Straight Talk Advice

No one untouched by suicide epidemic

Sep 15, 2015

Suicide triples while preventative education lags

Dear Straight Talk: I’m not over the death of my friend’s suicide last spring. I did not see the signs. He didn’t seem to have any more problems than the rest of us. How could we all be so clueless? It seems like nobody is untouched by suicide today. Is there anything we do to prevent it? —Carla, 16, Seattle, Washington

Nick 18, Corte Madera, California Ask me a question

A friend’s suicide last year shocked our community. Even her closest friends and brother saw no signs. This friend lived a privileged life in a wealthy family and was a great student with many good friends. But something was very wrong, though we don’t know what. Truthfully, there may have been signs but nobody knew enough to catch them. Suicide is a touchy subject, so schools push alcohol and drug awareness, but not this. Yet, students would be very attentive, because everyone knows suicide and depression aren’t “recreational”. Schools need to get serious about suicide prevention because each suicide causes more depression and risk in the community.

Dear Carla: I agree that education is a key to suicide prevention — along with a kinder, healthier, less-commercial, less-stressful world, where depression (the top trigger for suicide) and the trauma that causes it, are reduced. Your role right now is forgiving yourself. One in 5 suicides lack signs; there is no way to know. I also encourage grief counseling, or more of it. Hospice grief support is free, ongoing, and across the nation. They also offer training where you can learn to help others.

Since 1965, youth suicide rates have tripled in the U.S. — in contrast to overall homicide rates which have held steady. The 2013 U.S. suicide rate was 13 per 100,000, while the homicide rate was 2.5 times lower at 5.1 per 100,000. In the reverse situation, we would expand our tax-subsidized police forces in a heartbeat, yet most mental health professionals and proven school programs like Safe School Ambassadors aren’t subsidized at all. The denial around suicide makes Straight Talk’s suicide columns our least read. I hope that changes today and everyone studies the red flags and preventatives below. Next week, more panelists will share about this “silent” epidemic. 


SUICIDE WARNING SIGNS:
• deepening depression
• social withdrawal
• statements about feeling worthless or     hopeless
• changes in sleeping, eating
• excessive partying or drug use
• avoidance of emotional depth
• self-destructive or risky behavior
• talking, writing, drawing about death or suicide
• dropping loved activities
• unexpectedly contacting friends or relatives
• giving away prized possessions
• saying goodbye
• having a suicide plan


RISK FACTORS:
• depression or other mental illness
• previous suicide attempts
• alcohol or drug abuse
• sexual-orientation issues
• history of neglect, rape, abuse, bullying
• eating disorders, self-harm
• exposure to violence
• access to firearms
• exposure to suicide
• trauma or loss (i.e., breakup, divorce, death,
failure, no-win situation)


WHAT TO DO:
• Talking about suicide will not plant the seed. Name warning signs aloud and say, “Are you considering suicide?”
• No matter what they answer, tell a responsible adult about the warning signs.
• If they admit to suicidal feelings, or reveal a suicide plan, listen caringly, but don’t play therapist and don’t keep their secret. Tell an adult ASAP.
• If they backpedal or text, “Don’t worry, I'm better now,” do not believe it! Tell an adult.
• If someone is attempting suicide, stay with them and call 911 or 800-SUICIDE immediately.


PREVENTATIVES:
• Slow down; give kids structure, rhythm, demonstrable love and affection.
• Instill strong family expectations that suicide is not acceptable behavior.
• Instill that no problem is too big to solve and you love them always. 
• Clamor for school programs like Safe School Ambassadors.
• Normalize family mental health care as you do medical care. Choose a mental health professional for your family and give your kids confidential access to see him/her whenever they want. 

