I attend church in Brawley and live in El Centro. Since I commute, I look at billboards. There is one sign that bothers me. It is a sign about the “Signs of Suicide.” I like education for prevention. It is important to talk about uncomfortable topics. We need to bring the dark into the light. This bad billboard brings attention to the signs, but it doesn’t tell you what they are. I don’t know who paid for it, but it was a waste of money and an opportunity. A billboard is a teachable moment for the driver/passengers, but the ad was not advantageous. There was plenty of space to actually tell what are some signs of suicide but another health education opportunity was lost.
The holidays are the suicide season. I have lost friends to suicide and thankfully these have been in the distant past. I was visiting my sister-in-law, who is an education administrator in North San Diego County, and a freshman killed themself last weekend. Very sad and such a waste. Usually there are signs. Here are a few. People who have multiple losses and much pain think about ending it all. Divorce, death of loved ones, disability, financial stress, can all give rise to negative thoughts. People in pain will often discuss suicide and death and it usually a cry for help. It is common to see substance abuse, withdrawal from friends, family, familiar activities and writings about leaving the planet. Some of the suicidal will even write wills or start giving away valuable personal items. Any time there is depression, there can be suicidal ideas, but not necessarily plans. Ideas are bad, but plans are much more serious.
The important thing to do if there is a warning sign is to talk to the person and not make light of a very dark situation or thinking. People often want and need to talk, but if they are ignored or their feelings made light of, their feelings of hopelessness can be magnified. Loneliness and hurt can lead to the thoughts. A caring conversation can do much good, but silence can make a person ache even more.
We have some great resources for prevention. One that has been around for a very long time is the SURE Helpline, at 760-352-7873 (352-SURE). They have been helping callers crying for help for many decades in Imperial Valley. Imperial County Behavioral Health has a 24 Crisis and Referral service that is available by calling 760-482-4504. Help really is just a phone call away.
Here are a few self-help tips. If you have the holiday blues or life continues to blow away your hopes and dreams, remember, suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. You may be in a storm, but God wants you to get to the other side of the lake. Pray and call out to God. If you are not a believer, you can write up a list of positives in your life. In the 12 Step programs it is called developing an “attitude of gratitude.” If you are divorced, be grateful for your children, friends or family. If you are poor, be happy you have food, shelter and your health. If you are disabled or ill, try not to focus on what you don’t have, but what you have or are able to do. And when you get really down, phone a friend, or a helpline designed to brighten your day. One last thing is if you are down, try to help someone up. Service to others really can affect your mood for the better. Volunteerism is good mental medicine.
Often Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas doesn’t resonate with you. That is OK. Do something that will be helpful. There are also signs of success. Follow those and tomorrow or next year can be better. Hang in there. Sometimes it is darkest before the dawn!!