With learning, anyone can help reduce suicide

An op-ed piece written by Lissa Voorhees and Sandy Moses of Lane County was published, Sept. 11, 2012 by the Eugene Register Guard for Suicide Prevention Week, and was submitted by Susan Gabay of Mosier, a suicide prevention advocate. Her daughter, Susanna, took her own life in 2009 at age 19.

Having come across it recently, their message is both timely today and still relevant. I could not improve upon their important message, and with permission to repeat it below, I include my updates, and their writing is in quotes.

“Not that long ago there was a great amount of stigma and silence surrounding the “Big C” — cancer. People were afraid to mention the word, to reach out to those with a cancer diagnosis, and as a result misinformation was rampant. Thanks to nationwide awareness and education campaigns, we are more compassionate, understanding and supportive when we find out someone is living with cancer. Unfortunately, when it comes to mental illness and certainly suicide, we have a long way to go. Not speaking openly and without judgment about depression, mental health and suicide only increases the stigma and discourages those in need to get help.

“With National Suicide Prevention Week taking place this year Sept. 6-12, 2015, it’s the perfect time to reiterate the fact that suicide is preventable. There is help for those who struggle with depression, anxiety, substance abuse and other factors that increase the incidence of suicidal behavior and chances are you or someone you know will at some time need this help.

“It may not be common knowledge that suicide is the 10th leading cause of death nationally; that Oregon rates are 35 percent higher than the U.S. rate; and that suicide is the second leading cause of all deaths of Oregon youth ages 10-24. Yet, we still tend to hide our heads in the sand and hope that suicide will not touch our lives. It’s even difficult for most of us to say the ‘S-word’ much less act upon our gut feeling that someone might be having suicidal thoughts. On the contrary, many, if not most of us, know someone who has attempted or died by suicide.

“Being aware of the risk factors and warning signs of depression and suicide is the first step in helping someone who is in so much pain they will seek any possible way to relieve it. It is our responsibility to be aware, informed and to reach out — even though we might be uncomfortable and fearful. Asking directly and without judgment if someone is thinking about suicide (or finding someone else who can do so) could be a life-saving and life-confirming act.

“Yes, this is easier said than done. As with other skills, the first step is knowing you can make a difference and then getting the necessary training and practice. Just like CPR, we do not need to be experts to save a life. However, unlike heart disease and heart attacks, we must first remove the stigma, fear and myths so that we feel hopeful and empowered.

“So, what can be done immediately to make a difference? Learn more about suicide prevention and mental health promotion. Reach out to someone who might be going through a difficult time, experiencing changes in eating and sleeping habits, withdrawing from friends and family, losing interest in activities that they once enjoyed or abusing alcohol, drugs or medications. Notice behavior changes in your friends, neighbors, coworkers and family members and don’t hesitate to take the time to reach out to them.”

Finally, if you or someone you know needs immediate help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).

Susan Gabay will moderate a community forum on Suicide Prevention planned for 6 p.m. Monday Sept. 14 in the basement conference room of the Hood River Library. This is a local opportunity for dialog and understanding to learn about resources, trainings, and strategies. The event will feature a panel of community people from different professions to respond to audience questions. The Hood River Library is also hosting a Suicide Prevention display on the main floor. Sept.10 is the annual World Suicide Prevention Day. Gabay asks that the community join her in lighting a candle near a window to show our support for suicide prevention efforts. “It starts with you, reaching out to your neighbor!” she said.

Lissa Voorhees is co-chair of the Lane County Suicide Prevention Steering Committee; Sandy Moses serves as Mental Health Promotion & Suicide Prevention Coordinator at Lane County Public Health.

Copyright © 2012 — The Register-Guard, Eugene, Ore.

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