Tuesday, October 29, 2013
In a story that is becoming a frequent reminder, it was reported that another young student ended her life by means of suicide. The victim was a 16 year student from Keystone High School in Lagrange. She becomes another reminder that this silent epidemic plaguing society continues to attack with reckless abandonment.
When I read the obituary and saw the picture of this young lady, it is heart wrenching. She looked like your typical 16 year old with the promise of a bright future and happy life. It is clear that she had a family that cared deeply for her, who now find themselves searching for answers that they may never learn.
As of now, little is known about the what was going on with this student, but like the recent ones in Medina, Sheffield and Vermillion suggest, the public reacts with the anticipated how could she or why did she commit this act. Disappointingly, that outcry is only temporary until the death fades from memory, and inevitability another one occurs. In spite of many local deaths, there is never the sustained outcry demanding changes in schools and community to intervene before the tragedy occurs. However, in almost every case, the schools insist that grief counselors will be available for the ones left behind. My question is simple; Why not create more intervention programs to help prevent the deaths rather than provide assistance for the survivors?
Charlie Neff, the Executive Director of the Lorain County Board of Mental Health spoke about this tragic death. He said; "We recognize the tragedy of teen suicide is not just a problem for the schools to address alone. Rather it is a community-wide problem and all of us, educators, medical and mental health professionals, parents and youth, have an important role to play in eliminating it."
Mr. Neff is correct in pointing out that this is a problem in which everyone needs to be an integral part of the solution. Not only must educators be open to training to identify at risk kids, but the students themselves need to be included in its solving. They must be made to feel free to approach someone when morbid thoughts of death becomes relentless in their minds. Also, they must feel free to approach a teacher to let them know that a friend is in crisis and then the school must intercede and make a strong effort to protect that young person. Finally, the schools need to be proactive in every case, and never discount the efforts of students when they ask for help.
Currently, Mr. Neff has announced that two network clinicians are in the process of becoming certified in Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASSIST). They will enhance the region's efforts to educate the public in community intervention programs. These trained specialists will be invaluable in Lorain County and will make an immediate impact. Kudos to the Lorain County Board of Mental Health for the effort they are putting onward with educating the public.
Though I am witnessing a slow thaw in the ignorance surrounding the public's acceptance of the deadly consequence of untreated mental illness, we have a long way to go. I have written about many similar tragedies such as this one, and the responses that I have received have been mixed, and in some cases, outright hostile. It is as if many people in positions of power that can enact real change to provide the necessary support to students, dislike the idea that what they are doing is not working! It is time for everyone involved ensuring that immediate corrective measures take place. The work being done in Lorain should stand as an example of how to begin to make the necessary transformation.
Hopefully, with further information on mental illness, the stigma associated with these disorders will continue to be diminished. With that education, a larger part of the public will realize that mental illness is a treatable physical condition and with treatment, the suicidal ideation will disappear, and one suffering the disease can recover.
I have been asked on numerous occasions as to why do people commit these acts. The best response I can give is that individuals finally decide that, with their clouded thoughts that ending the suffering is a much better choice then waking up and experience it once again. I know firsthand as I lived with that domineering pain for many years, and with the constant fear that it will one day reappear. In her book, "Night Falls Fast", the noted Psychiatrist and Author, Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison said, "Suicide will have seemed to its perpetrator the last and best of bad possibilities,..." In essence, though many will fight the demons of their conditions, when the firm pain becomes unyielding, then self-murder appears to be the only solution.
To be clearer, anyone who has fought the pain associated with excessive depression, life is not viewed with the same enthusiasm as those who live within the realm rational thinking. To draw a comparison, many people have the irrational fear that when they go to sleep at night, they will not wake up. Conversely, when someone with an untreated mental illness goes to bed, the overriding fear is that they "will" wake up and be confronted with that emotional pain once again. Few people realize the magnitude of that agony, but once someone experiences it, they never forget it.
There are so many words associated with mental illness and suicide. Depression, bullying, ostracize, stigma, ignorance and the index are never ending. They seem to be a crucial element of every suicide that we read about. Fortunately in Lorain County, it is clear that some leaders are taking corrective measures to address the causes. I have discovered that efforts such as theirs are rare throughout most communities, so it is imperative that the Lorain County Board of Mental Health continue to open eyes on this invisible killer.
On numerous occasions, people have asked what can be done to help those afflicted. The greatest advice I can give everyone in helping to reverse the trend of ever increasing numbers of suicide are three simple words. These were from a book whose author is a remarkable young woman named Lizzie Simon, whose personal battles with mental illness and suicide were chronicled in her biography, "Detour, My Bipolar Road Trip In 4D". The words are simple, but deliver a powerful message. To assist your loved ones and to help prevent suicide, never forget to "JUST BE THERE!"