Mental health is a broad and complex topic. This article is not meant to be comprehensive. Suicide is a sensitive and serious topic. Our deepest love goes out to anyone who is struggling, getting treatment, or has lost someone to suicide.
Are You Thinking About Suicide?
I know. It’s a very uncomfortable question to ask. However, it is one that has become normal and necessary in our house. Suicide is something I never thought I would have to worry about. When our daughter was admitted into a mental hospital, on three separate occasions, for having suicidal plans and multiple attempts all within a five month period — including a life flight to Primary Children’s Hospital — suicide and mental health took on a whole new meaning.
After the third stay, she began a long term treatment program. Deciding what to do and where to go was one of the hardest decisions of our life. Mental illness is tough and affects the whole family. The good news though is that the more we open up, the more we discover that mental illness is more common than we ever thought. The more we share and talk about suicide the easier it is to find resources and connect with others. Ganel-Lyn Condie, a Utah author, speaker, and advocate says there are three groups of people: you have or had a mental illness, you love someone who does, or you have lost someone to suicide. Mental illness or suicide can happen to anyone.
You Mean Everything
“Are you okay? Is something wrong? Can I help you?” These are all questions Kevin Hines desperately wanted to hear before jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. He miraculously survived and is now a suicide prevention activist and powerful speaker. As soon as he jumped, he realized what he had done and did everything he could not to die. Most suicide survivors have shared that they immediately regretted their actions. I believe it, because the words my daughter said almost immediately after making a life-threatening mistake were, “I don’t want to die, I don’t want to die.”
Life is hard, unfair, and at times excruciatingly painful, but life is also meant to strengthen, teach, and most importantly connect us. We ALL matter. YOU MATTER. Sometimes people feel so deeply hopeless, and erroneously think that death is the answer. Tragically, some people die by suicide. Thinking about or planning on ending life is usually a symptom of underlying problems that can be treated. And there is absolutely help and hope. No one should suffer in silence; talk to someone. It is okay, not to be okay. Happiness is not the absence of adversity. Time is too precious to tease and tempt death. Life is a gift. Your life is a gift. You are a unique, irreplaceable gift. Shared, experienced, and loved, life is rewarding, good, and at times overwhelmingly joyful.
Something to Be Aware of
Suicide is the second leading cause of death nationally in people ages 10-34. Unintentional injuries or accidents is number one1. Utah was ranked 10th in 2020, for number of suicide deaths in ages 5-25 behind Alaska, Montana, South Dakota, New Mexico, Wyoming, Colorado, Oklahoma, Idaho, and Kansas (May 2022, Vol. 50 Number 7, Communique [a publication for National Association for School Psychologists]). Why are people afraid to ask for help or talk about feelings? Looking at the states above, maybe there’s some pioneer pride, explorer ego, homesteader honor, or cowboy conceit that needs to be redefined. Starting in the teen years, the risk for suicidal death grows higher as a person grows into early adulthood. People ages 18-25 have the most suicidal thoughts and attempts.
The 2021 Wasatch County School District Student Health and Risk Prevention (SHARP) Survey which is done every 2 years, was completed by 1450 students: 407 6th graders, 401 8th graders, 423 10th graders, and 201 12th graders. 4.6% of the students who answered said they had attempted suicide one or more times during the past 12 months. That’s a staggering 67 Wasatch County middle grade and high school kids — our kids — who have had multiple attempts. And, Wasatch is lower than the state average, which was 7%. 71,001 students across the state took the SHARP survey, 4970 attempted multiple times. 10.1% of Wasatch participants said they made a plan about how they would attempt suicide during the past 12 months. 12.6% said yes to seriously considering attempting suicide during the past 12 months. Thankfully, the percentage diminishes from considering to planning to attempting, but sadly it is still on the minds of many teenagers.
