The presenter at last week’s suicide awareness session at Miller Middle School made clear how important it is to speak up when sensing that someone may be contemplating taking his or her own life, and that can be done without any experience or training.
The more direct the questions the better, said Susan Becker of Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction. The more direct you are in your questioning, the more likely the distressed individual will believe you are sincere in your concern and in your offer to help.
“Encourage the person to keep talking,” she said, “and if you have to step away to contact a professional, make the person promise not to harm himself or herself in the meantime.” Do appear hopeful, and let the person know you are an ally.
According to Becker, the three points to remember are 1) approach and be observant; 2) ask directly; and 3) agree to stay safe.
She also dispelled the concerns which many might have about being assertive at such a sensitive time: “Communication lowers the risk of suicide, not increases it,” she said. “Intervene, but do not feel you then become responsible for any outcome; you are not.”
And while the intervener should not be reluctant to bring the subject up for fearing of being responsible, they should have the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number available (800-273-8255).
Becker spoke to about 600 people at the forum arranged by San Juan Basin Public Health Department following numerous suicides in La Plata County in recent months. While the greatest concern has been the number of teenagers who have taken their lives, and Becker’s instructions could at least partially apply to them, her list of warning signs and intervention techniques seemed more likely to be appropriate to adults. Becker included the loss of a job, changing personal relationships and economic challenges as some of the causes.
There are differences between suicidal motivations for a teenager and for a 40-year-old and for a 65-year-old.
The community can expect and should take part in more conversations about suicide in the coming months.
Dan Snowberger, Superintendent of Durango School District 9-R, for example, used his column in the Herald (May 13) to state the district’s and his concerns about youth suicide, and to offer suggestions as to how to recognize its possible causes. He stressed the value of plenty of communication, as well.
Those who attended last week’s meeting are now wiser about suicide, but there is much more to learn.