Suicide can be detected, prevented

Well now

In the early 1970s, students at Wayne State University and the University of Massachusetts (Boston) were questioned about suicide thoughts and suicide attempts. Of the 293 students surveyed, 65 percent indicated they had considered suicide on at least one occasion, and 15 percent reported having made an attempt within the previous five years. These eye-opening statistics provide one consolation: you are not alone if you’ve ever felt or acted suicidal.

Why would a person consider suicide? Reasons vary, but most involve some kind of loss—loss of a relationship, death of a loved one, loss of health, loss of finances, loss of “face” or loss of a job.

Of course, everyone experiences loss at one time or another without the loss triggering a suicidal crisis. The difference is how the loss gets interpreted. Does the loss mean you are worthless—unlovable or unable to do anything right? Does it mean you are helpless—can’t do anything to cope? Or that things are hopeless—never to get better? Worthlessness, helplessness and hopelessness are the key ingredients of depression.

Fortunately, most people contemplating suicide feel ambivalent about it. On one hand, suicide might seem like the best choice, but on the other, the person has a desire to live. Because people feel ambivalent, lives can be saved.

The suicidal person usually communicates something is wrong. Signals can be verbal and direct: “I’m gonna kill myself!” (You’d be surprisd how often such a dramatic statement is ignored or discounted.) Indirect verbal signals include: “Nobody will care if I’m gone,” “I can’t go on any longer,” or “You won’t have me to kick around any more.”

Signals can be behavioral and direct: slashing one’s wrists or obtaining lethal instruments. Indirect, behavioral signals are many, among them: increased use of alcohol/drugs, depressed appearance, isolation/withdrawal, giving away valued possessions and physical complaints.

What can be done? If suicidal thoughts or actions are issues for you, then know these three basics:

. Although your feelings, thoughts and acts are not uncommon, they signal something is wrong. Reach out for assistance.

2. Get help from the Counseling and Student Development Center (220 Swen Parson, 753-1206), the community Crisis Line (758-6655), a trusted clergy member or a physician.

3. A suicidal crisis is time-limited. Things can get better, even though the situation might look hopeless now.

If you know someone who is in distress, then:

. Inquire. Ask if anything is wrong or if help is needed. Most likely the person will be relieved you asked.

2. Listen. Listening communicates caring. Accept at face value what the person is saying. Don’t negate their feelings or discount what they are experiencing.

3. Refer. Don’t try to be a counselor. You quickly can get in over your head. Refer to one of the above resources.

Written by Al Ottens of the Counseling and Student Development Center.