I will never forget what happened in my high school merely five months ago. Chuck was 16 years old, a junior in high school, and a star football player. In December of 2002, he began to have many troubles in his life. His girlfriend of about one year broke off their relationship, and declined his invitation to the school’s annual Christmas Ball. In the days leading up to this dance, Chuck
had lost his after-school job, and had several conferences with his guidance counselor about his poor academic performance. On top of all of these factors, Chuck went to a car dealership to put a down payment a car he had his heart set on, and discovered it had already been sold. Chuck went to the Christmas Ball alone, following his ex-girlfriend around for the majority of the night. Midway through the evening, one of Chuck’s classmates screamed at him, “She doesn’t like you, get away from her and get a life!” Chuck spent the rest of the evening sitting alone. He did not attend any of the after-parties that evening, and the next day, Chuck’s parents discovered his body hanging in their shower.
Have you ever felt like just throwing it all away? No matter how pleasant a person’s life is, there are often times where a person feels overpowered by feelings of doubt, despair, and hopelessness. The majorities of people either push these feelings aside or cope with them, and the feelings diminish and disappear. For others, these emotions never seem to fade away; intense negative feelings continually overwhelm their lives and lead them to believe there is no way to escape or cope with the problems at hand. They turn to suicide
, seeing death as the only solution to their problems. Suicide is a problem that affects all people, in every age group, from every background, in every social class, and should not be taken lightly. Due to the graveness of the issue and its detrimental effects
, all people are socially obligated to help prevent suicide at all costs.
Suicide is defined as “the act or an instance of intentionally killing oneself.” (www.dictionary.com) In the United States alone, an average of 29,350 people commits suicide each year, equaling approximately 80 people a day, one person every 18 minutes. Suicide is the 11th leading cause of death in the United States. Although the overall rate of suicide has dropped in recent years, teen suicide has increased, becoming the 3rd leading cause of death for individuals between the ages of 15 and 24. The elderly have the highest rate of completed suicides, and about 15 elderly people complete this horrible act each day. Women are three times more likely to attempt suicide, but men are four times more likely to actually complete it. More than half of all suicides are completed with firearms. (American Association of Suicidology, 1999 Summary Data)
Some may ask why a person would choose such an option. Risk factors are identified as events in a person’s life that leads them to begin contemplating suicide. Common risk factors include problems with school or the law, breakup of a romance, unexpected pregnancy, stressful family life, and loss of security. Other risk factors include stress due to new situations (such as college or relocating to a new place), serious illness or injury, or major loss or a loved one or another valuable possession. After risk factors occur, warning signs begin to show.
Attachment, escape, control, and release are motivations for committing suicide. Contemplating or attempting to commit suicide could be a cry for help and a desire to secure attachments, or a way to break away from circumstances that are hard to bear. If a person feels that they are losing control of their life or overwhelmed with tension or feelings of pressure of any kind, they may also use suicide as an outlet.
After someone has struggled with risk factors and motivational issues, actions and behaviors hinting that there is a problem begin to show in the person’s everyday actions. Change in eating or sleeping patterns, depression, and panic or anxiety are characteristic of people with a suicidal problem. Furthermore, talking about death and dying, giving away possessions, drug and alcohol use, rebellion, isolation, confusion about self-identity, extreme boredom, neglect of all work can also be considered warnings of the horrible action that may follow. If it is suspected that suicidal actions may take place, it is obligated that a person takes actions to deter suicide.
Talking about the feelings surrounding suicide promotes understanding, and can greatly reduce the immediate distress of a suicidal person. For example, it is okay to ask someone if they are considering suicide. If it is suspected that they are having a difficult time dealing with a situation, or are showing risk factors or warning signs, one should attempt to help. If they are feeling suicidal, it can come as a great relief to see that someone else has some insight into how they feel. The most appropriate way to raise the subject will be different in all situations, but any support has proven to be helpful and necessary.
