n Head of national suicide prevention organization says people can be saved
by Britt Aamodt
Ten years ago, a local woman went into a bathroom at Kohl’s and saw a girl with long black hair at the sinks. She said to the girl, “You have really beautiful hair.”
The girl burst into tears. Uh-oh, what had the woman said?
“I was about to commit suicide,” the girl explained.
She had come to the public bathroom at Kohl’s because she didn’t want to be alone when she did it. But the woman, springing this unexpected compliment, had changed the girl’s mind.
The girl produced two bottles of pills. She asked the woman to take them from her. She wasn’t going to kill herself.
Most people considering suicide are ambivalent about it, Daniel J. Reidenberg told an audience of nearly 200 on Oct. 15 at Elk River High School’s Zabee Theater. They don’t want to die, but they want to end the pain.
Reidenberg is executive director of Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, or SAVE, a Minnesota-based organization that provides resources and information on suicide.
ERHS’s Yellow Ribbon Program invited Reidenberg to Zabee for the student group’s first ever Community Night Out dedicated to suicide awareness and prevention.
The club, whose membership is one of the largest at the school, plastered the cafeteria with suicide statistics and information about the free dinner and program. One poster said suicide is the third leading cause of death for people ages 15-24.
“This is one of the biggest events put on by a club at the school,” said senior Victoria Parke, Yellow Ribbon communications officer.
But the work of the club continues throughout the year.
“We speak at the high school and middle school to get the word out,” she said.
The club meets once a month and is open to everyone, those who want to help and those who are seeking help. Apart from resources and hotline numbers, the group provides a setting to meet and to talk.
They promote a positive school environment through their “Kisses” campaign.
“If you give someone a compliment, you’ll get a (Hershey’s) Kiss,” said Parke.
It sounds so simple. But a compliment really can save a life, like that girl in the Kohl’s bathroom.
Reidenberg told his audience that if they remembered anything at all from his presentation, it should be, first of all, the two major warning signs that someone is contemplating suicide. One is that they look for a way to die. For example, they might research the lethality of certain pills.
The second is that they communicate their intent to commit suicide, but this is a tricky one.
“They may not communicate it verbally. They may communicate it through behavior,” he said.
Another thing to remember is that you have to ask the person outright if she is thinking about suicide.
“Hey, I noticed you haven’t been feeling well lately. Are you all right?” wouldn’t cut it. You have to be more direct: “I’m worried about you. Are you thinking about killing yourself?”
“People are afraid if they mention suicide, they’ll be putting the thought in someone’s head,” Reidenberg said. But that’s not the case. Research has shown, he said, that the person contemplating suicide even feels relief when the issue is in the open.
As to the power of smiles and compliments, Reidenberg said you shouldn’t disregard it. He illustrated with two stories.
A young victim of suicide left a note. In it, the boy said he wouldn’t kill himself if someone smiled at him.
“Like I said, we lost him,” Reidenberg said.
Another boy, Kevin, decided he wouldn’t kill himself if someone spoke to him. A couple of people did: the bus driver told him to hurry off his bus and a woman asked him to take her picture. Kevin jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge but miraculously survived. Today shares his story through his memoir “Cracked Not Broken.”
“About half the people we lose to suicide make the final decision within 10 minutes of their death. That means that it’s up to us to be there,” he said. “If we knew it could save someone’s life, we would smile at everybody.”