be so deeply sunk into suicidal thoughts that he or she is unable to seek help or tell someone that there’s a problem.
“I liken it to being on a train, in a dark tunnel, with one track and no light,” Waddington said. “At some point, a person can come to a point where they’re on that train.”
“Generally speaking,” Wise said during her conference, “when someone is suicidal they are hopeless. When you’re convinced that your pain is permanent, there’s a sense of relief [in thinking of a way out].”
Carlton cautioned, “When someone (is contemplating) suicide, there’s a shutdown,” in the thought process.
This is where another person must intercede.
“It’s a matter of taking care of each other and being able to carry a burden for someone until they’re able to do it themselves,” Waddington said.
Wise said that being empathetic to a person’s problems can help.
“Empathy can go a long way — and it doesn’t have to be a lot. It can be as simple as holding someone’s eye for five seconds.”
A therapist of Wise’s was responsible for telling her one of the three or four most profound things she’d ever heard.
The therapist asked Wise, “Do you really think you’re worth that little?”
It was then that Wise realized that her therapist had a genuine interest in helping her, and had hope that she could recover from her mental illness.
“She had that much belief that I could feel better,” Wise said. “She had that much faith.”
In Wise’s case, she had not told her family members about her suicidal feelings before her attempt.
“I didn’t realize how much of a wall I had up,” she said. I thought I’d be sparing people guilt ... but I learned that I was wrong. Either way, you are sentencing people to a lifetime of guilt. You are going to be causing a lifetime of guilt and devastation.”
Adding to the grief of a traumatic, complicated loss for Waddington are the many unanswered questions that remain, and the burden of living with the fact that they are unanswerable.
“Nobody should have to do that,” Waddington said. “I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy, or a parent, or a sibling, or a neighbor, or a person that I’ve never met before. It’s a tough road to walk.”
Published July 8, 2009