This isn't a real easy blog to write and it hurts me that I have to write it. However, lately here at school we have been touched with the suicidal deaths of past students, friends of current students and relatives of past students. I believe in the past few weeks, our school has been touched by at least four suicidal deaths. I hope this blog will help you understand how you might be able to recognize someone who is struggling with thoughts of suicide and what your role can be in regards to helping this person. I also want you to realize that sometimes you can reach out to help and the person still completes his or her suicide. You are not responsible. Please understand that. Even when you reach out and try to get help OR even if you never recognized the signs, you are not responsible and you should not feel that way. So many people I have talked with say that they really don't know what to do to help someone and they are "scared".
I have done a lot of training for suicidal prevention under the title "Gatekeeper Training". Students and staff would be considered a gatekeeper. A Gatekeeper is not a trained counselor, they are not expected to work through the problem or solve the student's problem. Once you understand that, it should eliminate any fear. The reason you could be so important to a friend or acquaintance who is contemplating suicide is because prior to making a suicide attempt, 90% of people demonstrate clear warning signs and 70% tell another person. The bad news is that research shows the most likely response to suicidal communication from family, colleagues and friends is...SILENCE.
Some of the risk factors to look for are: Previous suicide attempt, Mental disorders (primarily depression), Cognitive distortions (in other words, a feeling of hopelessness or isolation), substance abuse, family history of suicide, impulsive or aggressive tendencies, easy access to lethal means (especially guns). The common denominator in almost all suicides is hopelessness and despair. Some of the verbal clues you can listen for are obvious like: I want to kill myself, I want to be dead, I'm just going to end it all, If (this doesn't happen) I'm going to end it all. However, their are also subtle clues to look and listen for: I'm tired of living, I can't go on, Everyone would be better off without me, Who cares if I'm dead, I won't be around much longer, pretty soon you won't have to worry about me.
You should also be aware of your friends behavior. Have they had previous attempts at suicide, have they recently purchased a gun or are they stocking up on pills? Is there depression, sadness or hopelessness? Are they getting their affairs in order? Giving away prized possessions? Sudden interest in the afterlife, Unexplained anger or irritability?
There are also certain life events that you should be aware of. They are... being thrown out of school, losing their job, break-up in a relationship, issues with family, death of family member or close friend, financial problems, loss of freedom (getting grounded or privileges taken away).
Most people don't want to die, they just want the pain to end. Knowing this should help you reach out and help in anyway you can. So what can you do to help? Simply ask the question. Don't be afraid to ask the question because research shows that simply asking a person if they are going to kill themselves doesn't lead the person to suicide. You can be blunt or subtle, it doesn't matter. Just ask the question. Examples could be; "Have you been so unhappy with yourself that you are thinking of ending your life?", "Do you ever wish you went to sleep and didn't wake up?". The more "in your face" approach is; "You look really upset and down, are you thinking of killing yourself?" or "Are you thinking of killing yourself?". There are also some not so good ways to ask like; "You aren't really going to kill yourself are you?" or "Your'e just joking about suicide aren't you?".
Whenever you ask the person these questions, make sure you are attentive (don't answer your cell phone or texts), make sure you have plenty of time (don't ask and then when the bell rings say you have to go now), make sure you are alone, don't be judgmental. Have your resources ready like a counselors number or the suicide hot line (1-800-273-TALK (8255)). Remember suicide is not the problem. It is a solution to a perceived problem that they feel they can not solve. Finally, lead them by asking: Can I take you to see the counselor, Can I please help you to get help, Make me a promise you wont hurt yourself until we get you help. Because you are willing to listen and help your friend, this gives them HOPE. HOPE MAKES ALL THE DIFFERENCE!