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Knowing the facts

Kari Swanson

Last column, I began discussing myths and facts of suicide.

I want to finish this discussion because, again, if myths of suicide are believed to be facts then a person’s ability to reach out and assist someone struggling with a suicidal crisis is lowered.

Some people believe that only experts can prevent suicide. This is a myth. This is something that is believed because people get afraid to get involved.

Suicidal thinking is scary. It is scary to the individual going through it and it is scary for those around the individual going through it. Liken it to a heart attack or someone choking. If you see this happening and you are armed with the knowledge to assist someone while help is on the way, isn’t that a good thing?

Suicidal thoughts spoken out loud are no different except it is not always a blatant dramatic scene like someone choking or experiencing a heart attack. However, if you know how to talk to someone who is experiencing suicidal thoughts, listen and get them help; you are saving a life just like when you provide first aid and life saving techniques for someone having a heart attack or choking.

Fear tends to paralyze us and knowledge and being prepared and knowing what to do tend to lessen fear.

The fact is, suicide prevention is everybody’s business and anyone can help prevent the tragedy of suicide. Be aware, be observant, know the signs of someone struggling and listen to the words someone speaks, then, just be there.

There is a belief that those people who talk about suicide will not actually do it. This is a myth. The fact is, people who talk about suicide may attempt an act of self-destruction and talking about suicide is also a person’s way of trying to reach out when they are in a very dark place internally.

The hard part is the people who do not outwardly speak of their suicidal thoughts or intent but may show some signs such as isolating self, changes in appetite and sleep, giving away possessions, speaking of not “being here” for events coming up and drastic changes in mood. There are definitely outliers to this. I’m sure we have all heard of loved ones, following the death of someone by suicide, state that the person seemed happy the week prior to his death. There are instances in which a person has decided to end his life, has a date in mind and a plan and follows through. A person will sometimes experience euphoria in his mood, which means there appears to be an uplifting mood prior to the act of suicide. Sometimes this occurs because this person has made the decision to end his life and is at peace with this decision. There are definitely people that make a decision to end their life and do not give any indication of this. For the most part, however, people tend to give behavioral clues, direct or indirect.

The most important thing in suicide prevention is to be aware, be observant, and be there. It is up to both parties to be engaged. The person experiencing the crisis needs to reach out, talk about it and feel safe.

Connection is important. Help cannot be given if it is not known that help is needed. This comes back to stigma and breaking the stigma of mental health being kept a secret. We deal with physical health. We tell people when we had the flu, how we broke our arm and that we just took medicine for a migraine. We need to be able to tell people when we are not feeling well emotionally without having to make excuses why. We need to be there for those that are not feeling well emotionally without having to feel we need to fix it. Be there. Listen.

If you are reading this and are struggling with private thoughts that are frightening you, reach out. Please. People care and want to help but cannot help if they don’t know you need help. You matter. Your life matters. What you are going through can be temporary, but suicide is permanent.

The suicide prevention lifeline is 1-800-273-8255, and the texting line is TALK to 741741.

Kari Swanson is a Master’s level clinician with 25 years of working in the mental health field. She is the founder of CORE–Choosing Openness Regarding Experiences which is a non-profit organization with the mission to provide mental health awareness and suicide prevention education to Warren County.

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