In our experience, grief is not necessarily something we “just get through”, but rather a journey towards integrating our grief into who are now, that our loved one is gone.

Becky Olsen, co-founder of OurSideOfSuicide.com, shares the lessons she has learned in her article “8 Things I Learned Years After My Dad’s Suicide” for the Huffington Post.

I think it’s safe to say that whether it’s been 10 days or 10 years (or more), the effects of living through a loved one’s suicide will continue to evolve and impact survivors in various ways. As a new survivor, I hated when I heard people say “time heals.” I didn’t believe it and I didn’t want to hear it. However, I can say that time has molded my grief away from the sick, punched-in-the-gut feeling, into what I would equate to a backpack or dark cloud that I carry or pull along with me in the background.

 

Read her full article here.

Its_A_Wonderful_Life1-300x225Frank Capra’s classic film is a favorite this time of year, but as Dana Grayson at iCarol notices, the film also “centers around the topic of one man’s suicide plan”.  Dana published a humorous blog post highlighting 13 ways in which crisis intervention workers view the holiday film a little differently than others.

Our favorite is #6.  Click here for the full blog post and see the list below:

 

 

13 thoughts of crisis workers when watching “It’s a Wonderful Life”

  1. It bothers you that the movie perpetuates the myth that suicide rates go up at Christmastime
  2. You’re envious of the detailed and factual background Clarence has on George, and think of how helpful this would be when working with your clients
  3. You know of a dozen people you’ve spoken to this month who are in way worse circumstances than George, but knowing how complex and unique suicide can be for each person you’d never judge George for feeling how he does
  4. You can list all the warning signs that George is giving, and yell at the other characters for not picking up on them
  5. Even better, you wish someone would talk to George about his behavior and ask him directly if he was thinking of suicide
  6. You cheer on Mary when she calls a family member to talk about how George was behaving, and doesn’t keep his behavior a secret. Mary – 1 Stigma and Shame – 0
  7. George’s story reminds you of all the people you’ve spoken to that thought their suicide would be what’s best for their family
  8. You note the high lethality of George’s plan for suicide
  9. And think of how more bridges need suicide barriers for this very reason
  10. It angers you when Clarence tells George he “shouldn’t say such things” when George discusses suicide, effectively shutting him down and judging him rather than listening to why he feels this way.
  11. You’re relieved when George finds his reasons for living
  12. You’re thankful for the happy ending, but you know that it’s rarely wrapped up so easily
  13. You’re reminded of why you do the work you do

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KAWL‘s program Your Call hosted a discussion about efficacy of suicide prevention and the construction of suicide prevention nets on the Golden Gate Bridge.

Program guests included:

Courtney Brown, hotline coordinator for the San Francisco Suicide Prevention Hotline

Kevin Hines, mental health advocate, and author of Cracked, Not Broken: Surviving and Thriving After a Suicide Attempt

 Jill Harkavy-Friedman, psychologist, and vice president of research at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

 

Hear the full discussion here.

 

AFSP’s documentary The Journey, which was produced for Survivor Day 2014, tells the stories of a diverse group of suicide loss survivors. It’s a compelling film that shows how each survivor is weathering the loss of a loved one, and how they are finding their way back to a life rich in meaning—and even joy.

The Crisis Center is seeking qualified applicants to join our Help Me Grow 211 Call Specialist team.  The Help Me Grow Call Specialist works with the 211 Call Center to appropriately screen and refer callers with young children to culturally and developmentally appropriate resources.   To learn more and read the full job description, click here.

 

Suicides by active-duty troops and veterans are at levels that would have been unthinkable a generation ago. Each day, on average, a current service member dies by suicide, and each hour a veteran does the same.

In response, President Obama signed the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act in February. The act aims to make information on suicide prevention more easily available to veterans; it offers financial incentives to mental health professionals who work with vets; and it requires an annual evaluation of the military’s mental health programs by an independent source.

The law is commendable, but it won’t come close to ending military suicides. That would require radical changes in the policies, procedures, attitudes and culture in two of our biggest bureaucracies: the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs.

Fifteen years ago, the suicide rate among patients in a large HMO in Detroit was seven times the national average. Its leaders decided to try to end suicides — not just reduce them but end them. In four years, the incidence of suicide at the HMO was reduced 75%; with more tinkering, the rate went down to zero, and has stayed there, at last count, for 2 1/2 years. The difference was an all-out commitment to the cause.

Every time a patient sought care, regardless of the reason, he or she was assessed for suicide risk. Every employee who came in contact with patients was rigorously trained in suicide prevention. Specific interventions were established for each of three risk levels.

