LIMA — According to the United States Center for Disease and Prevention, suicide is the No. 1 cause of injury-related death in the United States. Every day, 105 people die from suicide, and for everyone that does commit suicide, 25 make the attempt.
In Allen County, there were 14 suicides last year and there have been 10 filed suicides just this year alone, all but one of whom were in their mid-20s or older. According to Donna Dickman, director at the Partnership for Violence Free Families, the highest percentage of suicides are usually middle-aged men.
“On average,” she said, “we usually lose one young person, someone 18 or younger, each year in the three-county area of Allen, Auglaize and Hardin.”
In many cases, the friends and family members of the deceased are surprised that the person ever struggled with suicidal thoughts.
“I’ve had a lot of experiences where invariably after someone committed suicide,” said Thomas Holmes, director of Covenant Ministry Services and a certified pastoral counselor, “the people surrounding them were surprised that the person struggled at all.”
This is one of the reasons why everyone needs to understand how and why suicide happens. This is especially important in churches.
“The first thing is, we’ve got to talk about it,” said Kris Browning, family pastor at Shawnee Alliance Church. “Jesus was constantly healing people with physical and mental illnesses.”
Browning added that churches need to be aware of those who are struggling.
“Churches, as a whole, know their vulnerable populations,” said Browning. “We need to be able to connect people to mental health resources.”
Part of the issue in churches is the sometimes controversial subject of medication for those suffering from depression and other mental illnesses.
“I believe in medication,” said Browning. “There are times when pharmaceutical intervention is necessary. You would never say to get over it to someone having a heart attack. Suicide is something that needs to be talked about and brought out of the shadows.”
Part of the problem with dealing with suicide is that many people do not understand how someone could take their own life.
“First of all,” said Holmes, “it’s very important to understand that people who commit suicide do so to stop the pain rather than end their life.”
That pain is caused by a variety of issues, including the pressures of modern culture. Instead of being real and vulnerable with others, people are pressured to put on the appearance of perfection.
This issue of having it all together is not much different in churches. “The whole thing about vulnerability in our culture, it’s a rare thing even in our churches,” said Holmes. “We want to have it all and that pressure is unhealthy for everyone, adult or child.”
Social media does not help this perception. “The images on there are so distorted,” said Holmes, who admits to not being very involved in social media himself. “Everybody presents themselves in the best light. It gives this false notion that everyone else is living the life but I’m not somehow.”
The most classic sign of a person who is suicidal is giving away personal items. “They often give away valuables,” said Browning. “Or they will give away what we call artifacts, items that have personal value like a grandfather’s pocket watch.”
Other signs that a person is suicidal are drastic mood swings or behavior, making comments about life not being worth living, self-destructive behavior, and euphoria after a time of depression or struggle.
“When people are looking like they are good now,” said Holmes. “When they’ve had suicidal thoughts but are now in a very good mood — that is the most dangerous time.”
Added Browning, “When a person is depressed and then has that turn around and they are euphoric, that is very dangerous. It means they have decided to go through with it and are anticipating the release from their pain.”
Steps to take if someone is suicidal
Browning’s first word of advice is that it is not an easy conversation to have. “You have to be okay with it being awkward,” he said. “There is no way that talking to someone about this is not awkward.”
If the person is only making vague threats, Browning said it is important to clarify what they mean. “Anytime anyone talks about life not being worth it or the world would be better off without them, you have to be willing to key in on that and follow up, especially leaders,” he said.
Ways to key in include asking questions such as, “Do you feel hopeless?” or even specifically asking if the person feels suicidal.
The most important response is to take every threat of suicide seriously. “Every suicide threat is serious,” said Browning, “until it’s not.”
Both Browning and Holmes said that it is very important to give the person hope for the future in some way. Holmes suggested making an appointment for the next day while Browning suggested keeping the person on the phone.
“You want to try to get them to seek help with you,” said Browning. “Ideally that will happen then and there.”
Browning and Holmes both suggested making a specific plan and offering to walk out the plan with the person. “It’s important to maintain a connection,” said Holmes. “When people are isolated they start thinking horrible things and get caught up in those thoughts.”
If the person appears to be in imminent danger of harming themselves, Browning said that there is no choice but to call the police. “Try to keep them on the phone while you find someone to call the local police,” he said. “There are now texts you can send that indicate you are on the phone with a suicidal person.”
Browning said that while it is important to take action, it is also normal not to get it all right. “You are never going to respond perfectly,” he said. “The panic of the moment will grip you, but if you can present that a positive future is possible for them, that is a start.”
Rosanne Bowman is a freelance writer and regular contributor to The Lima News. Share your story ideas with her at firstname.lastname@example.org.