Miss Bee’s Bolivar Buzz

Shannon WilliamsBy Shannon Williams
There is a month or a day for everything, much of the time, I let them pass but I do enjoy when it is “ talk like a pirate day”. If I am at a drive in I try to order talking like an old salty pirate and it really never turns out well. So that being said, September is “Suicide Prevention Awareness Month”. So, what is the point of having a month to be aware of suicide prevention? The point is to get people to be more comfortable in talking about the subject of suicide. For years, people thought you should not talk about suicide as “it might put the thought into someone mind”, I am not sure how or why we thought that, but I feel it is wrong. Now, I said “I feel” it is wrong, not I know that it is wrong. Compared to many people, I know a lot about suicide, I worked in mental health for years and during that time had a great deal of training and was also a trainer on the subject. But the truth is that NO ONE is an expert on suicide, as we cannot interview those who have completed suicide; so much of what people think about the topic may or may not be the best way to prevent it, but we cannot find that out from those who carried out the act of killing themselves. Now there are many people who have attempted suicide and have shared how they felt or why they did it, but there is a great deal of difference between attempting suicide and killing one’s self.

The world and especially the good ole USA are in a tail spin these days. So much has changed due to Covid, and the two-party system is tearing this country apart. We are all dealing with more stress, drama and conflict than any time I can recall and it is taking its toll on us all. The coping skills that many of us have used to help us help ourselves are different, and some are just not an option any more. People are in fear about their health, their economic situations and the general well being of themselves and their loved ones. Social media can be both a life line or one that brings pain. How we have friends has changed.

Now, I am not painting a gloom and doom, I am just expressing that many people are dealing with a lot of crap these days and thus thoughts of suicide are a part of many people’s life. We all know famous people who have killed themselves and I beg that most of you know of a person in your life who has ended their life themselves. But how does having a month for Suicide Prevention help with any of that? The goal is to raise awareness on something that has a lot of stigmatizing to it and for many is simply something that is taboo to talk about or we are just not comfortable talking about it. But you see, talking about it, bringing it out into the open and being able to listen to someone when they have thoughts is really how you help those in need.

As a young social worker, it took me a long time to get comfortable with asking, ”are you having any thoughts of harming yourself?“ I was afraid I would not know what to do if they said yes. Having those thoughts does not make you mentally ill or leave you with the only option of having a person hospitalized for their own safety. But talking about it and listening without judgment does give the person in pain a safe space to share those thoughts and often times that is what is needed. Social media is full of ads for hotlines, and resources for people in need, but sadly many of these are either way understaffed or just trying to “market” for whatever services or treatment they are selling. A real connection is what people need and when you feel as if no one cares, it is very hard to make that connection, so we need to all be able to have that conversation as you don’t know when it will be needed.

About 20 years ago, I spent a week in Grants Pass, Oregon to take part in a suicide intervention training. All of the class but myself and my boss at that time were in the military service. This was a train the trainer class to be able to teach a course to non-mental health professionals about suicide intervention. It was right when the military was starting to deal with the issue of suicide. It was a very intense week, but I learned so very much and went on to present the workshop for several years. To this day, I still carry my little card to guide me if I need to talk about suicide with someone. While I would not attempt to be the expert, I do know that a few things are proven to help. They are:

  • Talk with the person about the stress and symptoms to engage the person in a serious conversation
  • Ask the question… Are you having thoughts of suicide? this is done to identify if the person is at risk.
  • Inquire about the reasons for and against suicide
  • Ask about a current plan, prior behavior and the resources, to estimate that risk, this is known as CPR
    • Current plan tells you how prepared they are
    • Prior behavior tells you if it is a behavior that is acceptable to them
    • Resources lets you know if they are alone or if they have people who could be there for them.
  • You then work on a plan of safety and what that might be.

Now I am not suggesting that you take this on and go out and save the world, I am saying that if you can open the door for the conversation, it provides options.

Now that also does not mean that you allow them to hold you hostage with threats of harming themselves, threats are to be taken seriously. If you feel that they are seeking attention, then work with them on better ways to let their needs be known; if they are attention seeking and continue to make statements, you call 911. It gets them help and lets them know that even if they are tying to gain something from saying they are going to hurt themselves, you are not going to play that game. You never promise ‘not to tell anyone” when someone says “I will tell you if you promise not to tell anyone.” Do not go there. Even with all the help that is out there, it is hard for people to ask; and often a friend who can listen and not judge is the way they get to help.

On a side note, the other thing I learned on that trip was to drink Alaskan Amber Ale. I was not about to tell the service guys that I would not go have a beer after the class, and to my surprise it was one of the few beers I could drink. I look forward to going back to Alaska in the next couple of years and sharing one with my husband and son, both of whom are beer lovers and will be totally surprised when I order one.


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