Suicide: Ask a question, save a life

Margaret Brackett Contributing Columnist

October 9, 2013

The increasing number of suicides in our nation is extremely disturbing. In fact, more people are killed by suicide than by automobile accidents. Among young people ages 14 to 21, it is the third leading cause of death, and one out of every 65,000 children ages 10-14 take their own lives.

Even our military is affected. More men and women die from suicide than from fighting the enemy. Chances are you know of someone who has either thought about suicide or has succeeded in doing so. Maybe you have even considered it.

In spite of the blessings, prosperity, and opportunities we enjoy in this country, many people are suffering from such devastating situations that they decide to end it all by taking their own lives. Depression is usually the root cause, yet despite all the doctors and medication, the suicide rate continues to rise. Countless people are living on the edge of life and death, overwhelmed by hopelessness and loneliness. (InTouch Ministries, Atlanta, Ga.)

Our guest spokesman this week is Tony Johnson, regional executive director of Mental Health America, S.C. Region I. His goal is to present the South Carolina Suicide Prevention Plan focusing on two goals: the development of a broad-based support for suicide prevention, and the reduction of suicide in South Carolina.

As someone who may be in the best possible position to prevent suicide, you will find that QPR is designed to help you help someone who may be considering suicide. QPR consists of three life-saving skills including question a person about suicide, persuade the person to get help and refer the person to the appropriate resource.

QPR is not intended to be a form of counseling or treatment. QPR is intended to offer hope through positive action. QPR is intended to teach those who are in a position to recognize the warning signs, clues and suicidal communications of people in trouble to ACT vigorously to prevent a possible tragedy.

Much like CPR (or Heimlich maneuver) the fundamentals are easily learned and the application of QPR may save a life.

It is impossible for family doctors, counselors and mental health professionals to know everyone who needs help so everyone should known QPR.

Research shows the majority of those who attempt suicide give some warning signs, verbal or behavioral. These warning signs are often during the week preceding an attempt. QPR is designed to interrupt this terrible journey. By recognizing the suicidal person’s cries for help and offering hope through persuasion toward positive action, suicide can be prevented.

Suicide is the most complex and difficult to understand of all human behavior. Yet, suicidal people are just like you and me. We both have problems. The difference is we can handle our problems. In its simplest terms, suicide seems to be a solution to a problem. More often, it seems to be a solution to many insolvable problems. Thoughts of suicide occur during times of personal crisis, unrelenting stress, and depression.

Although sometimes an impulsive act, most people will think about suicide for days, months, even years before they make an attempt. Oddly, thinking of suicide provides a curious blend of terror and relief; relief in that one’s problems can be solved and terror at the idea of having to die to find that relief.

Clues and warning signs to suicide come in several forms, but once understood they are not difficult to recognize. One clue or warning sign may not mean a great deal, but any warning sign suggesting acute distress, despair or hopelessness about the future or a desire to “end it all” is worth asking about.

Most suicidal people are depressed, and depression is the common cold of modern life. Depression is both biological and psychological in nature and is the number one cause of suicidal behavior. If detected through QPR, it is highly treatable. The bad news is that depression is common. The good news is that it responds well to treatment.

As strange as it sounds, once someone decides to end his or her life suffering by suicide, the hours before death are often filled with a kind of chipperness, even a blissful calm. This change in appearance and mood is a good time to apply QPR.

People who finally take their own lives must pass through a sort of psychological barrier before they act. The final wall of resistance to death is what keeps many seriously suicidal people alive. Quick-acting and readily available alcohol, at intoxicating levels, dissolves this wall of resistance and is found in the blood of most completed suicides—whether or not they ever had a drinking problem.

Alcohol makes depression worse, impairs thinking and judgment, and increases impulsiveness. Alcohol contributes to tragic accidents including “accidental” suicides. The best thing you can do for someone contemplating suicide is to keep him or her sober until help is found. For the suicidal person, there is no safety without sobriety.

Recent studies have shown experiencing trauma, or witnessing trauma, can increase the risk of suicide. Rape victims, soldiers exposed to combat, police officers and others experience symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which is now known to increase risk.