Suicide Is Preventable

FebHealthPicWinter’s chill and darkness are settling in around us, even as the festive lights of the holidays try to twinkle through the dismal pall of dirty snow and unnavigable puddles. It surely can be depressing. While these circumstances make it easy to feel glum and down in the dumps, the sad fact is that many people suffer from depression regardless of the season. A major factor in suicide is the depression that crawls into people’s lives, sometimes without a person even realizing it.

Realizing that one is depressed can be tricky. The majority of people complain of physical changes and discomforts like loss or increase of appetite, increased aches and pains, or inability to sleep or wanting to sleep all the time, before they come to the realization that they are depressed. Some people simply feel totally alone, incapable of sharing their anguish with others, and in despair. Ending their own life seems to be the only way to relieve the terrible pain they feel.

Unfortunately, there is so much stigma attached to any sort of emotional disorder that often people are reticent to talk about their depression. Those who live with the depressed person often mistake depression for laziness or lack of willpower to just get up and do something. Depression can be debilitating for smart, hard-working, wonderful people because it’s a disease, not a personality trait. Truck drivers are among the workers at highest risk for suicide.

Suicide is a means for dealing with despair. Often, before a suicide attempt is made, there is self-medication with alcohol, marijuana or pills to cope with the feelings of loneliness and isolation. The effects of these substances themselves can cause a person to commit suicide. The economy has a significant effect on suicide rates, too – when the economy is down, suicide is up. Many of us identify strongly with what we do for a living. If we lose a job, we lose faith in ourselves. Divorced people are more likely to commit suicide, as many of us depend on our identities as being part of a “happy” couple.

Men are more likely than women to commit suicide. They are also less likely to talk about their feelings, especially around mental health issues. And who talks about suicide, anyway? It’s not exactly truck stop conversation. Who has time to think about their feelings or mental health when there is a rig full of stuff waiting to be delivered across the country? What if the person you’re talking to thinks you’re crazy? What if they can’t help you? These are valid concerns that could put someone off from seeking help – but they shouldn’t.

So, how do you recognize the potential for suicide in yourself, a friend or a co-worker? There are several signs of depression and/or the intent to commit suicide. Depression often includes losing interest in things that used to bring pleasure, making comments about being hopeless or worthless (or that the world would be better off without them), and large mood swings – extreme sadness that suddenly turns to calm or even happiness. Suicidal people often take risks that could result in death, like driving too fast or jumping from high places.

Finding someone to talk to when you’re on the road could be tricky but not impossible. There is a Facebook page (a closed group), created by a trucker, to help other truckers suffering with depression and suicidal feelings called “Truckers of Truckers (Fight Against Depression And Suicide)” that you might want to join for help and support. There is also a website (www.mentalhealthamerica.net) with a quick questionnaire that anyone can take to see if they might be suffering from depression or at risk of being suicidal (go to the site mentioned above and then click on the “Take a Screen” tab).

Crisis counselors with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline are available 24/7, 365 days a year at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The group also offers online chatting and a host of other mental health resources on its website (www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org), and is also active on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Tumblr. The Lifeline Crisis Chat line is confidential – they use the same sort of software that banks use to keep your online banking information confidential. One of the advantages of the Crisis Chat is that no one knows if you are crying or upset unless you tell them. So, for people who might not be comfortable showing their emotions, this method of communication could be ideal. Another helpful number to have (or to share) would be 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433).

Here are 12 ways you could be helpful to someone threatening suicide: 1) Get involved. Be available. Show interest and support; 2) Ask if he/she is thinking about suicide; 3) Be direct. Talk openly and freely about suicide; 4) Be willing to listen. Allow for expression of feelings and accept the feelings; 5) Be non-judgmental. Don’t debate whether suicide is right or wrong, or feelings are good or bad. Don’t lecture on the value of life; 6) Don’t dare him/her to do it; 7) Don’t ask “why” (this just encourages defensiveness); 8) Offer empathy, not sympathy; 9) Don’t act shocked; 10) Don’t be sworn to secrecy. Seek support; 11) Offer hope that alternatives are available; and 12) Take action! Remove means!! Get help from individuals or agencies that specialize in crisis intervention and suicide prevention.

Most people don’t want to commit suicide – they desperately want to live – and the majority of people who have attempted suicide report that while they were attempting, they had some serious regrets. Asking someone if they are feeling in despair and if they want to kill themselves will not make them do it, so don’t be afraid to ask.

In 2014, about 43,000 people killed themselves in the United States alone, while another 1.3 million tried to commit suicide but did not succeed (thankfully). Don’t be one of them – and don’t let a friend or family member (or a stranger, for that matter) be one, either. Use this knowledge to give someone in despair new hope or to save your own life! Please, if you need help, don’t be afraid to ask.

About Norma Stephens Hannigan

Dr. Norma Stephens Hannigan is a Doctor of Nursing Practice who teaches at the Hunter-Bellevue School of Nursing in New York. Dr. Norma has treated many truck drivers at the various clinics she has worked in over the years. She currently writes for 10-4 from her home in Newburgh, New York.