Life matters

By Bob Hembree
Lake Powell Chronicle

PAGE – Recent news of teens taking their own lives in Page is unsettling. More unsettling is people rarely see it coming, especially with young people.

It’s not uncommon to hear, after a death that a single circumstance led to the final decision: a broken relationship, bullying, financial troubles. These kinds of troubles may contribute, but there’s usually more bubbling under the surface. Like the complexities of climate change, the spread of disease, and the creation of the universe, it’s systemic. It’s a boiling soup of social, cultural, occupational, interpersonal, family relationships and mental health. Cause is mostly speculation, but the warning signs are there, and knowing them could save lives.

After the most recent death by suicide, Page High School held a special assembly. Encompass Health Services crisis counselor Brent Cases told the Chronicle, “The last two adolescent suicides have had a tremendous impact on the community.”

Jessie Parker from Encompass gave a presentation to the victim’s classmates. Case said, “One of the things he really emphasized was that peers tend to talk mostly to their peers about things of a personal nature, including mental health. They usually want to keep those things a secret.”

Case, continued, “One of the things that we focused on was it’s OK, and it’s really important to tell a trusted adult when your friend says, ‘I want to kill myself.’”

Case stressed that it may be other kinds of comments, such as, “Well, you’re not going to see me here at school anymore.” He says it’s important to follow up with another question, “Why not?” Find out more. Sometimes it’s the “off-the-wall statements that your feelings tell you something’s wrong.” Case advises to “probe a little bit.” Find out. Tell a responsible adult. Don’t’ keep it a secret. That’s too big to carry.

Case said, “A lot of my calls, especially recently, have been calls about someone who has made a statement about wanting to kill themselves. And so, at that time it becomes my focus to go in try and find out how serious it is. It’s always serious, but is it so serious that the person needs to be hospitalized right away? I make that determination through an assessment.”

For years, psychologists and researchers have warned about suicide contagion, copycat suicides. David Shaffer, a professor of child psychiatry at Columbia University and the head of the Suicide Research Unit at the New York State Psychiatric Institute said in 1987, ‘’Hearing about a suicide moves those teenagers at risk closer to doing it themselves. The news coverage of teenage suicides can portray the victims as martyrs of sorts.”

Shaffer said in an interview with The New York Times, ‘’The more sentimentalized it is, the more legitimate - even heroic - it may seem to some teenagers.”

Warning signs of suicide
Talking about wanting to die
Looking for a way to kill oneself
Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
Talking about being a burden to others
Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
Acting anxious, agitated or recklessly
Sleeping too little or too much
Withdrawing or feeling isolated
Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
Displaying extreme mood swings

The more of these signs a person shows, the greater the risk. Warning signs are associated with suicide but may not be what causes a suicide.

What to do:
If someone you know exhibits warning signs of suicide:
Do not leave the person alone
Remove any firearms, alcohol, drugs or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt
Call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255)
Take the person to an emergency room or seek help from a medical or mental health professional.