The question came last Monday on my office group text. “Why is there a news truck parked in front of campus.” The answer, “There’s a student missing.”
The student had left his house Saturday evening to get a soda and never returned. At a small university events like this are not common and the community was obviously very concerned.
Lots of prayers went up that day along with many hopeful messages for a safe return.
The next day the news came that we were all dreading.
The student had been found dead in his car. He had taken his own life.
That same afternoon my wife forwarded me an email from my son’s middle school principal. She was writing to inform parents that the previous week they received unconfirmed reports that as many as six area teens may have attempted suicide during the last 2 weeks.
That was obviously alarming news but even more so because our community had already lost three students this school year to suicide.
All of this took place in a small town of just 23,000 residents.
But our little community is hardly the exception. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US with 44,193 per year.
It absolutely breaks my heart. So many lives lost way too soon. So much God-given potential never realized. So much pain and so many unanswered questions for those left behind.
It is hard to fathom how people can reach the point of hopelessness and desperation that the best option seems to be to end it all.
But I can also understand it because I’ve been there.
I spent years living in the downward mental spiral that ends at that very dark place.
I know what it is like to feel so desperate, for life to seem so bleak that you want to go to bed and not wake up, to walk across the street and wish you’d get hit by a car, to across a bridge and be tempted to jump off and end it all.
But I also know there is hope.
Thankfully I can stand as an example of someone who has been there but is not anymore. I’m here as someone who was at the end of my rope but with the help of others was pulled back to safety and am now living a life that I never imagined was possible back then.
I know I’m just one small voice but I want to do my part to help those who are struggling with suicidal thoughts as well as the friends and loved ones who try to help them. So here are some encouragements and thoughts to consider for both groups:
To those who may have or may be contemplating suicide
Please reach out. There are people that can and want to help you. No matter how bleak life feels I promise you there is hope and it can get better. Please take one step towards help. You are a wonderful and special person and you have a gift that the world needs! Call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline now and get started on the road to recovery 1-800-273-8255.
To friends and loved ones
Be aware. Anyone can struggle with suicidal thoughts and only one in five people who do reach out. Know the signs and risk factors.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention says “Depression is the most common condition associated with suicide, and it is often undiagnosed or untreated. Conditions like depression, anxiety and substance problems, especially when unaddressed, increase risk for suicide. “
If a person talks about –
- Being a burden to others
- Feeling trapped
- Experiencing unbearable pain
- Having no reason to live
- Killing themselves
Specific things to look out for include –
- Increased use of alcohol or drugs
- Looking for a way to kill themselves, such as searching online for materials or means
- Acting recklessly
- Withdrawing from activities
- Isolating from family and friends
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Visiting or calling people to say goodbye
- Giving away prized possessions
People who are considering suicide often display one or more of the following moods-
- Loss of interest
If someone you know exhibits some of these behaviors please reach out on their behalf. Don’t wait until it is too late! The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has a great page on their site with helpful advice on how to do that.
Suicide is not a fun subject to talk about. But we can’t afford to ignore it. There’s too much at stake. Chances are someone we know is struggling. I’m convinced that together we can make a difference and help pull others back to safety and hope just like I was.