In the book, If Your Adolescent Has Depression or Bipolar Disorder, the authors state that, “For the parents of adolescents with mood disorders, the biggest fear of all may be suicide… Over 90% of suicide victims have a psychiatric illness at the time of their death, and mood disorders are among the main culprits. All too often, the disorders had gone undiagnosed or untreated. Many suicides in young people seem to be impulsive acts triggered by a stressful event, such as getting into trouble at school or with the law, breaking up with a girlfriend or boyfriend, or having a fight with friends. These events might not be sufficient in themselves to cause suicidal behavior, but when the stress is compounded by untreated depression or mania, the results can be tragic. In fact, mood disorders play a role in about two-thirds of completed suicides.” (If Your Adolescent Has Depression or Bipolar Disorder, Evans, Dwight, and Linda Andrews, p. 55-56, 2005)
Nothing to be Ashamed Of
Utah has the highest percentage of mental illness, at 29.68% followed by Oregon, West Virginia, Kansas, Oklahoma, Washington, Idaho, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Arizona. It’s not easy to admit something is wrong or you need help but the brain is susceptible to disease just like any other organ or part of the body. Recognizing signs and understanding mental illness is important because many suicides happen during the first few episodes; before treatment with medication, therapy, and coping skills are learned. Knowing that hopeless, painfully dark thoughts and emotions will eventually pass is important. In a world of split-second messages, quick searches with immediate answers, fast food, and even instant potatoes (being an Idaho native I think the real thing is much better) enduring is a tough thing to sell. Our daughter explained, “Suicidal ideation doesn’t belong to a specific lifestyle. I myself felt rather selfish for feeling this way because to me there was nothing to feel sorry for. When I realized that anyone can feel this way things started to change, and I finally (hesitantly at first) decided to seek out help.” Recognizing and getting professional treatment early for any mental illness is not a sign of weakness. Kevin Hines likes to say, “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional”.
Dr. Ben Springer, Wasatch County School District’s school psychologist sums it all up “To me, prevention is connection. The best prevention we can do, whether it’s suicide, alcohol, drug abuse, addressing mental health, depression, aggression, anything, you name it. We see aggression in our schools and in communities. The more we connect with families and one another, the more we can talk and open up those channels for support.”
We were given valuable information from acquaintances and friends who had experienced their own crises. They shared professional opinions that helped us make a decision about what our next step should be for our daughter. We have many more neighbors, friends, and family, who continue to offer love and support.
Hope is just one person away. If you are struggling mentally or emotionally, find a trusted family member or friend that will listen, validate, and help you get professional help. If you are in a situation where you are not in a safe place or feel that you do not have anyone who will help you, please call one of the hotlines or places listed. They are caring professionals that will listen to you and have resources if you need additional help. If it’s an emergency call 911. Helping someone is just one question away. If you have anyone tell you that they are struggling, don’t be afraid to ask the hard or uncomfortable questions.
Let’s look out and watch for clues that people are struggling and let them know they are loved and not alone. We are blessed to live in an amazing and majestic valley with beauty all around but the most awe-inspiring asset we have is each other.
Suicide Warning Signs and Risk Factors
- Threatening to hurt or kill themselves
- Seeking to access pills, weapons, or other ways to kill themselves
- Expressing hopelessness, no purpose
- Having rage, anger, or seeking revenge
- Acting recklessly or engaging in risky activities, without thinking
- Feeling trapped
- Drug or alcohol use
- Withdrawing from friends or family
- Dramatic change in mood, for better or worse
- Sleeping all the time or unable to sleep
- Anxious or agitated
- Giving away possessions, making “final arrangements”
- The recent suicide or death of a friend or relative
- Previous suicide attempts
- Preoccupation with themes of death or expressing suicidal thoughts
- Depression, conduct disorder and problems with adjustment such as substance abuse, particularly when two or more of these are present
- Sudden and extreme changes in eating habits/losing or gaining weight
- Apathy about appearance or health
- Frequent irritability or unexplained crying
- Lingering expressions of unworthiness or failure
- Lack of interest in the future
- A sudden lifting of spirits, when there have been other indicators, may point to a decision to end the pain of life through suicide
Try these simple tips for talking
“Thanks for opening up to me.”
“Is there anything I can do to help?”
“I’m sorry to hear that. It must be tough.”
“I’m here for you when you need me.”
“I can’t imagine what you’re going through.”
“People do get better.”
“Oh man, that sucks.”
“Can I drive you to an appointment?”
“How are you feeling today?”
“It could be worse.”
“Just deal with it.”
“Everyone feels that way sometimes.”
“You may have brought this on yourself.”
“You’ve got to pull yourself together.”
“We’ve all been there.”
“Snap out of it.”
“Maybe try thinking happier thoughts”
Myths About Suicide
Myth: Talking about suicide or asking someone if they feel suicidal will encourage suicide attempts.
Fact: Talking about suicide provides the opportunity for communication. Fears shared are more likely to diminish. The first step in encouraging a person with thoughts of suicide to live comes from talking about those feelings. A simple inquiry about whether or not the person is intending to end their life can start the conversation. However, talking about suicide should be carefully managed.
Myth: People who threaten suicide are just seeking attention.
Fact: All suicide attempts must be treated as though the person has the intent to die. Do not dismiss a suicide attempt as simply being an attention-gaining device. It is likely that the person has tried to gain attention and, therefore, this attention is needed. The attention they get may well save their lives.
Myth: Once a young person thinks about suicide, they will forever think about suicide.
