Suicide prevention reliant on open conversations

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For Samantha Park, suicide seemed like the only way she could see an end to a life that had become unbearable.

“Every day I come home with loser written all over my face,” said Park, a junior psychology major from Nephi, reading from journal entries reaching back to her sixth-grader self. “I wrote a list of what was wrong with me: ‘I get greasy hair, zitty face, greasy face, ugly face…I am a freak, idiot and stupid.’”

By the end of her sixth grade year, and after both being severely bullied and developing a subset of obsessive compulsive disorder called trichotillomania, where the sufferer has the recurrent and unstoppable desire to pull out their own hair, Park said she decided to commit suicide. 

Fortunately, Park said she couldn’t find any rope or her family’s gun safe combination code. A small thought in the back of her mind pulled her back from the edge, telling her she should not go through with her suicidal plans, she said.

Suicide is not a single-victim act, said Dean of Students Del Beatty. Beatty helped coordinate the Surviving Suicide presentation held in the Dunford Auditorium Sept. 14. He said while Dixie State University has fewer suicides and attempted suicides than other Utah universities, that it is not good enough.

“Even one [suicide] is too many,” Beatty said at the presentation.

However, suicide is hard and uncomfortable to talk about, Beatty said. But, he said though it is uncomfortable, these conversations are necessary and can be life-saving.

“I was 10 years old when my 15-year-old brother took his life,” said Tina Hender, a St. George resident. “We never talked about it, and my world fell apart.”

Hender said communication is key to helping those struggling with suicidal thoughts. She said she learned a suicide prevention technique called QPR, which stands for question, persuade and refer, and was ready to help the world.

But then, one of Hender’s own sons committed suicide.

“Unlike when my brother died, I made sure we all went to therapy,” Hender said. “And now we don’t just talk about my work and suicide in general terms, but I ask my children, ‘Are you thinking about suicide?’”

Asking about suicide does not put the thought into someone’s head, Beatty said. According to the American Psychological Association, the few people who were suicidal after being asked were found to be already suicidal, and questioning did not implant the idea.

Another issue that makes suicide hard to catch is that it is often paired with a mental illness, said Tasha Hopkinson, a St. George resident. She was unaware that she suffered from depression, she said, and those around her did not understand her unhappiness and would tell her to just cheer up.

“I decided that everyone around me would be better off without me and I no longer wanted to live,” Hopkinson said.

Following a detailed suicide plan involving sleeping pills and alcohol, Hopkinson shot herself twice in the chest after she survived her first suicide attempt.

“My attempt at suicide solved nothing and only added to my problems,” Hopkinson said. 

Her husband managed to find her and get her help, though she now has permanent health problems following the attempt, she said.

“There wasn’t one specific thing that sent me on a downward spiral,” Hopkinson said. “It was the months and years where I didn’t know how to deal with my sadness.”

Understanding her mental illness and getting a combination of medication, therapy and family support has been key to her achieving a balanced and happier life, Hopkinson said.

There is, however, the danger of “assume-icide,” as Corey Hansen, a St. George resident, put it.

“‘Assume-icide,’” Hansen said, was when a person decided there was no danger of suicide because none of the expected warning behaviors were there.

“Olivia was a happy child and showed none of the signs of suicide,” Hansen said. 

Their family knew the indicators of suicide as another one of their daughters was showing some of the classic symptoms: self-harm, isolation and low self-esteem to name a few, he said.

“And so we committed ‘assume-icide’ and didn’t notice when Olivia got a bit moodier,” Hansen said. “She was our fourth daughter, and we assumed it was normal teenage behavior.”

Beatty said “assume-icide” is something many of us do, and he urged the listening group to not be bystanders to someone else’s struggle.

“If you see something, say something,” Beatty said.

DSU recently received mouse pads with suicide hotline information, which were donated to the school by Reach 4 Hope, a local suicide prevention group. Beatty said if some mouse pads go missing, the school can replace them; they can’t replace the person who might need that information.

Another way to get involved in suicide prevention is the fifth annual “Out of the Darkness” walk, which will be held Sept. 24 at Highland Park, located at 1250 N. Highland Parkway in St. George. It is a fundraiser held to help raise funds for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Hender spearheads the organization of the St. George walk and encouraged all those who have had their lives touched by suicide and all those who want to help raise awareness  by participating.

“Surviving is hard, even to this day,” Hopkinson said. “But it’s better than not being here.”

For those who are struggling, contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK.