August 30, 2014

Our View: Talking can turn someone away from suicide

If it’s dark, so dark you can’t see and you feel hopelessly lost, what do you do? Hopefully, you listen. You listen for the sound of voices who can help you find your way out of that darkness.

If it’s dark, so dark you can’t see and you feel hopelessly lost, what do you do? Hopefully, you listen. You listen for the sound of voices who can help you find your way out of that darkness.

Anecdotally, we’re told suicidal depression feels like a darkness of the mind brought on by despair and hopelessness. Cutting through that darkness is incredibly important for battling suicide – which claims from 30,000 to 40,000 lives a year. Antidepressant drugs can help, but they can’t cure suicidal thoughts. Talking to others, loved ones or on a lifeline, can play a vital role. Talking someone away from suicide can save those left behind untold grief.

Alice Quayle knows this grief. Her adult son Dustin, her only child, committed suicide in 2009. He had been depressed since the death of his father in 2006 and faced other problems.

“He went to the doctor and they gave him a little pill, and I thought everything would go away,” she said. “He hid his pain from me.”

Now, Quayle has become Modesto’s leading anti-suicide activist, though it’s unlikely she would describe herself that way. A year after Dustin’s suicide, she organized Modesto’s first Out of the Darkness suicide prevention walk. On Sept. 20, she’ll host the fifth walk at Graceada Park with, she hopes, 800 walkers. In April, McHenry Bowl hosted Strike Out Suicide, raising $11,000. Quayle figures she’s raised $130,000 for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and hopes to start a San Joaquin Valley chapter.

There is a need. Suicide statistics are startling. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 39,518 died of suicide in 2011, the last year for statistics. That’s 20 percent more than died in vehicle accidents. Western states have more; white males, age 45-64, are most likely, followed by those over 85. Men are four times more likely than women and half of all suicides are committed with a gun. And when someone famous commits suicide, it gets worse. Suicide prevention experts say a famous suicide can cause a spike of up to 12 percent.

That’s another reason to mourn the suicide of Robin Williams. The beloved funnyman had many of the signs. He had “lost his job” when his series was canceled; he had learned of a serious illness (Parkinson’s disease) that he feared, apparently, more than he feared death; he was a middle-age, white male; he had a history of drug abuse.

Many ask, if someone with Robin Williams’ resources can’t hold back such suicidal thoughts, what chance do they have?

But suicidal thoughts can be turned aside. Stanislaus County has substantial resources through the Behavioral Health and Recovery Services, with 12 staff members ready to intercede. For someone in medical distress, they can send an ambulance then meet them in the emergency room.

“Often, it’s not quite to the point where you need to call the police,” spokesman Adrian Carroll said. “In that case, there are mental health resources, either through their medical plan or their family doctor. If they have MediCal, that’s what we specialize in.”

But the county’s resources can be hard to find. A 43-page list of services and organizations, Friends are Good Medicine, is on the site, but you have to look under “Print PDF” to find it. Such important numbers should be easier to find.

The most important numbers are 2-1-1, which connects people to the United Way national call center, or the national suicide prevention lifeline, (800) 273-8255 – which spells out TALK. That’s because talking is essential.

Is talking the cure?

“I think it is,” Quayle said. “Just talking. If they’re struggling, just having someone to listen, just being there for them, it really helps. ... This happens with the young, the old – to every age group.”

It also happens to those we know only through their fame, and those we know intimately. If we listen, maybe we can help them find a way out of the darkness.

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