Paying attention and getting involved is basically what’s necessary to prevent someone from committing suicide.
Guy Bennett, trainer, Suicide Prevention Partnership, went into greater detail when he addressed the UCCS Staff Council/PESA luncheon meeting Jan. 11, but he emphasized that one person paying attention to warning signs and caring enough to get involved has the power to circumvent a tragedy.
“It never stops hurting,” Bennett said, revealing that his own son had committed suicide.
Suicide creates more than one victim, he said, and leaves significant, unique emotional scars on its survivors. He asked for a show of hands regarding who in the audience knew someone who had committed suicide, knew someone a suicide victim had left behind, or had been approached by someone contemplating suicide. A majority of people in the room raised their hands.
To make clear how close to home the issue strikes, Bennett offered statistics for El Paso County tabulated from 2000-2008. That period charted 842 suicides compared to 606 vehicular deaths and 223 homicides.
He said that in 2009, 172 people, ranging from 12 to 88 years of age, died by suicide in El Paso County. Suicide is the third leading cause of death for teens in the nation, but among Colorado teens it ranks second. Compared to other counties in Colorado, El Paso County continues to have one of the highest numbers of deaths by suicide per year.
Bennett conducted a demonstration in which Benek Altayli, director, University Counseling Center, carried a heavy rock, with additional rocks added to her load. But while this exercise represented the awkward, increasing burden suicidal individuals carry inside themselves, Bennett took it a step further.
He asked audience members why they didn’t offer to help carry the rocks. He asked Altayli why she did not ask for help. The responses ranged from the thought never occurred to not wanting to interrupt the exercise. He went on to share that some people do not ask for help because they are afraid of burdening others. Bennett spoke of how important it is for a person to recognize when he or she needs the help of others and to ask for it. It’s also important to recognize when others are in need of help and offer it.
Bennett asked his audience if they considered suicide a selfish act, and most agreed. One who acts without thinking how an action will affect others is usually considered selfish, he said. Yet he would use the term “self-focused” rather than “selfish,” he said. “Selfish” implies some form of indifference, while the “self-focused” individual is actually more preoccupied than indifferent.
Warning signs common in most individuals considering suicide include depression, increased isolation, giving away prized belongings, and talk about dying. But children, teens and adults contemplating suicide will often have motivations that are age specific. Employment and finances are more apt to influence adults, growing responsibilities and social expectations may affect teens, and children can know what’s undesirable in life but not know the finality of death.
Bennett recognized that university staff encounter teens and young adults in their day-to-day exchanges, and so emphasized watching for warning signs produced by stresses common to college life. These include major changes in academic performance or social activity, homesickness, and just being overwhelmed.
Bennett acknowledged that time constraints prevented him from presenting the full training session he usually offers, but said he hoped he increased the group’s awareness of suicide and knowledge of risk factors and warning signs. He said he hoped he left them better equipped to help deal with possible suicidal situations.
He offered the word ACT as an acronym for: acknowledge that there are signs of a real and serious threat; care enough to let the person involved know you are there for him or her, concerned about his or her wellbeing, and desire to help; and tell a professional, a parent, a spouse or somebody with appropriate knowledge or experience about the situation.
To learn more about suicide prevention, visit http://pikespeaksuicideprevention.org/home.html.