A year ago, on September 11th, 2014, a well-liked, outgoing student from my kids school killed himself. When the notice was emailed to the parents, letting us know of the tragedy and what our kids would be facing when they entered school the next day, I was plagued by the question "why?" Why would a young man who appeared to be so happy, take his own life? Everyone who spoke of this young man said how happy he was, how he was rarely seen without a large smile on his face and how he was well liked by a significant percentage of the school population. This baffled me. What caused him to take such a drastic measure when he appeared to be just fine.
Unfortunately, we don't always get all of the answers. The answers are silenced when the person takes his or her life, leaving those in pain grasping for a reason, understanding and a release from their own guilt and unimaginable grief.
Being that September is Suicide Prevention Month, I want to touch on the signs and behaviors to look out for among your friends and family. It's easy to dismiss some of these signs and behaviors because you may think your friend or family member would never do such a thing, but that's exactly what those left in the aftermath of a suicide say. "I never thought he was capable of this," seems to be heard all too often.
Those at the highest risk of suicide are the following:
2. Those who have suffered severe physical or emotional trauma. Perhaps a close family member dies, a crime was committed against them, or they were injured physically in an accident. Also, losing a job, a good friend or financial stability can also have a direct impact. These traumas can take people to a dark place where they feel they can't escape.
3. Those who suffer from addiction. Whether someone is addicted to drugs, alcohol or some other addiction that runs their life, it can cause them to want out with as little pain as possible. Also, drugs and alcohol take away inhibitions making it easier to act out on suicidal thoughts.
4. Those who suffer from mental illness. Whether it's depression, Bi-Polar Disorder or some other mental illness, those who suffer from it, just want the pain to go away. Medication for these different disorders is not always as scientific or precise as we would like it to be, leaving some trying multiple different medicines without significant improvement.
5. A friend or family member has committed suicide. Oddly, suicide can be contagious. It has sometimes been romanticized as well as sensationalized making it look appealing.
Some signs to be aware of:
* Feelings of hopelessness
* Inability to sleep
* Panic attacks
* Socially isolating themselves
* Feeling of being a burden
Look for these behaviors:
* Increased use of alcohol or drugs
* Looking for ways to kill themselves; talking about how they would do it
* Acting recklessly
* Isolating themselves from family and friends
* Drastic change in sleeping habits - sleeping too much or too little
* Gives away prized possessions
* Becomes aggressive
(info found on www.afsp.org)
Also, keep an eye out for those who may appear overly happy. I'm not saying that being overly happy is a behavior that leads to suicide, but it is a way for those who hurt inside to hide. Sometimes, those who seem to have it all together and seem so incredibly happy are only using that to mask the pain that is manifesting itself on the inside.
The big question is what to do if you think your loved one is suffering from some of these symptoms. It's obvious that help is needed and as soon as possible, but that may not be welcomed by the one who is suffering. If they refuse help, you need to at least keep the lines of communication open. Always guide with a gentle hand. Forcing someone to do something they don't want to do will probably only cause them to become more resistant. If they won't get help, you need to reach out and get help from a professional so they can guide you in how to handle your friend or family member. There are a number of websites and toll-free phone numbers that can help you immediately.
I am not an expert on suicide, and I encourage you to do your own research and gather your own tools for prevention. But, I must share with you some advice based on an experience I had yesterday.
I went to order my daughter some food at a local fast food restaurant and started to take a seat on the bench to wait for my order. I already had my phone in hand, ready to check out Facebook and emails when an older woman made a spectacle of herself while trying to sit down on the bench next to me. My first thought was, "please don't talk to me, please, please please!" but, of course she did. She joked about her unsteadiness and then she introduced herself, telling me to shake her hand harder, "no, squeeze harder. C'mon, you can squeeze harder!" She then complimented me on my blouse and told me how important it was to her to make sure everyone she met, knew that she noticed something nice about them. She made this her mission. She believed that too often, we ignore those around us, not even saying hello when time and space allow for it, and I have to agree. I can't tell you how many times I would look away to avoid saying hello to a stranger. After I had left, I thought about what she said, and it really resonated with me.
What if we all spent more time with our eyes open to those around us? What if we said the one thing that a person who was struggling, needed to hear? A kind compliment, a helping hand - something that says I CARE ABOUT YOU. Think back to the last time someone complimented you on something you wore - your hair, your smile or a great job you completed. Didn't it make you feel good? And what if that person was a complete stranger? Wouldn't the compliment heighten that feeling even more knowing someone who doesn't know you, noticed something special about you?
I challenge you to reach out. Try finding something special in those around you and pay homage to it. You never know when that little act could have such an enormous ripple effect and change the direction of someone's life for the better. Sometimes it's the little things that make the biggest difference.
If you're in for the challenge, post yes in the comments. Please share your experience with us as well! I would love to hear how people reacted to your positivity!