by Noah Whitaker
National Suicide Prevention Week is September 5-11, 2016. This is a time set aside to raise awareness of an issue that impacts the lives of far too many people. It is a time to increase awareness, education, and activities relating to suicide prevention. It is an opportunity for an article such as this.
Before we delve into the depths of this subject, we’ll start with a few basic definitions. Suicide is the intentional act of killing oneself. A suicide attempt is an action that a person takes with the intent to kill oneself. Suicidal ideation is thoughts or feelings of wanting to kill oneself. Often ideation is unwanted, meaning the person who is thinking about suicide doesn’t want to think about suicide but cannot keep themselves from thinking about it.
Suicide attempts and ideation are generally, but not always, the result of untreated mental health conditions which if left untreated can be fatal, resulting in suicide. The majority of those who die by suicide have a diagnosable mental health condition at the time of their death. Most often the condition is depression, though other conditions such as schizophrenia, anxiety, bipolar, and similar conditions can be major contributing factors.
Suicide isn’t simple. There are a lot of factors that go into the decision to die by suicide. It is highly misunderstood, and usually has a lot of judgement attached to it. The majority of people, including mental health professionals, have no knowledge or formal education about this issue. The sad result is that warning signs go unnoticed, and lives that could be saved are instead lost.
We will commonly see reports in the media that attempt to simplify the issue by stating someone died by suicide due to bullying, harassment, a divorce, the loss of a business, or some similar single root cause. In reality that is almost never the case. Suicide is a constellation of factors that combine to increase risk and lead to death. None of those factors are individually the single cause, but they work together to make a person believe that death is better than life.
A person might be heavily bullied, but they might also witness domestic violence, neglect, abuse, low self-esteem, isolation, and have a substance abuse problem. We cannot point to any given contributing factor and determine it to be the independent cause, but we can gain an understanding of which factors seem to contribute more than others and then seek to prevent or detect those factors and intervene when necessary. One of the many complexities of suicide is that even if a person experiences all of those issues, they might never become suicidal.
There are warning signs of potential suicide risk. These include, but are not limited to:
• talking about suicide or making statements of feeling hopeless or worthless
• a deepening depression which might include isolating from friends and family
• a preoccupation with death
• taking unnecessary risks or exhibiting self-destructive behavior
• changes in behavior that are out of character
• a loss of interest in activities that a person normally cares about
• calling or visiting people to apologize
• make arrangements in the event of death.
Any of these behaviors can signal potential risk for self-harm and should be taken as a sign that the person displaying them needs additional help and support. Generally speaking, the more of these risk factors that are present, the higher an individual’s risk becomes. It is also important to know that the more a person becomes suicidal the less capable they become to seek the help they need. Those people need you to help them.
In our area we established the Kings & Tulare Counties Suicide Prevention Task Force, usually referred to simply as the SPTF. This group is funded by California’s Proposition 63 (2004), also known as the Mental Health Services Act. The SPTF is comprised of 25 voting members from numerous sectors of our community spanning both counties. Our membership is supported by numerous non-voting members and volunteers who all make significant contributions of time and effort toward our activities. These efforts are strengthened and expanded by donations and fundraisers such as our recent AMVETS & SPTF Bowling Fundraiser, our upcoming Ride 4 Hope, and the Jayce Tippit Memorial Baseball Tournament. All of our funding is used to support access to free training, educational materials, and programs for prevention, early intervention, and postvention (actions in the aftermath of a suicide).
We offer access to free education including Suicide Prevention Basics, Mental Health First Aid, Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training, and other specialty training opportunities. We offer support groups for those who have lost someone to suicide, and a group for those who are struggling or have struggled with suicide attempts and/or thoughts. We have a volunteer-driven program called the LOSS Team that actively responds to the scene of suspected suicides. We have programs in schools to increase education and awareness, and provide supports to those identified to be at-risk. We will continue to build and strengthen these efforts.
The mission of the Suicide Prevention Task Force is to foster the hope of a suicide free Kings and Tulare counties through education, empowerment, and innovation. We readily welcome any individual, group, or organization that shares our vision of a community with zero suicides. It is through these partnerships and volunteers that our work is accomplished and lives are saved.
If you would like to learn more about the SPTF, refer to the contact information.
For Non-Crises Information Related to the SPTF
Suicide Prevention Task Force
C/O Noah Whitaker
5957 S. Mooney Blvd.
Visalia, CA 93277
Coordinator’s Email: sptf@tularehhsa[dot]org
Check out KRL’s Mental Health section for more mental health related articles.