Talking holds key to preventing suicide

Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly

We’re afraid to talk about suicide. But we need to get over that fear if we’re going to save lives.

That’s what experts are telling us in the wake of suicides that took the lives of two local teenagers in the past two weeks.

Talking about suicide isn’t going to compel someone to do it, and it may help prevent a person from attempting to take his or her own life, a local suicide prevention expert said.

Starting that conversation may be uncomfortable, but the cost of not talking could be much, much worse.

That conversation does not have to include the word “suicide.” Just telling a child, friend or classmate that you’ve noticed they’re acting differently and you’re concerned can go long way, said Alice Jordan-Miles, director of the Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne Behavioral Health & Family Studies Institute.

Teenagers may be reluctant to share their innermost feelings with anyone who is not well known to them. That makes parents, siblings, friends or other classmates the keys to identifying and helping someone contemplating suicide, Jordan-Miles said.

“A lot of times when someone is depressed, they are so alone. You, as a friend — the biggest thing you can do is listen and show them that you’re there and you have the concern about them,” Jordan-Miles said.

School staff members can play an important role by getting to know students and watching for unusual behavior, Lakeland Superintendent Eva Merkel said.

“Build relationships with your kids so you can get a sense of what’s normal and what’s not normal. By getting to know them, if they’re having an off day, we can intervene more quickly,” Merkel said.

Compared to the past, Merkel said she feels students today are more willing to notify adults when they’re concerned about their classmates.

Recently at East Noble High School, students took a positive step by pledging to meet with school administrators on a regular basis to talk about bullying and report bullying incidents. Bullying can be one factor leading to teen suicide.

East Noble administrators also deserve praise for their sensitive handling of a memorial service for a student last week. The service gave students a way to express their feelings about a deeply emotional situation. In years past, school officials might have met such a crisis by attempting to ignore it.

Staff members and parents from the schools affected by suicide should be especially alert in the days ahead for signs from students who are not dealing well with the losses of their classmates.

Jordan-Miles said one warning signal that someone may need help is an uncharacteristic change in behavior. As examples, she said, someone who is punctual starts showing up late frequently, a person stops eating, a teen rapidly replaces his or her group of friends with a different group. A teen may exhibit a sharp increase in alcohol or drug abuse, or extreme mood swings.

If someone actually mentions suicide, “You never promise confidentially,” Jordan-Miles said.

It’s becoming clear that silence is the ally of suicide, and talking openly is its enemy.

We need to be so afraid of suicide that we can be fearless about talking with people — especially teens — who need help.

This was distributed by Hoosier State Press Association.