October 2015

Steps You Can Take to Prevent Suicide

Author: Kent Thune

Why would anyone want to take their own life? Ironically, the most common answers to this question are the same misconceptions that may cause people to misunderstand suicide and therefore miss the opportunity to save a life, perhaps the life of someone they love.

According to Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE), common misconceptions include “people who talk about suicide won’t really do it” or “anyone who tries to kill him/herself must be crazy.”

But these perspectives could not be further from the truth. Almost everyone who has taken their own life or has made the attempt has given some clue or warning that might at first sound casual, joking or like an empty threat. However, when someone says something like “you’ll be sorry when I’m dead,” or “I can’t see any way out,” it can indicate serious suicidal feelings.

Jill Lutz, a Lowcountry resident and someone who has lost a loved one to suicide, said, “There is an unfortunate stigma about suicide. People think that only a crazy person would kill themselves; they are often cast out as a ‘bad person’ or as ‘a sinner.’ But in reality, suicide is a result of mental illness. People who are suicidal are not crazy; they’re depressed.”

It’s also important to remember that people who have suicidal thoughts do not actually want to kill themselves; they are looking for a way out of their suffering. “Depressed people don’t want to ask for help. Instead they might try to ‘self-medicate’ with drugs or alcohol. And as much as you think you can help [a suicidal person], you really can’t. They need professional help,” Lutz said.

The first step in suicide prevention is awareness, which begins with the realization that it can happen to anyone. “Suicide is much more common than most people realize,” Lutz said. “There are probably just one or two degrees of separation from any one person to another who has committed suicide or to a person who has lost a loved one to it.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) collects data about mortality in the U.S., including deaths by suicide. In 2013 (the most recent year for which full data are available), 41,149 suicides were reported, making suicide the tenth leading cause of death for Americans. In that year, someone in the country died by suicide every 12.8 minutes.

In South Carolina, there were 696 deaths by suicide in 2013. It was the second leading cause of death for people ages 14 to 34. And almost twice as many people die by suicide in South Carolina than by homicide.
After awareness, the next step in suicide prevention is detection. It is important that we all know the symptoms of suicide and how to get the professional help that is needed.

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), people who kill themselves exhibit one or more warning signs, either through what they say, what they do or how they feel. The more warning signs you detect, the greater the risk.

What they may say: Suicidal individuals may give explicit signs like talking about killing themselves or they may talk about more subtle but related things like having no reason to live, being a burden to others, feeling trapped, or unbearable pain.

What they may do: The behavioral warning signs include increased use of alcohol or drugs, looking for a way to kill themselves, such as searching online for materials or means, acting recklessly, withdrawing from activities, isolating from family and friends, sleeping too much or too little, visiting or calling people to say goodbye, giving away prized possessions, and aggression.

How they may feel: People who are considering suicide often display one or more of the following moods: depression, loss of interest, rage, irritability, humiliation, and anxiety.

Also, and equally important, the loved ones who are left behind as a result of suicide need support and guidance. Those who have lost someone to suicide also find it very powerful to transform their grief into action. There are many ways they can do this, either privately or publicly. They can plant a tree in their memory, donate a park bench, or engrave a plaque with the loved one’s name. Whatever action is taken, it need only feel comfortable or meaningful for the individual.

And for people in the Lowcountry, there are physical steps that can be taken toward suicide awareness and prevention and in support of loved ones: The annual Hilton Head/Bluffton Out of the Darkness Community Walk.

This year’s walk will be held October 25 at Jarvis Creek Park. Registration begins at noon and the walk begins at 1 p.m. There will be a closing ceremony at 3:30 p.m., highlighted by the positive and symbolic “butterfly release.”

Vanessa Riley personally understands the impact of the community walks. Riley, who lost her 21-year old son and 16-year old nephew to suicide, said, “My first community walk was in Charleston, South Carolina. I almost didn’t go, but I’m glad I did, because I realized I wasn’t alone.” Riley is now the board chair of the South Carolina chapter of the AFSP and is instrumental in bringing the walks to the Hilton Head/Bluffton area.
The walks go to raise money for critical research and programs and they help to show our community that we support a culture that’s smart about mental health. For example, the AFSP helped create a requirement for school teachers to receive special suicide awareness and prevention training.

Registration for the Out of the Darkness Walk is available online at afsp.org/out-of-the-darkness-walks. If you are not able to walk, you can be a “virtual walker” by simply making a donation at the same website.
And so we return to the lead question: Why would anyone want to take their own life? No one wants to commit suicide. What they want is a way out of their pain and suffering. And the best way out is with professional help.

Leading them to this help begins with you.

Kent Thune is a money manager and the owner of a Hilton Head Island investment advisory firm, Atlantic Capital Investments. He urges readers to take some kind of step toward suicide awareness and prevention by either joining the Out of the Darkness Walk or by making a donation to the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention. For more information, visit afsp.org/out-of-the-darkness-walks or just show up at Jarvis Creek at noon on October 25.

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