The elephant in the room

With September being National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month and Sept. 10 being World Suicide Prevention Day, it is time to bring awareness to Warrick County about the signs of suicide and what you can do to help those struggling with suicidal thoughts or friends and family members grieving from loved ones who have committed suicide.

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. – that is 42,773 people each year.

So what does that mean for Indiana?

According to the State of Indiana Substance Abuse Prevention and Mental Health Promotion Strategic Plan for 2012-2016, more than 800 Hoosiers die from suicide each year and more than 4,000 seek emergency care for injuries related to suicide attempts.

Even more frightening, Indiana has the highest rate in the country of teens who have considered suicide and the second highest rate of those who have attempted it, according to a 2015 report from the Indiana Youth Institute. IYI also reports that suicide is the second leading cause of death among those 15-34 years old and the 11th leading cause of death among Hoosiers.

Dr. Jill Harkavy-Friedman, vice president of research for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, said that unfortunately, there is still a lot of stigma and misinformation when it comes to suicide.

She experienced this firsthand when she, her daughter and other members of AFSP, dressed up in bright blue “Be The Voice #StopSuicide” shirts outside Good Morning America on Sept. 8 at 6 a.m., ready to answer questions about how to save lives, when they were asked to step aside.

“We were told, ‘It’s the top of the morning show. We don’t want suicide on the brain,”’ Harkavy-Friedman said.

She said that it was probably one executive who made the decision, not realizing that suicide is a health issue and can be prevented.

“But only if we talk about it,” Harkavy-Friedman said. “And only if we educate people about what to look for in order to recognize signs and get people help.”

According to the Indiana State Suicide Prevention Plan, suicide is a complex problem that results from one or more biological, physiological, environmental, social and or cultural factors. Several risk factors for suicide include previous suicide attempts, a history of depression or other mental illness, alcohol or drug abuse, family history of suicide or violence, financial or relationship losses, lack of social support, barriers to care, physical illness and feeling alone.

Harkavy-Friedman said other risk factors include early trauma and abuse, head injuries, chronic pain, chronic health conditions and even genetics, which can play a role in terms of ones sensitivity to stress and their ability to bounce back.

The Indiana State Suicide Prevention Plan also states that young people with mental health problems, such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder or insomnia are at a higher risk for suicidal thoughts, as teens are experiencing major life changes such as the divorce of parents, moving or change in financial security. The plan also states that people who identify as lesbian, queer, gay, bisexual or transgender are two to three times more likely to commit suicide. Something else people may not know is that although girls are more likely to attempt suicide, boys are actually more likely to die from suicide.

Harkavy-Friedman said just answering questions like “What can we do to prevent suicide?” and “How can you start a conversation with someone you’re worried about?” can save lives.

“We just need to spread the word,” she said. “Some of the bravest people I know have faced suicide and survived. But we can’t bring people who need help out of the darkness if we’re pushed into the shadows for fear that it’s a sad topic. Our message is a hopeful one!”

If you have struggled with suicidal thoughts or know someone that has committed suicide and need a safe place to talk, Warrick County has a new suicide awareness group called “Picking up the Pieces.”

Cindy Taylor, former owner of Chandler Nursery School, started the group with a friend after talking about the need for a group like this for over a year.

Taylor said suicide has affected her life personally because several children she watched at the nursery school later went on to commit suicide in their teen or early adult years. Taylor said the group just started a few months ago and that they have had anywhere from one to 10 people show.

Picking up the Pieces meets at 5:30 p.m. the last Tuesday of each month at the History Room of the Chandler Library. Taylor said several businesses have offered to provide them with snacks if they continue to grow. Everyone is welcome.

“A lot of these people have been friends with other people who have committed suicide,” she said. “Our first meeting was a lot about sharing our stories and we also have talked about the signs to watch for.”

She said some parents who lost their children to suicide never saw those signs though and wonder if there is something they could have done differently to stop their child from taking their life.

“They say, ‘I wonder why they did it?’” Taylor said. “Then say, ‘I don’t think I’ll know until I see them again in heaven.”’

Taylor said being a part of the group can be emotionally draining but that she thinks it is wonderful that they all have a place to meet to talk and help one another out.

She said many of the parents that have come to meetings have had different experiences with children who have committed suicide.

“Some believe the death of a child from an accident is different than the death of a child from suicide, while others believe they have just as much weight,” she said.

Taylor said one mom who lost her son to suicide, passes out cards with memories and tidbits from his life the month of his birthday and the month of his death every year.

Taylor said another parent, who prefers not to be named, gave advice to the group about what to say to grieving parents.

“Just say a simple, ‘I’m sorry’ or, ‘My heart is broken for you,”’ Taylor said.

Taylor said the parent also said that a hug, a handshake or a look in the eye can reach a broken heart when you are unsure of what to say.

But the parent warned that, “Sometimes words with good intentions can hurt the most. My triggers were ‘It will get easier’ and ‘It was in God’s plan.’”

Castle North seventh grader, Brody Lofton of Newburgh, passed away from this epidemic Thursday, Sept. 8. He was 12 years old.

To help raise awareness, family friend, Jaye Collier, is selling T-shirts that she designed to raise awareness. The red shirts are emblazoned with the phrase “5015 call me for help, friends, classmates, teachers, teammates, neighbors, parents, acquaintances, anyone, in loving memory of Brody Lofton.” The numbers 50 and 15 stand for Psalms 50:15, which reads: “and call on me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me.” The shirts are $10 and you can contact Collier to purchase one at: tinyurl.com/zgog3m8

If you would like to get involved locally with suicide prevention, Tri-State Awareness and Warrick County Awareness are holding a Suicide Prevention Walk Sept. 24 in Rockport to raise funds to bring awareness and help those in our community that have faced suicide in their life.

If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

Marisa Patwa is a graduate of the University of Evansville with a degree in journalism and minor in political science.

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