Fact: Most young people who are considering suicide will only be that way for a limited period of their lives. Given proper assistance and support, they will probably recover and continue to lead meaningful and happy lives unhindered by suicidal concerns.
Myth: Some people are always suicidal.
Fact: Nobody is suicidal at all times. The risk of suicide for any individual varies across time, as circumstances change. This is why it is important for regular assessments of the level of risk in individuals who are ‘at risk’.
Myth: Young people who talk about suicide never attempt or die by suicide.
Fact: Talking about suicide can be a plea for help and it can be a late sign in the progression towards a suicide attempt. Those who are most at risk will show other signs apart from talking about suicide. If you have concerns about a young person who talks about suicide:
- Encourage them to talk further and help them to find appropriate counseling assistance.
- Ask if the person is thinking about making a suicide attempt.
- Ask if the person has a plan.
- Think about the completeness of the plan and how dangerous it is. Do not trivialize plans that seem less complete or less dangerous. All suicidal intentions are serious and must be acknowledged as such.
- Encourage the person to develop a personal safety plan. This can include time spent with others, check-in points with significant adults, and plans for the future.
Myth: People who are thinking about suicide cannot help themselves.
Fact: While contemplating suicide, people may have a distorted perception of their actual life situation and what solutions are appropriate for them to take. However, with support and constructive assistance from caring and informed people around them, they can gain full self-direction and self-management in their lives.
Myth: Break-ups in relationships happen so frequently, they do not cause suicide.
Fact: Suicide can be precipitated by the loss of a relationship.
Myth: If a person attempts suicide and survives, they will never make a further attempt.
Fact: A suicide attempt is regarded as an indicator of further attempts. It is likely that the level of danger will increase with each future suicide attempt.
Myth: All young people with thoughts of suicide are depressed.
Fact: While depression is a contributory factor in most suicides, it need not be present for a person to attempt or die by suicide.
Myth: Most young people thinking about suicide never seek or ask for help with their problems.
Fact: Evidence shows that they often tell their school peers of their thoughts and plans. Most adults with thoughts of suicide visit a medical doctor during the three months prior to killing themselves. Adolescents are more likely to ‘ask’ for help through non-verbal gestures than to express their situation verbally to others.
Myth: Young people thinking about suicide are insane or mentally ill.
Fact: Although adolescents thinking about suicide are likely to be extremely unhappy and may be classified as having a mood disorder, such as depression, most are not legally insane. However, there are small numbers of individuals whose mental state meets psychiatric criteria for mental illness and who need psychiatric help.
Myth: Once a person is intent on suicide, there is no way of stopping them.
Fact: Suicides can be prevented. People can be helped. Suicidal crises can be relatively short-lived. Immediate practical help such as staying with the person, encouraging them to talk, and helping them build plans for the future can avert the intention to attempt or die by suicide. Such immediate help is valuable at a time of crisis, but appropriate counseling will then be required.
Myth: Marked and sudden improvement in the mental state of an attempter following a suicidal crisis or depressive period signifies the suicide risk is over.
Fact: The opposite may be true. In the three months following an attempt, a young person is at most risk of dying by suicide. The apparent lifting of the problems could mean the person has made a firm decision to die by suicide and feels better because of this decision.
Myth: Every death is preventable.
Fact: Sadly, no matter how well intentioned, alert, and diligent people’s efforts may be, there is no way of preventing all suicides from occurring.
Myth: Suicide is much more common in young people from higher (or lower) socioeconomic status (SES) areas.
Fact: The causes of suicidal behavior cut across SES boundaries. While the literature in the area is incomplete, there is no definitive link between SES and suicide. This does not preclude localized tendencies or trends in a population during a certain period of time.
Suicide Crisis / Emergency Numbers to Call
- 911 or 988
988 is the new national number
for mental health crisis
- 800-273-TALK (8255)
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Wasatch Mental Health
helpline for emotional listening
- 800-662-HELP (4357)
Substance Abuse/Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline
- SafeUT App
Access a chat, call, or tip — all Wasatch students have this on
their school device
Mental Health Services and Resources
- Utah Strong Recovery Project 385-386-2289
7am-7pm Counselors are available for stress, anxiety, and depression help
- Wasatch County Family Clinic
Offering a variety of services
for the entire family
- Wasatch Community Foundation 435-315-2130
Financial assistance to those
- Christian Center of Park City
- Emotional Health Relief Hotline
- Wasatch County Victims
Advocate for Domestic Violence
Crisis intervention and shelter
- Wasatch School District
Counselors and social workers are available to students
- WCSD has a Family Education Center that promotes mental health and wellness through online info and evening classes, info on the Facebook page: Wasatch Wellness. Contact Ben Springer, Ph.D., NCSP (435-654-0280, x 4124)