Lessons from an attempted suicide

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From the outside looking in, Barbara’s life was perfect. Her children were grown, successful, happily married. Her affectionate husband had just retired and they were planning a trip to Europe. Barbara had never financially needed to work but thoroughly enjoyed her job as the director of a senior center. Each week hired staff came in to clean her house and do the laundry.

It was a Sunday afternoon around 3 p.m. when her husband found Barbara lying on the bed unresponsive. When he shook her she went into convulsions. He called 911 and their first question was, “What did she take?” Her spouse didn’t have a clue.

EMS pumped her stomach and took her to the hospital. When she regained consciousness she said that she washed down around 80 Valium with a sturdy quantity of gin.

“I just wanted the lights to go out,” she told her daughter. “I guess that’s not going to happen now.”

The family’s emotions ran the gamut from disbelief to horror. How could she do this? What happened that she felt she wanted, needed to end her life? For all of them it was beyond comprehension.

Barbara was clinically depressed. She had spent her life caring for others and had few skills at caring for herself. It took her wanting to die before she was fortunate enough to find a therapist that she could confide in and who could give her the tools to want to live.

The Suicide Prevention Lifeline website says, “You can recover from a suicide attempt. It takes time to heal both physically and emotionally, but healing and help can happen. Taking care of yourself is an important part of your recovery.”

“I’m a social welfare worker, I should have been able to detect the signs particularly in myself. But, I couldn’t see what I was doing. I was sand bagging negative feelings for so long that I couldn’t even remember most of them,” she said. As she went through her therapy, her self-worth gradually improved.

SPL says, “Silence isn’t strength. Don’t keep suicidal feelings to yourself. Lean on your support network, find a therapist or a support group, or get in touch with the Lifeline.”

Their phone number is 1-800-273-8255. Everyone should put it in their phone contacts. This 24/7 network is free, confidential and can offer support to you if you’re thinking about suicide or if you know someone who is.

“Evidence shows that providing support services, talking about suicide, reducing access to means of self-harm and following up with loved ones are just some of the actions we can all take to help others,” SPL says.

Bonner General Health psychologist, Joe Wassif said “It is a misconception that mentioning suicide to someone who may be suicidal will make the situation worse. Not addressing suicide causes more problems that talking about it in a supportive manner.”

SPL identifies the warning signs: talking about wanting to die or to kill themselves; looking for a way to kill themselves, like searching online or buying a gun; talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live; talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain; talking about being a burden to others; increasing the use of alcohol or drugs; acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly; sleeping too little or too much; withdrawing or isolating themselves; showing rage or talking about seeking revenge; extreme mood swings.

“Self-forgiveness can be the hardest part of counseling, and one of the most important,” Dr. Wassif said. “People often unknowingly hold on to blame and anger for fear of what will be left if they let it go.”

Talking to someone contemplating suicide can be difficult. SPL offers the following dos and don’ts: “Be direct. Talk openly and matter-of-factly about suicide. Be willing to listen. Allow expressions of feelings. Be non-judgmental. Don’t debate whether suicide is right or wrong or whether feelings are good or bad. Don’t lecture on the value of life.”

Of course, you shouldn’t dare someone to do it, nor should you act shocked that someone might want to. Seek support. Don’t let yourself be sworn to secrecy. Remove the means. And, get help from people or agencies specializing in crisis intervention.

Kathy Hubbard is a member of Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at kathyleehubbard@yahoo.com.

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