The HMO also implemented measures to provide timely care by enabling patients to get immediate help through email with physicians, to make same-day medical appointments and to get prescriptions filled the same day too.

A similar commitment by the military could achieve dramatic results, at least among active-duty troops. These troops are in the system now, their activities are being monitored regularly, so there are plenty of opportunities for assessment and treatment.

If the military followed the Detroit model, all troops would be evaluated for post-traumatic stress and suicide risk when they return home, not just those who ask for help. Evaluations would happen more than once; they would be in person and one-on-one, not with written questionnaires. In addition, families would be interviewed, separately and confidentially.

And treatment and claims would be expedited. Veterans shouldn’t have to wait a year or more to receive healthcare or have their claims processed.

Then there is the matter of stigma. It’s not the military’s responsibility alone to destigmatize psychological problems, but there are steps the military can take.

Service members with PTSD who are able to manage it should be strongly considered for promotions just as though they had recovered from physical wounds. Their ability to overcome mental injury should be recognized, so it inspires others.

Purple Hearts are awarded to soldiers who suffer a serious physical wound in combat; they should also be awarded to those who suffer serious mental health injuries in combat. Injuries are injuries and none should be minimized.

Finally, just as good-conduct medals and combat awards are bestowed on troops, so should commendations be given when soldiers recognize that their comrades need help and act on their behalf.

This is just a start. To keep its troops mentally healthy, the Defense Department must reduce the number and duration of combat deployments and do more to prepare troops for assymetrical warfare. It must help them adjust to life when they come home — with jobs, housing, loans and legal assistance. It must enforce, not just approve, a policy of zero tolerance related to sexual harassment and assault.

Each element has a price, and collectively the cost will be astronomical. We must be prepared to pay it if we are sincere in our commitment to support our troops.

John Bateson was executive director of a nationally certified suicide prevention center in the San Francisco Bay Area for 16 years. His latest book is “The Last and Greatest Battle: Finding the Will, Commitment, and Strategy to End Military Suicides.”

The original article can be found here.

Three months before his May 2009 suicide on the Caltrain tracks in Palo Alto, 17-year-old Jean-Paul “JP” Blanchard wrote on Facebook about trying to help a woman in a wheelchair navigate through a Starbucks.

The story offered no explicit clues that the Gunn High School junior was depressed or suicidal. But it did offer insights. And to his mother, Kathleen, it confirmed everyone’s impression that JP was intelligent, sensitive and empathetic — maybe especially so.

“The thing that made him special was that he noticed and cared for others,” she says.

But the post also revealed how much JP could agonize over everyday situations. He wondered if he should have done more for the woman, but he was also angry that he was the only customer to give up a “precious spot” in line to open the door for her.

“Why was I, the youngest person in the place, the one to go help?” he asked. His anger quickly toggled into the wish that sharing the story would inspire others to commit “acts of kindness.”

In the nearly five years since her son’s death, Kathleen Blanchard has tried to understand why. She talked to his friends, read through things he’d written, but questions remain. Still, in the process, she gained insights she hopes might help other young people who are struggling with depression and other serious mental health disorders. A recent suicide in Palo Alto prompted Blanchard, along with JP’s girlfriend, Lydia Huang, to talk to this newspaper and share a message with teens who might be contemplating suicide: Don’t despair — you can get through this.

The need to help kids has taken on renewed urgency in Palo Alto. It may be home to one of America’s most prestigious universities and achievers who define a 21st-century idea of success. But the city also has become the focus of a national discussion about suicide, mental illness and academic pressure on teens.

In the year after JP’s death, four more Palo Alto teens died at the same railroad crossing. Another cluster of youth suicides began in October. The most recent was the death of a 15-year-old Palo Alto High School sophomore. In all, 12 Palo Alto teens are known to have died by suicide since 2008.

Palo Alto isn’t the only Bay Area city grappling with this issue. Nationwide, suicide is the third leading cause of death of young people ages 15 to 24. This past fall in the East Bay, the Contra Costa Crisis Center gave a presentation on suicide prevention in East Contra Costa in response to a spate of suicides, including ones involving 11- and 15-year-olds.

Most people who die this way are suffering from a diagnosable mental health or substance abuse disorder, says Lesley Garcia, the call center’s team leader. Significant to note, Garcia adds, is that an estimated 80 percent have given some warning of their intentions.

Teens can be especially vulnerable, she says, in part because they can be impulsive. When a teen already harbors suicidal thoughts, a romantic rejection or a bad grade can overwhelm her with the feeling that this event defines her and the pain will never end.

