The possibility of a suicide of a loved one is something we’d like to ignore or forget. Some of us deny it. Others can’t say the word. It’s frightening to contemplate. We think it can’t happen to us. It can. Our 23 year old son, Sammy, killed himself in 1982. He was diagnosed with a serious brain disease 10 months earlier. It’s been a very painful experience for our family.

Since 75% of suicidal persons present one or more warning signs, the probabilities are good that … one can successfully prevent a suicide.

Thirty-one thousand Americans kill themselves every year. Compare this to 22,000 homicides. Suicide is a “national problem.” It is the ninth leading cause of death in the U.S. (Third among ages 15-24.) The U.S. Senate declared it a “national problem” with the unanimous passage of Senate Resolution 84 in 1997 and the U.S. House of Representatives followed with the almost identical House Resolution 212 in 1998.

Both resolutions call for the development and implementation of a national suicide prevention strategy and the availability of accessible and affordable mental health services for all Americans. The Suicide Prevention Advocacy Network (SPAN) is coordinating the efforts to meet these national objectives. SPAN is a countrywide grassroots organization made up largely of persons who survive the suicide of a loved one. SPAN partners with NAMI, several agencies of the federal Department of Health and Human Services and other non-governmental organizations.

Research shows that the majority of suicide victims suffer from depression or another psychiatric disorder. Some studies have reported as high as 90%

Research shows that the majority of suicide victims suffer from depression or another psychiatric disorder. Some studies have reported as high as 90%. Long term follow-up studies report 10% of those with schizophrenia and 15% of those with major mood disorders eventually become victims of suicide. Suicide does happen and the loved ones of CAMI members, as a population class, are at high risk.

Is suicide preventable? “Yes.” U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher, M.D. has stated in several recent speeches and press conferences. What can we do about it? The most important task is to become informed in order to get beyond our fears so that we can act effectively if a crisis arises. We must be knowledgeable about the warning signs that 75% of suicidal persons present. We must know where to get help for the person in crisis. And, we need to know what we can do to help.

Warning Signs:

  • Previous suicide threats, gestures or attempts
  • Symptoms of depression
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Changes in sleeping habits
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in formerly enjoyed activities
  • Loss of energy
  • Feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness
  • Lack of concentration, indecision
  • Thoughts or speaking about death or suicide
  • Use of alcohol or drugs to blunt psychological pain.

Where to Seek Help in a Crisis:

  • Your loved one’s therapist or doctor
  • Your loved one’s mental health clinic
  • Local psychiatric hospital
  • Local general hospital’s emergency room
  • County mental health services
  • Encourage your loved one to call the nearest suicide prevention or crisis center for support or call yourself for advice on how to handle the immediate situation
  • Seek assistance from other family members, friends, school counselors, teachers, clergy and law enforcement.

What You Can Do:

  • Take all threats, gestures and previous attempts seriously! And make sure your loved one’s professional caregiver also does this!
  • Be a nonjudgmental listener. Ask what is the matter. Get the person in crisis to talk about their problem(s).
  • If they were in crisis before, ask how they resolved it. Can they apply the same solution now? Discuss what other alternatives there might be.
  • If professional help is required, help them find it. You may have to go with them.
  • Don’t try to “talk” them out of suicide. This only indicates you’re not listening. However, let them know you care and have a sense of what they are feeling. Let them know they are not alone. Help them to understand their problems(s) are temporary and can be solved.
  • If the crisis is acute, do not leave them alone until help is available and remove from the area firearms, knives, razors, medications and other potentially dangerous items
  • After assistance is obtained, continue to follow up with your loved one’s treatment and progress. Take an active role in ensuring that treatment compliance occurs.

This article was written by Sam Bloom and originally published in The Cami Statement, Vol. XIX No.2 and reprinted with permission. 

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Hi, I'm Jim. I've been through the emotional wringer. I've been a successful pastor and leader and a loving father, but I've also been suicidally depressed. I'll teach you the techniques I used to heal myself, and give you the tools to reclaim your life and move forward!

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