My first experience with suicide that touched me in a personal, non-academic way was in the 1970s at a small private college in Ohio. Three faculty, a philosopher, an artist, a religion professor and I, representing literature, were team teaching a class in the changing roles of women.
The building was ancient, ornate, and a former president of the United States had slept in one of the rooms decades before as he traveled through the Midwest.
The classroom was carpeted in an emerald green, and there was a dark walnut fireplace, beautifully- carved just waiting for someone to lay a fire. We all sat on the floor, students and professors alike, as was the custom at that time. This was a perfect setting for an exploration of the complexities of life and the ways in which we address them with young eager college students filling all available space.
In the northeast corner of the room a tall, lanky kid brought up the idea of suicide. Does a person have a right to take his own life? Whose life is it anyway?
A discussion ensued, and I was the only one in the room to ask questions which resonate with me still: What about the persons left behind? What about the impact on them? Do we have a responsibility to seek help when our depression takes us to those very dark places which are a part of what it is to be human?
I felt that everyone, including the silent ones in the room, gave him the permission he needed that night, that he was seeking.
Two weeks later he went to a wooded area, hooked a hose up to his car exhaust and asphyxiated himself. No one in that class ever discussed that night when he posed the question or any responsibility we might have had in the outcome. This student had a 6-year-old sister, and I’ve often wondered about her.
His suicide was in an isolated area. What about those who decide to do it in their bedrooms or on their patios or in a barn so that their children, family, and neighbors will discover them when they come home from school or go to the barn to check on something? I know these cases and my heart still bleeds for those who make the discovery as well as the trauma with which they must deal as they go on with their lives, trauma that can never be completed erased.
Today is International Survivors of Suicide Day, so it’s important that we explore myths about suicide per the Mayo Clinic. Newspapers are a part of community education, your education and mine.
1. If we talk about suicide, it will increase the chances of their doing it. FALSE. Asking a person if he/she is thinking about it can actually help, giving that person the opportunity to open up and look for interventions.
2. Suicide can’t be prevented. FALSE Most contemplating suicide have a physical or mental illness that often can be treated.
3. Those who kill themselves are selfish, cowardly or weak FALSE More than 90 percent of those who kill themselves have at least one treatable illness.
4. Teens and college students are the most at risk for suicide. FALSE The U.S. group with the highest rate is men and women between the ages of 45-64.
5. Safe firearms storage, barriers on bridges and other strategies to reduce access to lethal methods of suicide don’t work. FALSE Suicide is often an impulsive act, sometimes sparked by an immediate crisis. They need time to reconsider.
6. Talk therapy and medications don’t work. FALSE One of the best ways to prevent suicide is through treatment for addictions and mental illness and teaching the suicide-prone person ways to cope with problems. It takes time to find the best treatment.
Help is out there: National Hopeline Network: 1 800 784-2433 or dial 911.
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