“Adults might know this feeling won’t last forever, that it will be over if I get another job or make some other change,” Garcia says. “For youth, it’s hard to see past the pain they are feeling.”

Also, teens may work hard to hide their pain, she says, and feel pressure to succeed, fit in and gain peer acceptance.

“On social media, everyone is going to parties, having great spring break trips, and teenagers want to be like everyone else,” Garcia says. “They don’t want to show what’s really going on inside.”

‘MYSTERY NOVEL’

Blanchard regards her son’s life as a “mystery novel.” As she sits in her bright, sunny family room, with photos of JP and his younger sisters displayed on the walls, she says, “My son’s life was a book, 17 chapters as it were. Certainly, the last chapter was very sad … but as I go back and sort of review that mystery book, things pop out as clues that maybe I didn’t see as clues before.”

Recent public forums in Palo Alto have focused on ways to alleviate teen stress by enforcing the schools’ homework policy, possibly changing school start times to reduce sleep deprivation and addressing the culture of competition.

With JP, academic stress wasn’t an issue. Blanchard says he had little trouble keeping up with classes, and he seemed to be thriving. “He was smart, he was talented, he played on a sports team, he had a loving family. We ate dinner together every night.”

Blanchard regrets not knowing that her son likely was dealing with an undiagnosed, untreated depression.

But she has since learned that parents are sometimes the last to know. The results of a 1980 study of San Mateo County high school students hold true today, prevention experts say. When asked whom they would turn to if they were contemplating suicide, students overwhelmingly said “a friend” — before parents, counselors, teachers or other adults.

Indeed, JP’s friends became privy to his comments about him being sad, lonely, out of sorts.

Huang, now a senior at Penn State studying psychology, began dating JP at Christmastime in 2008. She was a sophomore, and JP was her first love. On New Year’s Eve, he texted her to thank her for saving his life.

Over that winter, her boyfriend, who “was a great listener,” talked about feeling lonely, even though he was always surrounded by groups of friends. Then at some point, he startled her by saying he wanted to hurt himself. She told a couple of friends. “We had never dealt with something like that. None of us knew what to do.”

JP dismissed her suggestion to see a counselor: “He didn’t believe it would help, and I didn’t push it further.” At 16, and with no experience with suicide, Huang didn’t think that JP’s comments could reflect a genuine intent to take his own life.

SURVIVING, THEN THRIVING

Lauren Davis understands what it felt like from the other side. She was consumed with thoughts of suicide during her teens. At 16, Davis said she gave out signals that she was suicidal, though she was too ashamed to make her intentions explicit.

A self-described high achiever and two-sport athlete, Davis, now 28, says she cried in the dugout at softball games and told a calculus teacher that all she could think about was dying after getting a B-plus on a test. She knew her father suspected something was wrong, but neither he nor anyone else knew to ask if she was depressed or thinking about killing herself.

“It’s not something you can tiptoe around,” she says, repeating a basic tenet of suicide prevention. Asking a teen directly but compassionately if she’s depressed or suicidal shows you care and encourages a conversation. In addition, using the word “suicide” won’t put the idea into her head.

After being involved in a single-car accident, Davis told a friend it was a suicide attempt, even though it wasn’t. But the friend told her mother, which got Davis into treatment. She took anti-depressants through high school but was able to taper off in college. She became a Fulbright scholar and worked for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, but now has her dream job at Forefront, a suicide prevention program at the University of Washington. She occasionally feels depressed but not suicidal.

“I really can’t relate to that feeling anymore,” says Davis, whose job involves trying to help students who are experiencing what she went through.

“If we can get these kids through these dark moments and dark months and get them connected to care,” she adds, “they can go on to live happy, healthy and flourishing lives.”

Huang isn’t sure she has forgiven herself for not sharing her concerns about JP with a trusted adult. But her experience informs her plan to return to Palo Alto and start a program focused on supporting mental health and suicide prevention among Asian-Americans.

Huang admitted that she was afraid Blanchard would be angry with her after JP’s death, but Blanchard understood the difficult position Huang and JP’s other friends were in. She and Huang have supported each other in their grief.

“The most important part of my healing was support from JP’s mom,” Huang says.

In befriending Huang or in sharing JP’s story, Blanchard is trying to live up to the model of kindness and empathy he set. She wants other families to have the chance to help their children, in a way her family didn’t.

“We can’t do anything about (what happened to JP),” she says. “We have to do better going forward.”

From Mercury News by Martha Ross.