  1. By T.G., age 17, from Elk Grove, California on 09/16/2015

    I agree that teen suicide is a serious issue.  However, how do you know when to take someone seriously or whether they’re just “crying wolf?”  I say this because my stepsister threatens suicide every time she’s upset over any little thing.  The first time she expressed this to me, I was really concerned and immediately went to my stepmom and told her.  However, she told me that my stepsister had been doing this for a long time anytime she didn’t get her way or wanted attention and that she did it so often that she decided to just start ignoring it and not let her get what she wanted by making threats like this, and that she couldn’t take it seriously.  I quickly learned that there was much validity to what she was saying as I share her room on bi-weekly visitations and hardly a visit goes by that she doesn’t say she feels like killing herself, usually over some petty thing no worse than what most teenagers have to deal with.  Still, it concerns me as sometimes she does seem really depressed.  Some weekends she doesn’t even bother to get dressed and just lays all day on her bed in nothing but her thong underwear that she sleeps in.  It’s depressing to me to have to share a room with her when she’s acting like this, so I do my best to find other things to do than having to be in the room with her.  Her mom is well aware of this and says to just ignore her. 

    How do you know when someone’s at serious risk or just “crying wolf.”  Also, what more can I do since I’ve already talked to her mom?

    S.G.

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    1. By Tina, age 16, from Woodland, CA on 09/18/2015

      It is understandable that you would get frustrated and think someone is just “crying wolf.”  However, I think all threats of suicide must be taken seriously based on my experience.  My sister was also acting similar to your stepsister and threatening suicide any time she was unhappy about something or not getting her way, so our mom and I got to the point where we just ignored her thinking that giving her attention for it would be giving her what she wanted.  However, like your stepsister, she also was showing signs of serious depression.  She hardly left our room except to reluctantly go to school when she couldn’t find a way to get out of it.  She also often didn’t even bother to get dressed.  She let her hygiene totally go.  Sometimes she went so long without taking a shower that I couldn’t stand her body odor having to live in the same room with her, and I would have to literally drag her into the bathroom and get her to strip and get in the shower.  When I was forceful about it she didn’t really resist, but that’s what it took.  She also stopped eating, and I could see her body wasting away when she was naked.  Finally, she did make an attempt at suicide.  It was a very feeble attempt by lightly cutting her wrists in a way that they hardly bled, so I think it was more a call for help than a serious attempt.  Even so, any attempt to harm oneself like this is obviously a very serious matter.  Our mom finally realized that something needed to be done and got her into counseling which really helped. 

      It really sounds like your stepsister is in a similar situation, so I hope that her mom will get help for her before something bad happens.

      Tina

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    2. By LAUREN, from StraightTalkAdvice.org on 09/21/2015

      S.G.—I suggest you individually show your stepmother and stepsister, both, this column and again urge the stepmother to schedule her an appointment with a professional counselor and also urge the stepsister to see the school counselor. If this doesn’t work, I would do as Caite suggests and go see the school counselor yourself for further advice and to ease your own nerves over this unfortunate situation.—Love, Lauren

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  2. By Caite, age 76, from New Mexico on 09/18/2015

    Well, where there is smoke there is usually fire.  Her Mom not listening to her is not a good sign.  She may be waving the suicide flag because she doesn’t know how else to get the help she needs.  She may not even know what the problem is!  Has anyone suggested to the Mom to take her to therapy?  Does the problem that results in her threatening suicide have any pattern?  It is very hard on you to have to be presented with this when your stepsister seems to really need professional help.  And her doing this is a threat and a guilt trip on you!
    Threatening suicide really isn’t a joke, no matter how often she does it!
    If this continues to happen when you share a room with her, why not have a session yourself with a school counselor to get professional advice?

