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Southern Utah News Front Page: May 24, 2018
Gone but not forgotten - the tragedy of suicide
By Dixie Brunner
*Editor’s note: this is the second in a three-part series on suicide. Utah has the fifth highest rate of suicide per capita in the nation, and Kane County has one of the highest rates in the state. It’s an enormous problem and people must be more aware of the issue and how it can be prevented!
Part I looked into the problem with supporting statistics, and the fact suicide is an issue in Kane County. The second installment will explore risk factors and what signs to look for, as well as front line agencies’ perspective. The final article will concern prevention and where to get help.
There’ll be no names on personal accounts, due to privacy, sensitivity and respect. We hope the information will increase awareness and prevent tragic loss.
“You think your kids are happy, but sometimes you just really don’t know,” shared one local parent whose son committed suicide last year. She said he loved spending time with family, played all sports in high school and had a girlfriend. “We didn’t see any changes in his behavior. We saw no signs at all when he left that morning. We had a normal conversation about the dog. We had no idea he would take his own life with a gun by afternoon.”
“He should be here right now,” she shared tearfully. “There’s no reason he’s not. We don’t have any answers. Losing a child is something you can never imagine before or after it happens.”
Pain isn’t always obvious. But why are suicide and attempt rates so high – especially in Utah?
“There are quite a number of risk factors here,” said Ashley Heaton, Prevention Specialist with Southwest Behavioral Health Center. “Depression or mental illness is number one. History of suicide in the family, substance abuse-alcohol or drug use, and bullying are other factors.”
Unfortunately, suicide is like a contagion. “If you’re on the fence about it, and a friend, family or community member did it, their risk of considering suicide increases. There are sometimes clusters of them,” said Heaton. “There are also copy cat suicides after a famous (or celebrity) person does it.”
Key symptoms are depression, impulsivity, hopelessness, anxiety/panic, and insomnia.
Kanab High School Principal Trevor Stewart says social media is a huge problem in all of society now. “They (young people) are at a emotionally-precarious point and read negative things said about them on social media. Conversations between the kids travel very fast now, and rash, hateful things are said to each other. They think it’s the only way out.”
But on a positive note, he and counselor Chad Castagno say they have been proud of many KHS students who have been good about sharing if they are concerned about a fellow classmate.
“The students have been our eyes and ears,” Castagno added.
Both men said that all young people should have the SafeUT App, and that it had been extremely helpful in learning about students in crisis. The SafeUT Crisis and Tip Line is a statewide service that provides real time crisis intervention to youth through texting and a confidential tip program – right from your smartphone.
Licensed clinicians staff the 24/7 crisis line call center and respond to all incoming chats, texts and calls. They give supportive counseling, suicide prevention, and help with bullying. If the counselor believes the tip needs an ‘active rescue’ where he/she believes there is an imminent danger – the counselor will alert emergency services to attempt a face-to-face safety evaluation based on the information provided.
“The first line of defense if we hear the student has had any kind of suicide ideation is to talk to the student,” said Stewart. “Have a conversation.”
Her parents got a call from their daughter’s middle school. They arrived to find their tearful daughter in the nurse’s room with bloody bandages on her wrists. Her friend had come to the office and told them their daughter had been ‘cutting’ before she came to school. And, that cutting was a habit of hers and that’s why she always wore long sleeves. Her parents took her to the hospital, where she was treated for blood loss and then admitted to the psychiatric ward for inpatient treatment.
Her shocked and grievous parents went home and searched her room for clues. They thought she had been happy and well adjusted – what had they missed? They searched her room for clues, finding the answers right on their daughter’s computer. She belonged to a dark online chat group she apparently had accessed after school, before her parents got home from work.
When asked about the cutting group, their daughter later said it was just a bunch of young people having conversations about cutting. The shocked parents asked why she would be involved with such a crazy group. She responded that it was fun and that they would dare each other to do it. “They thought I was really cool,” she said. “I felt important.”
Kane County Sheriff Tracy Glover also stressed the importance of young people having the SafeUT App. “It’s just a great resource. Kids sometimes feel safer talking anonymously with a counselor about feelings or problems they’re having at school. There are trained people on the other end that can help them.”
He said if a suicidal person (or someone close to them) calls Kane County Dispatch concerning an emotional crisis, there is a system in place to provide assistance. “It’s probably not ideal if we respond,” said Glover. “But there are people who can help, such as the Southwest Behavioral Health Center.”
Glover added it’s important to understand that people in crisis aren’t usually thinking clearly. “Suicides are often more of an impulsive, rather than a planned thing. It’s just hard to gauge how sad people are.”
The Sheriff agrees that social media doesn’t help mental health issues. “It’s the pressures of society – things happen and are being shared immediately, pressures are instant. Kids and adults are vulnerable.”
“At the end of the day, we must be more compassionate to one another,” said Glover.
Warning signs that may mean someone is at risk for suicide:
• Talking about wanting to die or kill oneself; looking for a way to kill oneself, such as buying a gun.
• Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live.
• Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain.
• Increasing the use of drugs or alcohol.
• Sleeping too little or too much.
• Withdrawal or feeling isolated.
• Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge.
• Displaying extreme mood swings.
“People should be reminded that there’s nothing that you’ve done, or that has happened to you, that you cannot overcome!” one grieving parent shared.
“People need to be reminded that there are so many people who care,” one mom shared of her son’s suicide.
For questions concerning a friend, loved one or even your own suicidal thoughts, please call Southwest Behavioral Health Center at 435-644-4520, 24/7, or e-mail Heaton at firstname.lastname@example.org
Part III-Suicide prevention. What is currently being done in the schools and community, and what you can do to help?