(Editors’ note: This is the first in a series of articles to be published on the topics of stress, anxiety and depression as well as suicide.)
by Britt Aamodt
Jen Holper dated Tony for four years. College ended. The relationship ran its course, and the two parted. But they kept in touch.
One night Tony called her and they had a long conversation. Then abruptly he hung up. Jen tried to get hold of him, track him down, but no luck.
The next day, he committed suicide.
Today, Jen Holper is a community relations representative at PrairieCare in Maple Grove. PrairieCare provides psychiatric services, inpatient and outpatient care to individuals from the Twin Cities metro and as far away as Duluth, Fargo and Rochester.
Wednesday, March 20, Holper along with Deborah Link of Link Therapy and Mediation, Rogers, gave a two-hour presentation on suicide prevention at Rogers High School for teachers, parents and community members.
Holper said her relationship with Tony, and his sudden death, has taught her a lot.
“I think it helps me empathize,” she said. For years she worked as a social worker and met adolescents and teens “who weren’t able to cope with tomorrow.”
What may surprise some people is that kids as young as four have experienced depression and talked about suicide.
The biggest warning sign that someone may commit suicide?
“A previous attempt,” said therapist Link, who experienced the suicide of a family member who had made a previous attempt.
Link doesn’t like to use the phrase “commit suicide.”
In our culture, she says, “people commit crimes. We commit people to institutions. There are these connotations. So I like to stay away from that word.”
Instead she talks about people who complete suicide.
And the point of the talk on Wednesday night was to alert the community to the warning signs, so that thoughts of suicide do not lead to completed suicides.
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death nationally, placing the United States 43rd worldwide. Lithuania, Belarus and Russia top the list, according to suicide.org.
Suicide, like eating disorders, incest and rape, are topics people shy away from in conversation. Link wanted the workshop to be a safe place to ask questions.
Audience members wanted to know if cutting was a precursor to suicide: Not necessarily. They asked what to do for adolescents and teens who don’t show warning signs of being suicidal.
Link admitted that sometimes you don’t know. She is aware in own therapy practice that if a client really doesn’t want her to find out he’s suicidal, she won’t. However, there are warning signs in most cases.
A teen thinking of suicide might sleep more or less, talk about death and withdraw from social activities. Parents don’t like to jump to conclusions, but they also want to make sure they’re doing everything they can.
For that reason, PraireCare offers a free needs assessment. The visit doesn’t show up on insurance and care is only prescribed if there is a definite need.
And there is hope. Therapy has helped countless people manage or overcome depression and live healthy, connected lives. All the same, these survivors may never bring up their success.
“It’s not like someone with diabetes who says, ‘Hey, I just found this great new nutritionist and my diabetes is getting better,’” said Holper.
Every March, Holper thinks about Tony. That was the month he died. Holper can’t help him now. But she and Link and others in their profession do what they do so there are fewer Tonys in the world and more tomorrows.
“We all have a bag we carry around with us,” says Holper, referring to a person’s metaphorical bag of hardships and sorrows.
There’s no getting rid of it but learning what’s inside the bag, she says, is a good first step in learning how to live with it.
Warning signs of suicide
The following is a list of warning signs that someone may be contemplating suicide. The risk is greater if a behavior is new or has increased and if it seems related to a painful event, loss or change.
•Has there been a previous suicide attempt?
•Is someone talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself?
•Is someone looking for a way to kill oneself, such as searching online or buying a gun?
•Is someone talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live?
•Is someone talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain?
•Is someone talking about being a burden to others?
•Is someone increasing their use of alcohol or drugs?
•Is someone acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly?
•Is someone sleeping too little or too much?
•Is someone withdrawn or feeling isolated?
•Is someone showing rage or talking about seeking revenge?
•Is someone displaying extreme mood swings?
This checklist is provided by SAVE.org. SAVE (Suicide Awareness Voices of Education) was one of the nation’s first organizations dedicated to the prevention of suicide.