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  3. By Roberta, age 39, from Bowling Green, Ohio on 09/19/2015

    My 15 year old daughter attempted suicide.  It totally shocked me as I did not have a clue, as I had not seen any signs that anything was wrong and none of the warning signs and risk factors described above.  She was sometimes “moody” but so are most teenagers at times and does not normally signal that someone is at risk for suicide.  Other than that she seemed like a typical teenager who had her ups and downs like everyone, but no serious issues that I was aware of.  However, it turned out that she was cutting and her sister with whom she is close and shares a room was aware but did not tell me.  Her sister sees her nude since they share a room and undress in front of one another, but she became very sensitive about her body when she reached puberty and would not permit me to see her nude even though she remained comfortable in this way with her sister. I respected her privacy and never forced the issue.  My other daughter said that she did not tell me because her sister didn’t want me to know, so she decided to let it be her business.  However, if I had known I could have obtained help for her before this happened.

    I therefore want to stress that it is very important for a sibling to report something like this even if it means “telling” on a sibling as a sibling who shares a room is often more likely to see signs of matters of serious concern than a parent.  It can literally be a life or death matter and someone who remains silent will likely have tremendous guilt for the rest of their life if their silence results in tragedy.

    Roberta

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  4. By D., age 17, from California on 09/20/2015

    I’m really concerned about my younger sister.  While she hasn’t actually threatened suicide, she’s very depressed and says that she sees no future for herself.  The problem is, I can’t tell our parents what is going on with her.  She has confided in me that she is gay and that she and her best friend are really “girlfriends,” but no one else knows this.  We cannot let our parents know this for religious reasons, as they think it is a terrible sin that can be cured by repentance and prayer.  We have heard them talking about a family at their church whose son came out as gay and was forced to go to a religious counselor who supposedly “cured” him this way, although I don’t really believe it.  We overheard them say that they would do the same if was one of us, but they said “of course” they would never be in that situation.

    My sister is certain that she cannot be “cured” and fears total rejection from our family (except for me) if she ever comes out with her true sexuality.  She was even worried that I would reject her and be afraid to continue sharing a room and undressing in front of her.  As many others have written in Straight Talk, it make no difference to me.  I’m not shy about my straight girl friends seeing me nude, but I’ve always been more comfortable in this way with her than anyone else as it is with many sisters, and her being gay does not change this in the least.

    I casually mentioned to our mom that my sister seems depressed and maybe could use some counseling, obviously without telling her the reason.  However, she just shrugged it off and said my sister is just being a “moody teenager” and she’ll get over it. 

    While my sister does not appear to actually be suicidal yet, she definitely is very depressed over this, and I really wish she could get help before things get worse and she potentially does become suicidal.  I’m trying to be as supportive of her as I possibly can, but I don’t know what more I can do, but I don’t think I’m doing enough.

    D.

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    1. By LAUREN, from StraightTalkAdvice.org on 09/21/2015

      Dear D.—First off, I am so very glad that your sister has you and you are smart to be concerned about her because “I have no future” statements combined with the risk factors of being depressed and shouldering sexual orientation issues in a potentially hostile environment are definitely a red flag.

      I have some ideas for you. First, as I have mentioned many times before in our columns, I don’t recommend that she come out to your parents under these circumstances until she is out of the nest and not in need of financial support. It doesn’t sound like she plans to, but I just wanted to state that. On the other hand, has your sister’s girlfriend come out to her parents? If so, her household may be a place to find refuge for your sister if the parents agree not to tell your parents about the homosexuality. Otherwise, she shouldn’t reveal anything to them either.

      It will, as you have noted, be very good for her to see a counselor. Call one of your school counselors and go there together at the soonest appointment. Like for any counselor, it’s confidential. This will get your sister seeing someone immediately. The sooner depressed youth see a counselor the better! If your sister refuses to go with you, go yourself and ask the counselor what to do. There are also resources like the It Gets Better video at http://www.itgetsbetter.org/ or call the Trevor Project for 24/7 support for suicide prevention for LGBT youth. Their website is http://www.thetrevorproject.org/ .

      You will feel better to have learned all you can and tried your best. If things deepen, keep trying all of this again. If negative behaviors keep progressing, you eventually MUST tell someone, be it the school counselor, a grandparent or other kind relative, or calling 911. Follow your gut and never doubt yourself. Please let us know how things go. —Love, Lauren

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