The pages of this newspaper have been plagued in recent days with news about a number of lives that ended too soon. And by their own hands.
It's usually a taboo topic. Many newspapers, although not this one, steer clear of them unless the death involves a public figure or occurs in a public venue. Obituaries submitted by families usually omit suicide as the cause of death as well, but sometimes it's clear in hints made in the tribute or in looking at the charity chosen as a beneficiary for any memorials.
We even heard of one coroner who planted a gun-cleaning kit whenever he responded to a self-inflicted shooting death. The "evidence" allowed him to rule the cause of death as accidental. Whether true or apocryphal, the story illustrates the sensitive nature of suicide.
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Suicide has always packed a stigma, something whispered about in hushed tones when discussing a death. But it shouldn't be that way.
The only way to shed light on the topic -- and help prevent further losses -- is to talk about it. We need open and honest conversations, to know what signs to watch far, to know what to do should we have inklings someone is in crisis.
And be assured that it is far better to sound the alarm than sit in silence. It is better to bear the annoyance of a loved one while pushing him or her toward help, than to regret not saying anything and having the worst outcome occur. It's better to be selfless than selfish when you're considering saving a life.
People give all manner of reasons for attempting or completing suicide. Some give no reason at all, leaving those left behind to wonder in perpetuity.
National statistics show that most are suffering from some form of depression, whether they know it or not. More than 34,000 people kill themselves each year. An additional 375,000 receive medical care for self-inflicted wounds, presumably failed attempts at suicide or deadly serious cries for help.
The signs that someone may be at risk are varied. The American Association of Suicidology has come up with a mnemonic for the most common indicators: IS PATH WARM. The symptoms are Ideation (suicidal thoughts), Substance abuse, Purposelessness, Anxiety, Trapped, Hopelessness, Withdrawal, Anger, Recklessness and Mood changes.
Acute risk is flagged with:
* Threats or other expressions about hurting or killing oneself.
* Looking for ways to kill oneself by seeking access to firearms, pills or other means.
* Talking or writing about death, dying or suicide, especially when these actions are out of the ordinary.
A lot of that sounds like common sense to most of us. But ask someone who has had a loved one commit suicide, and they'll tell you it's not that easy. Few of us would probably believe someone we've known to be a rational individual for years would actually take his or her own life. But it happens, and many lives are devastated because of one person's senseless action.
So take a look around you, and contemplate the conditions of your loved ones. Is someone going through severe life changes -- job loss, divorce, disease? Make sure to check on that person more than you think you should. Make sure the person knows they are not a burden and that life is worth living. Don't just tell them to toughen up and move on.
Outpatient counseling services are available in the community for those who are struggling. Maybe they just need a friendly face to help them seek out the attention they need. If you know someone in crisis who is feeling suicidal, help is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week from the Benton Franklin Crisis Response Unit at 783-0500.
Please look out for those you love, and never underestimate the depth of their despair.