When confronting a person who is suspected to be suicidal, it is important to take the persons overall response into consideration when interpreting their answer. Suicidal people can have actions similar to those of small children; saying, “no” could mean, “yes”. A person who is not having suicidal thoughts usually answers comfortably and honestly and will continue the conversation in an appropriate manner. It can also be helpful to ask what they would do if they ever were in a situation where they were seriously considering killing themselves, in case they become suicidal at some point in the future. One aspect of discussion that can be detrimental to talking someone out of suicide is talking to him or her exclusively about how to commit suicide. This can unfortunately give ideas to people who feel suicidal, but have not thought about how they would do it yet. For example, news reports on suicide that concentrate solely on the method used to commit the action and ignore the emotional backdrop behind it can tend to encourage copycat suicides. (Suicide FAQ & International Crisis Resources)
Considering the entirety of previously stated information about suicide, it is apparent that suicide prevention should be a major concern for all people. Prevention means working to raise awareness of suicide as a serious public health problem. Focusing on prevention strategies can help to to reduce injuries and deaths due to suicide. Because suicide is on the rise among young people, teen suicide prevention is of utmost concern.
In 1992, The American Association of Suicidology compiled a list of eight suicide prevention strategies for adolescents. The first two types of programs are school gatekeeper and community gatekeeper training. These are designed to help school staff and community members such as clergy, safety officials, merchants, activity staff, and clinical health-care providers identify students at risk for suicide and refer them for counseling. These programs also teach staff and community members how to respond to suicide or other crises in the school and in the community. General suicide education enables students to learn about suicide, its warning signs, and how to go about seeking help for themselves or others. Rather than solely discussing suicide, these programs “develop self-esteem and social competency”. Along with general education, there are various screening programs. Adolescents are asked to fill out a questionnaire to identify whether they are at high-risk for suicide. Repetitive evaluation can be helpful in measuring changes in attitudes or behaviors over time, testing the value of a prevention tactic, and distinguishing normal behavior from suicidal habits. Peer support programs, crisis centers, and hotlines are also methods where suicidal persons can reach out, anonymously if they wish. They are then able to receive the care and guidance that they need to overcome the suicidal feelings they are having. Although this program was designed for suicidal adolescents, the tactics and techniques they offer can be applied to helping the majority of suicidal individuals. When a person begins to notice warning signs, it is most important to let the person know that they are supported and loved. Those willing to help should be available to listen and talk openly about suicide, remaining calm and proceeding slowly at all times. They must be a positive reinforcement, and convey to the person the permanence of death, something that is not often realized in the heat of suicidal behavior. Give alternatives to death, remind the person of the beauty of life, and that struggles can be overcome.
Contrary to common belief, having suicidal thoughts is not a reason to classify a person as mentally ill. The majority of people who commit suicide are acutely distressed and many are depressed, but are average people in all other cases. However, recent studies suggest specific conditions and drugs that may contribute to or reduce suicidal behavior. For example, family history of suicide can be considered in the assessment of suicide risk. Completed suicide and psychiatric illness in relatives increase a person’s tendency towards suicidal behavior, and the effect of family suicide history is independent of the familial cluster of mental disorders. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.) Recent studies conducted by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention have proven that lithium can reduce suicidal behavior. As Frederick Goodwin, M.D., told Psychiatric News,
"The research is relevant because we now know that lithium has a significant impact on the death rate of bipolar patients. It is also timely because some are suggesting that the anticonvulsant valproate is superior to lithium in the treatment of manic depression. In my opinion, it is premature to replace lithium as a first-line treatment because of its proven track record as a long-term maintenance treatment and its ability to prevent suicidal behavior."
Further research has been conducted, concluding that suicide rates are higher in bipolar patients, stroke survivors, and panic disorder. A vague connection has also been made connecting the death of public officials and suicides; when there is a death of a person well known to the public, such as Princess Diana of Wales, suicide rates around the world increase. (Suicide Research, Oxford) These factors and so many more contribute to suicide; how much longer will people ignore the signs in others?
According to the Guidance Department at the high school Chuck attended before his tragic death, there had been several conferences with his parents about the changes in his mood and his failing grades, and his parents insisted that if his behavior did not change, they would help him pass his classes. Judging by the facts that I know about this case, I feel that action was not taken soon enough. This string of events may have triggered the thoughts of suicide that Chuck has been contemplating for a while, and because he had never received help for his problems, he thought that killing himself was the only way out. I believe that if those who truly cared about Chuck realized his problems and got the necessary help, he would still be alive today. How much longer will society close its eyes to its obligation to reach out to those in need?
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