by Susan Titus Osborn
All of us, with surety, will someday die. Nevertheless, most of us plan to reach a ripe old age before we face death. There seems to be an appropriateness that surrounds the face of death due to old age.
Many of us have experienced the loss of a loved one. And we’ve felt the pain of grief—the process we all must go through to find eventual acceptance. Yet, there is a type of loss that is almost impossible to accept. That is the loss of a loved one through suicide. For the individual or family left behind, suicide is a time when faith is tested beyond any human reasoning.
In 2009, the last year for which statistics are available, suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in the US. That year, there were nearly 37,000 suicides, and 1 million people attempted suicide, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Women tend to attempt suicide, often numerous times, more often than men. Men, however, complete the act by means that will bring about certain death. Men take their lives at nearly four times the rate of women, accounting for 79% of suicides in the U.S.
Although nothing guarantees that we can stop someone from taking their own life, it is helpful to be educated on the warning signs:
1. Depression: Depressed people may be suicidal. It certainly is a key symptom of the disease. Deep sadness, trouble sleeping and eating, loss of interest in daily matters, and inability to function are all symptoms of depression. The person may mention extreme feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, despair, and self-doubt. Over 90% of the people who die by suicide are clinically depressed or have another diagnosable mental disorder.
2. Suicidal Threats: If someone has threatened to commit suicide, take that person seriously. Listen attentively to what they say and offer reassurance. Ask direct questions. Try to find out if the person has a specific plan, a method in mind, or has taken other steps towards putting their affairs in order. Remind the person that they can get help and that things will get better. Offer to obtain help for them.
3. Alcohol and Drug Abuse: A person who is suicidal and feeling depressed may turn to alcohol or drugs to make them feel better. Unfortunately these substances will worsen their symptoms, decrease the effectiveness of medication they are taking, cloud their judgment, and enhance their impulsive behavior.
4. Family History: Suicide often runs in families. If other family members have taken their own lives, it presents a huge red flag. And if the individual has made attempts on their life before and been unsuccessful, they may very well attempt suicide again.
5. Putting Affairs in Order: When a person is winding up their affairs and making preparations for the family’s welfare after they are gone, there’s a good chance the individual is contemplating suicide. This is especially true if the individual is not ill. And if the person is chronically ill, in pain, or has been given a short time to live, consider these potential warning signs. Of course everyone who is chronically ill is not suicidal, but a number of chronically ill people do take their own lives or attempt to.
6. Feeling Better: Studies show that 6 to 12 months after hospitalization is when patients are most likely to consider or reconsider suicide. Strangely enough, when people seem to have passed the low point regarding a clinical depression, and seem to be on the road to recovery, is when they are most vulnerable to another suicide attempt.
Managing the Crisis:
1. Don’t Leave the Person Alone: If a loved one or friend appears to be in imminent danger of committing suicide, do not leave that person alone. Remove weapons or drugs that may be present.
2. Take the Person Seriously: Listen attentively, show concern, and maintain eye contact. Stay calm, but be careful not to under act. Move close to the person— if appropriate, hold their hand or put your arm around them. Pray comforting words aloud for them.
3. Talk about Suicide: Your ability to explore the person’s feelings and thoughts can provide valuable perspective and can help you determine whether you should involve others. Talking about suicide does not plant the idea in someone’s head. Not everyone who talks about suicide, or thinks about it, takes action, but you don’t want to take any chances. Stress that the person’s life is important to you and others.
4. Involve Other People: If you think someone you know is close to suicide, accompany the person to the nearest emergency room if possible or just call 911. You may also contact the individual’s doctor, the police, a crisis intervention team, or others who are trained to help. Don’t try to handle the crisis alone or jeopardize your own safety.
You can dial 211 or go to www.211.org for help in locating essential community services, such as mental and health services. This service is available for 39 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.
You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), a free, 24-hour hotline available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. Your call will be routed to the nearest crisis center to you.
You can also dial the following National Suicide Prevention Hotline numbers operated by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of the Department of Health and Human Services:
1-877-SUICIDE (1-877-784-2432) (Spanish).
You can search a directory of Christian counselors through the National Christian Counselors Association at http://www.ncca.org/Directory/ .
You can contact the ministry of Focus on the Family any time at 1-800-A-Family (232-6459).
Jeenie Gordon, Karen Kosman, and I wrote a book titled Too Soon to Say Goodbye: Healing and Hope for Victims and Survivors of Suicide. Our prayer is that this book will help survivors as they grieve the loss of a loved one to suicide or deal with the pain of attempted suicide. We pray that those who are depressed or suicidal will also seek out caring family, friends, and a local church body to support them in this journey. Christian counseling services are also available in most communities. We pray those touched by suicide will find the joy of the Lord as their strength.
Susan Titus Osborn is the director of the Christian Communicator Manuscript Critique Service where she heads a staff of 18 editors. She has authored 30 books, her latest being Wounded by Words and Too Soon to Say Goodbye, co-authored by Jeenie Gordon and Karen Kosman and published by New Hope Publishers. Susan is a member of the CLASSeminars staff, of Advanced Writers and Speakers Association (AWSA), and Christian Authors Network (CAN). She lives in Fullerton, California, with her husband Dick. They have five grown children, 12 grandkids, and 3 great-grandsons.