MOUNT CARROLL – Many of us don’t understand the devastation that suicide can bring, until someone we know and love takes their own life.
This mental health problem is sadly becoming very prevalent in our communities. In just a few short months, Carroll County has lost three beautiful young men, and statistics show that one in twenty people have suicidal thoughts every two weeks.
On Wednesday, August 14th, approximately 25 concerned residents, mental health professionals, and survivors of suicide came together at the Mount Carroll Church of God to become more aware of the warning signs, and how to identify someone that may be at risk of taking their own life.
Attempts are 40-100 times greater than the number of suicides. In 2009, suicide was the third leading cause of death for young people ages 15-24, and accounted for 14.4% of all deaths in that age group.
While these numbers may make suicide seem common, it is important to realize that suicide and suicidal behavior are not healthy or typical responses to stress.
Pastor Vince Wilczynski gave the opening comment, stating “This is a disabling factor in our community. As a child when I was 13, I had a lost, hopeless feeling. I had a plan if things got bad . . . I knew how it would end, and it wasn’t pretty. I got healthy and whole.”
Cheryl Robinson, a trained speaker through Living Works, a program that began in Canada 30 years ago, discussed many aspects of suicide prevention. Robinson, who has a love for children, has had a long career in teaching, but is currently employed by the Sterling/Rock Falls School District as a Director of Curriculum.
Like most of those in attendance, Cheryl is a suicide survivor; her beloved son took his own life when he was just nineteen years old.
“A year and a half after losing my son, I decided to try to figure things out. I knew I wanted to educate all people, and began exploring the Suicide Intervention Curriculum.”
The goal of the Living Works program is to be suicide safer. “We create a venue for people to talk,” Robinson said. “The State of Illinois goal is to be suicide free. We are open, honest, respectful, and direct.
“When I attended the two day workshop, one of the instructors noticed that I was struggling, and while talking to me at the end of the day, she was able to help me recognize that I myself had suicidal thoughts. Not an action, just a thought.”
Robinson asked the audience to give reasons that someone may contemplate suicide. Some signs are talking about wanting to die or kill oneself, looking for a way to kill oneself, such as searching online or buying a gun, talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live, talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain, talking about being a burden to others, increasing the use of alcohol or drugs, and acting anxious or agitated. Other signs may include behaving recklessly, sleeping too little or too much, withdrawing or feeling isolated, showing rage or talking about seeking revenge, and displaying mood swings.
“We need to shatter the secrecy of suicide,” Robinson continued. Risk factors for suicide include: depression or other mental disorders, substance abuse, prior suicide attempt, family history of suicide, family violence including physical or sexual abuse, firearms in the home, incarceration, and exposure to suicidal behavior of others.
Audience members learned that by attending the Living Works program, they too can become certified and help to shatter the secrecy of suicide. During the group discussion, participants voiced concern that many people who may be at risk, often feel like having negative thoughts is often not talked about due to the “social stigma” that is often times attributed to the topic.
“If someone is having thoughts of suicide, your asking them won’t make them do it,” Robinson explained. “Often times, when you see a person who may be struggling, if you can just get them to start talking, you can get them to share their feelings and thoughts. Just by starting a conversation with ‘Sometimes when we . . .’ the individual will allow you into their world. Many times, young people will confide in a friend about their thoughts, and swear that friend to secrecy. The important thing is to tell someone else.
“An angry friend is better than a dead one,” Robinson said. “Most people want to help, but they don’t know if they can. The Living Works curriculum has changed the terminology of ‘warning signs’ to ‘invitations’. People respond differently to invitations.”
With 38,364 suicides reported in 2010, Robinson said, “You are taking the right step by starting the talk.”
A lot of people may have a thought of suicide, but a thought doesn’t mean an action. If you are concerned about someone you care about, immediate action is very important. Suicide can be prevented and most people who feel suicidal demonstrate warning signs. Recognizing some of these warning signs is the first step in helping yourself or someone else.
Robinson encouraged survivors to attend local support groups, as well as providing brochures with information on the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. For anyone wishing to learn more on ways to help recognize the need for assistance, contact Laura Smith at Sinnissippi Centers in Mount Carroll, or visit www.afsp.org.
On September 28th, the Sterling community will be hosting “Walk Out of the Darkness,” much like the Relay for Life, with all funds raised going to help with the prevention of suicide. Robinson will be working on setting up a two day session for those interested in being certified as a suicide interventionist through the Life Works program.
“Let’s come together as a community and learn what we can do to stop this horrible event from continuing to those we love and care for,” Robinson concluded. “The survivors in our towns need to know that we are here for them, and are willing to help. Please take the time to ask someone that may be showing warning signs if they are all right. You just may be the one to save a life, and prevent another family from having to be ‘survivors of suicide.’”