Don’t be afraid to talk to a suicidal person about the prospect of killing themselves.
That’s the advice Renée Gerome, the site director of Firelands Counseling & Recovery Services, has. People who start a conversation with a friend or loved one who might consider killing themselves shouldn’t “pussy foot around about it,” but should ask open-ended questions.
Gerome suggests telling the person you’ve noticed he or she has been upset, then let that person talk about it.
"Some people believe if you talk about it, it puts thoughts in their head. That’s not true,” she said.
Acknowledging changes can open doors to let letting the suicidal person talk about what’s going on, Gerome explained.
In 2006, there were six suicides in Huron County — the same number in 2003 and 2004, according to the Huron County General Health District. There were four county suicides in 2005.
Men commit suicide as much as three or four times more than women, according to Firelands research, but women may attempt to kill themselves four times as often.
Men are more “successful” because they use more lethal means such as firearms, Gerome said.
Jean King, the executive director of Huron County’s Alcohol and Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services, doesn’t know why women attempt suicide more. “You don’t always know unless people end up at the hospital.”
“Attempts can be a cry for help. Women are more likely to seek help,” said Karen Russell Firelands’ outpatient chemical dependency services coordinator.
Don’t be scared of hospitals
People who are considering suicide shouldn’t be afraid of automatically being hospitalized if they seek professional help. Gerome said people may think they will be sent to the stereotypical padded cell in a mental asylum if they mention they are suicidal.
The goal at Firelands is to focus on what Gerome calls “the least restrictive environment” for the patient, meaning counselors aim to get the person home with a safety plan.
“It doesn’t mean we’ll take your rights away and lock you up,” she said. “It’s rare anyone goes to a mental hospital.”
Firelands is notified whenever a police officer responds to a complaint about someone hurting themselves. Gerome said harming oneself could range from scratching yourself to taking too many pills.
“We (can) have a week where we see 25 people. Other weeks, we don’t see anybody. It all depends on what’s going on in their lives,” she added.
Assessing the seriousness
When someone contacts Firelands about committing suicide, counselors assess the patient on a continuum to judge how serious the person is about taking his or her life.
A patient on the lowest level, Russell explained, is someone who has “vague thoughts” of suicide. That person might say: “I’m messing everything up” or “It would be better off if I weren’t around.”
Counselors would then assess that person for depression and look for symptoms, such as feeling hopeless or sad or having a significant lack of interest in one’s usual activities.
A person on the highest level has a definite plan for committing suicide.
“We want to know how far they are progressing on the continuum,” Russell said.
She believes many people don’t completely understand depression, which authorities believe if sustained for long periods of time, can lead to suicide attempts.
“It’s more than having the blues or feeling down,” Russell added.
Psychologist Anthony Wolf, in his book “Get Out of My Life: But First Could You Drive Me and Cheryl to the Mall?” defines depression as an ongoing condition when a person feels “‘down,’ unhappy, has difficulty in generating enthusiasm about anything at all (or) lacks energy.”
Wolf, in the book for teenagers, writes that people considering suicide “can feel trapped in situations to which they see no solution, and from which they see no escape.”
Gerome said some patients can’t explain their own depression. “They look at depression as being weak.”
The Firelands site director stresses that not everyone who has thoughts of killing themselves or of not living are actually suicidal. Gerome added that one of the counselors’ goals is to giving the person a sense of hope.
“The act of coming in is therapeutic,” she said.