Reasons for suicide often lurk in background
Frank public presentation covers factors that can lead to the end
BEVERLY – They lined up to talk to Bill Bauer at the end of the evening.
Half the 50 people who attended Bauer’s presentation on suicide prevention Tuesday night at Fort Frye High School stood in line to shake his hand, hug him and talk to him after a frank, wide ranging discussion on a hard topic.
Bauer, the McCoy Professor of Education at Marietta College and a specialist in mental health, intervention and special education, lost his son, Grant, to suicide when Grant was 25. Bauer harnessed his grief into a determination to support suicide prevention. He remembered the night his son killed himself five years ago.
“On Sept. 4 I went to bed as usual, and Grant had texted me, ‘Dad, I love you,’ “ he said. “About 4 a.m. (my wife) Mary Ella got me up and was screaming, ‘Grant is dead, he killed himself.’ “
“I said, ‘That can’t be true, I just texted him at 1 a.m.’ “
Bauer said there were no warning signs.
“We don’t know if it was spontaneous or planned, but he decided not to go on,” he said.
Bauer used his own experience to explain the “iceberg rule.”
“What you see at the top may not be what’s happening below the surface,” he said. The unseen part could hide the turmoil of anxiety or the bleakness of depression. “You need to melt the iceberg so it will rise up,” he said.
To do that, parents and friends need knowledge and access to expertise. Rural Appalachia, Bauer said, is notorious for lack of hospitals and other health resources.
A woman in the audience said she had to take her daughter to Pittsburgh for eight weeks to have an eating disorder treated. Another said she had to go to Columbus for treatment of post-partum depression.
Rachel Wakefield, a school psychologist in the Fort Frye district, said the district partnered with Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus to implement a suicide prevention program in its schools, starting with grades 6 and 12 last year.
“Those weeks were some of the hardest I’ve experienced,” she said. “Of the sixth graders, we found four who had attempted and one who had an active plan. One had attempted two years before, and the parents weren’t even aware.”
Wakefield said the program has been shown to reduce suicide attempts and completions by a factor of four. The school also has formed a wellness committee, which embraces the healthy body-healthy mind concept by creating positive activities to engage students, such as yoga, self-defense and cooking classes.
Bauer emphasized the value of watching for signs that things are not right – withdrawn behavior, sudden changes in interest, lethargy and unaccountable anger are among many signs. He also emphasized the value of communication.
“Silence is a killer,” he said.
Bauer’s background includes work as a school principal. “I’ve sat in the trenches with teachers and parents who are crying for help,” he said.
Bauer concluded his talk with a call to mobilize resources. The Washington County Behavioral Health Board has put a levy on the ballot for the Nov. 7 election.
“We need this levy,” Bauer said. “Please. please let us help others, and the only way we can do it is if we have the funds to do it.”
The five-year, 0.5 mill levy would raise $737,000 to provide new services and expand existing ones.
How to get help
National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 800-273-3365
≤ Washington County Hotline: 740-373-8240
≤ Suicide Prevention Coalition of Washington County: Meets monthly; for information, call 740-374-6990. Anyone can join.
Signs of suicidal intentions
¯ Threats or comments about killing themselves, also known as suicidal ideation, can begin with seemingly harmless thoughts like “I wish I wasn’t here” but can become more overt and dangerous.
¯ Increased alcohol and drug use
¯ Aggressive behavior
¯ Social withdrawal from friends, family and the community
¯ Dramatic mood swings
¯ Talking, writing or thinking about death
¯ Impulsive or reckless behavior
Imminent danger signs
Any person exhibiting these behaviors should get care immediately:
¯ Putting their affairs in order and giving away their possessions
¯ Saying goodbye to friends and family
¯ Mood shifts from despair to calm
¯ Planning, possibly by looking around to buy, steal or borrow the tools they need to complete suicide, such as a firearm or prescription medication
¯ If you are unsure, a licensed mental health professional can help assess risk.
Risk factors for suicide
Research has found that about 90 percent of individuals who die by suicide experience mental illness. A number of other things may put a person at risk of suicide, including:
¯ A family history of suicide.
¯ Substance abuse. Drugs and alcohol can result in mental highs and lows that exacerbate suicidal thoughts.
¯ Intoxication: More than one in three people who die from suicide were found to be under the influence at the time.
¯ Access to firearms.
¯ A serious or chronic medical illness.
¯ Gender: Although more women than men attempt suicide, men are four times more likely to die by suicide.
¯ A history of trauma or abuse.
¯ Prolonged stress.
¯ Age: People under age 24 or above age 65 are at a higher risk for suicide.
¯ A recent tragedy or loss.
¯ Agitation and sleep deprivation.
Source: National Alliance n Mental Illness – for more information, see nami.org