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Suicide prevention experts issue urgent call after devastating tragedy strikes local school

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Suicide prevention experts issue urgent call after devastating tragedy strikes local school
March 22, 2024
Nahal Garakani - LA Post

It's the kind of soul-crushing phone call that leaves you paralyzed with fear - a friend quietly confiding they've been consumed by intense thoughts of ending their own life. Their voice drips with hopelessness as they describe a feeling of worthlessness, that everyone would be better off without their presence. The weight of their problems seems utterly inescapable, an endless torture chamber of mental anguish they're desperate to finally escape.

In that grave moment, your heart sinks into your stomach as you realize your treasured friend has been silently crumbling under the darkest depths of human despair. You quickly find yourself gripped by the terrifying reality that if you fail to find the right words, the unthinkable could become inevitable tragedy. It's a frantic race against the suffocating forces of depression to pull your loved one back from a permanent point of no return.

You likely feel overwhelmed with fear and uncertainty about how to respond. While suicidal thoughts, unfortunately, aren’t uncommon - over 10 million Americans grapple with seriously considering suicide each year - they remain extremely concerning. Suicide continues as the devastating second leading cause of death for Americans ages 10-34. According to CDC, Suicide rates increased by approximately 36% between 2000–2021. However, understanding warning signs, utilizing compassionate communication, and guiding struggling individuals to professional support can help save lives- underscoring the importance of suicide prevention.

People wrestling with the possibility of suicide often won’t initially state their intentions directly. However, frequently exhibited shifts in mood, behavior, and communication can act as critical warning indicators. Fluctuating sleep patterns, withdrawing socially, increased substance use, heightened impulsiveness and more rapid emotional shifts commonly occur. Giving away treasured belongings and lack of engagement with future plans also frequently develop. 

However, any expressed thoughts or musings related to ending one’s life, however indirect or subtle, need to be regarded with seriousness. Myth-busting time - talking about suicide rarely primarily represents a bid for attention or a manipulative play. Dismissing or avoiding these expressions of extreme distress can inadvertently worsen perceptions of hopelessness.

What you say, how you say it, and the energy behind it matters immensely when someone trusts you enough to open up about contemplating ending their own life. Well-meaning but accidentally insensitive responses could cause them to completely shut down and refrain from confiding in you specifically going forward.

Strongly resist any temptation to directly argue with or aim to change their stated beliefs or feelings instantly. Comments intended to immediately “make them feel better” about themselves or their situation often backfire. They can leave the suffering individual feeling dismissed, disbelieved and even more deeply alone in their experience of seemingly unbearable emotional anguish.  

Similarly, rapid-fire questions focused on probing “why” they currently feel this way or “how could you” arrive at these dark mental spaces risk them feeling defective, misunderstood and further isolated at their time of greatest vulnerability.

Instead, initially focus solely on clearly conveying care and concern while fully acknowledging the exhausting depth of their psychic pain. For example, “I cannot fully understand what you’re going through right now, but I want you to know I care tremendously and am here to listen without any judgment.”  

After establishing emotional safety through compassion, invite them to share more about their thoughts, feelings and experiences without any pressure. Comments like “You are not alone in this. I am staying right here with you” and “We are going to get through this together, however long it takes” remind them human connections still exist.

While heartfelt support from people who care helps immensely in acute crisis moments, interactions with properly trained mental health professionals constitute the only way to address the tangled reasons someone becomes suicidally depressed. Skilled counselors methodically help build coping skills, shift unhelpful thought patterns, resolve varied traumas and treat any underlying mental health conditions.

Without ever accessing professional support, thoughts of suicide often continue simmering internally - even if temporarily placed on the back burner - despite friends’ most dedicated efforts. Caring companions can prompt readiness to reach out for help by saying things like, “I care about you so much and sincerely believe speaking to a therapist could provide critical relief right now with everything going on internally.”  

But we can never force someone into counseling or treatment, no matter how clearly we recognize their need. Gently recommending it while ensuring they feel safe from blame or judgment often works better to plant the seed. Offer to research potential counselor options tailored to their situation and preferences or even attend their first therapy visit alongside them.  

Intentionally sticking close to those courageously expressing thoughts of suicide represents the most basic way to ensure their immediate safety during especially fragile moments. But several situations indicate their risk exceeds what even the most dedicated friends can responsibly handle alone – they disclose having a clearly defined suicide plan, they already possess feared access to potential lethal means to carry out this plan, they describe intentions to act in the very near future or on a specifically named upcoming date.

Should these emergency scenarios arise where a friend appears actively suicidal, immediately call 911 to activate swift crisis response through emergency services. If feasible, directly transporting them to an emergency room yourself also critically escalates the timeline for intervention. Even if they express intense anger or resistance towards receiving urgent psychiatric help, their safety still must constitute the utmost priority in such crisis moments. 

Additionally, friends should not attempt to manage worsening suicide risk over an extended timeframe single-handedly. Gradually involve other trusted individuals from their support network, like family members and romantic partners, who could offer supplemental emotional support and monitoring. But carefully consider who in their circle seems genuinely likely to respond with consistent care and concern - discussing their suicidal urges with a dismissive person poses the potential to worsen their precarious situation exponentially.

Contemplating suicide and attempting to end one’s own life represent preventable human tragedies. They stem not from inevitable fate but from extremely treatable suffering. Recognizing escalating warning signs early on, providing compassionate support, and connecting struggling individuals quickly with mental health care work together to save precious lives.

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