Suicide is a problem worldwide. May we all have the good fortune to only experience suicide at such an arm’s length as “six degrees of separation” implies. This is not, unfortunately, the case for most of us: We have friends, or our children have friends, who have committed, or attempted, suicide.
The daughter of neighbors, my daughter’s friend, committed suicide just before her fifteenth birthday. It was the end of the school year. Her brother, suspecting nothing, left for yearbook signing at his high school. Her family’s world changed forever. Our neighborhood changed forever. I had seen “Alicia,” my daughter’s friend, taking out the mail earlier that day.
Some suicides occur without warning signs, but knowing what signs to look for, and taking rapid action, can prevent many. What I have since learned is that people do not commit, or attempt to commit suicide to end their lives. They take this extreme action to end pain, pain which they can find no other way out of at that moment.
My response to learning what had happened was feral, completely wild. Neighbors came home to find me screaming and crying in the front yard. As we do, I pulled myself together, and did the only thing I could think of doing: I made and brought food for the ever-growing group of family and friends who gathered at the home that evening. At first I felt that I was being intrusive, but this small act, even at the most tragic time, was appreciated.
My children grieve, become angry, and are sometimes too sad, and simply worn down, as though this is an inevitable scourge, to fully engage when they lose a friend to suicide. One of my children did report a suicidal threat to a school guidance counselor. All threats of suicide should be immediately reported. Never take the threat of suicide or a question about how to commit suicide lightly. Breaking the code of silence, especially among teens, may make you unpopular, but it may save the life of someone you care about. Stay with the person if possible, and report the incident to someone who can help. My son was first shunned, and later thanked, by the child who had made the threat.
Suicide remains a somewhat taboo subject, so is under-reported. Many single car accidents involving young men are suicides. Many gun “accidents” are also suicides. What can we do? The Yellow Ribbon Society of Southern California, formed by parents after a son’s suicide, suggests one obvious solution: If you have any concern at all, do not keep a gun at home. Many young men, especially those with any known social or emotional difficulties, or those exhibiting unusual behavior, are too impulsive and unstable to safely live in, or even visit, a home where guns are kept. This is also true of young women, and people of all age groups, but young men are at highest risk.
This is not an attempt to blame the victim. If someone you know has committed suicide, or a violent act using a gun, it is very likely that you had no idea that your child, parent, sibling, partner or friend had any deep-seated emotional difficulties. Suicide, as mentioned, may be an impulsive act that cannot be predicted. Do not blame yourself, but grieve and honor your lost loved one, as in any case of tragic and untimely death.
There are many worthy suicide-prevention organizations, but I leave you with the website information of an international non-profit organization that has saved many lives over many years, the Yellow Ribbon Suicide Prevention Program: http://www.yellowribbon.org/ This program has saved the lives of young people from Australia to the United States. Awareness and vigilance are the first steps in preventing preventable suicides. Depressed, abused, LGBT youths, and youths who have recently experienced a loss are especially at risk.
The recent spates of suicides and suicide/homicides are a reminder to us that none of us is immune. A friend who lives in California knows one of those injured in the recent LAX shooting. My son is an acquaintance of one of the unsuspecting (but not immediate) and also devastated family members of the shooter. We are all in this together. No one likes to discuss suicide, but bringing this issue out into the open saves lives.
YOU CAN GET HELP, ANYTIME OF DAY OR NIGHT
The National Lifeline will access local help for you, whether you make contact through an email, or a live chat, or a phone call. http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ Do not hesitate to call to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-TALK (8255.) Don’t wait. If you are thinking about, or anyone you know, mentions suicide, get help right away.
You, alone, should not attempt to determine whether your own suicidal thoughts or threats, or those of a friend or family member, are serious or not. Let a medical professional help make that determination. Take thoughts and threats of suicide seriously, and help save a life. Be a lifeline.
May you, and those you love, be well.