Early detection, help keys to preventing suicide
I have been touched by two suicides in the spring, one in late April and the other in early May. One occurred in 1984 and the other in 2009. Both individuals were in their late 30s. Almost 25 years separate the two losses and I question how far we have come in the understanding, prevention and treatment of suicides.
In April 1984 my brother Bill killed himself by means of a handgun. Actually he was my step-brother, two years younger, and, my favorite among five siblings in a crazy fractured family. Within the context of our family, he seemed OK but then in college he began to develop a strong liking for alcohol.
Nevertheless, he graduated, went into the family business, married and had two kids. I had moved on with a family of my own and was not aware that my brother was spiraling downward into serious alcohol addiction. The family felt stigmatized and didn’t talk about his problem. First he lost his job then his wife and kids. Even though during this time resources were available to treat his alcoholism and depression, he couldn’t/wouldn’t avail himself of health services, or AA. He became increasingly hopeless and helpless and I imagine wanted to be relieved of the unbearable pain. The family reacted with bewilderment and shame. They avoided talking about him. His tragic death became the family secret.
In 2009, a beautiful young woman who also suffered the demons of addiction took her life. In her case, the family was involved. They accepted the fact that her addiction was an illness and helped her into treatment centers, sought out many health-care workers, tried medications and enrolled in many programs to treat addictions and depression. In spite of the help and support given her she too spiraled down into such pain that she only wanted to be relieved of it.
Colorado is ranked eighth in the country for deaths by suicide and Pitkin County has one of the highest rates. Funding for mental health in Colorado is ranked 38th in the nation and for funding of substance abuse we rank last! Sadly there is still a stigma surrounding mental health issues.
Our community is one of compassion and caring. Can we do more to raise our awareness as to the early signs of serious addiction and depression? Early intervention is the key and can save many people from the awful “spiraling down” into the darkness of helplessness/hopelessness.
The Hope Center offers counseling and referrals. They are conducting suicide education classes. The Aspen Counseling Center offers Mental Health First Aid to learn skills in helping someone in a mental health crisis, or someone who is developing one. For both agencies the fees are flexible and no one is refused treatment due to lack of funds. The Counseling Center accepts Medicare. Many competent, skilled mental health people in private practice are reducing their fees. We need to work together and coordinate our efforts.
The Counseling Center offers advocacy groups the community may not be aware of, such as substance abuse for teens; drug/alcohol treatment; relapse prevention; dual diagnosis; and counseling services for our senior citizens. Additional programs and better trained clinicians are needed and, unfortunately funding is very scarce.
Suicide is a horrible thing and has a terrible effect on the survivors. It is also dangerous due to what the mental health community describes as suicide contagion, especially among our young people.. Be aware. Don’t be afraid to ask: “Are you contemplating suicide?” Know the signs, reach out and educate yourself. Attending to early signs and early intervention will help.
It is spring, and a reminder of the tragedies that have affected me. I still feel such sorrow for the young lady and my brother. I wish I could have been more helpful.
Karen Phillips Friedberg
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