Two dozen parents, teachers, church and youth group leaders arrived at Snoqualmie Middle School’s SafeTALK session the other night as individuals concerned about suicide in our community.
Three hours later, they left as part of a team, a network of people able to spot warning signs, listen and intervene, and ultimately prevent their neighbors, young and old, from coming to harm.
I hadn’t planned to stay for the entire three-hour training session, hosted by Sue Eastgard, director of the Youth Suicide Prevention Program. But something in her message resonated, opening my eyes to the realities of what is often a taboo subject. I couldn’t get out of my chair.
While the Valley has been touched by suicide in recent years, this community is far from alone. Statewide, someone between the ages of 10 and 24 commits suicide twice each week. Nationally, the rate for all ages is one person every 17 minutes.
According to SafeTALK trainers, one person in 20 has suicidal thoughts. Most people never act on these thoughts, but some do. Eastgard’s mission is to train their friends, co-workers, families and greater community to help them find a different path.
According to Eastgard, most people who are thinking about suicide don’t actually want to stop living. They just want an escape from pain, a way out of a problem in their lives that seems unsolvable. Most of these people either willingly or unconsciously invite others to recognize that they are thinking about suicide. But those around them may not see the signs, or recognize them until they are too late.
Warning signs include moodiness, hopelessness and withdrawal, increased substance abuse, or the giving away of prized possessions. Trained responders who see such signs know how to approach someone, show they care, listen to what he or she has to say and ask them up front: Are you thinking about suicide?
Suicide prevention isn’t just the job of school nurses, counselors and psychologists. In Eastgard’s view, it’s a job for everyone. Children and adults who are thinking about suicide may not always reach out to the same person, or show warning signs in the same way. We need more people in the community willing to break the silence about the issue, to be respectfully but helpfully nosy.
“It can be uncomfortable to ask,” Eastgard says. “But it’s a crucial step that can save someone’s life.”
At the end of the training session, Eastgard passed out handfuls of stickers to each trainee. Marked with colorful thought bubbles that say “suicide… You can TALK to me,” the stickers become a public reminder in local offices, cubicles, cars or buses that someone is there who can listen and help. If you need someone to talk to, look for these stickers.
A lot of resources exist to help someone who is thinking about suicide. A good place to start is the Snoqualmie Valley Community Network, which makes suicide prevention one of its top priorities.
The network has a detailed resource guide with hundreds of local and regional contacts for people and families in crisis. Learn about the network at snoqualmievalleycommunitynetwork.org.
You can learn more about the Youth Suicide Prevention Program at www.yspp.org.