Talking openly about suicide prevention

On Oct. 24, Madison School District co-sponsored a Community Suicide Awareness and Prevention town hall meeting at Madison High School.

This week, two attempted suicides were reported, according to Rexburg Police reports.

Suicide has become a more prevalent problem over the years, as the second leading cause of death in people ages 15-34 in Idaho, according to Suicide Prevention Action Network of Idaho.

Breanne Keele, a junior studying special education, said she had friends in both middle school and high school commit suicide.

“It was really hard,” Keele said. “As a friend, you want to do everything that you can to help that person not make that decision. It was out of my hands.”

Reed Stoddard, director of the BYU-Idaho Counseling Center said there has been an increasing number of students who have gone to seek counseling.

“In the counseling center, we are seeing an increased percentage of the student body seeking counseling and an increase of the severity of the problems that students have,” Stoddard said. “Last year, we saw about 9 percent of the student population, which has gone up every year during the last 6 years. The two most common categories that students come in to see us about is depression and anxiety disorders.”

Keele said suicidal feelings and attempts are more common at BYU-Idaho then a lot of students realize.

“I think it happens a lot more than we think,” Keele said. “Here at BYU-I, there’s this stigma that everyone’s happy and no one has [suicidal] feelings. We all know someone who’s struggling with it whether we realize it or not. A big misconception is that it doesn’t happen in our culture.”

Keele said a way for students to help those around them who might be considering suicide is to be aware and open minded on the issue.

“Don’t judge people for it,” Keele said. “Don’t think, ‘Oh, they must not be active in church or not believe in it because they have those feelings.’ Sometimes it’s a chemical balance in their brain that people just cannot control. Being aware helps being a part of the solution and not the problem.”

Keele said to let those struggling with suicidal thoughts know that they are loved and valued. She said to help those individuals find the help they need.

Many students at BYU-I seek help in the school counseling center, but others will seek out help from doctors and counselors around the community, Stoddard said.

“Every semester, we have several students admitted to the hospital, usually the Behavioral Health Center, for their safety because of serious symptoms,” Stoddard said. “There are other students who receive their services outside in the community: they will go see a doctor, counselor, or they do not seek treatment at all. It is a significant issue that not only impacts the university but also the community of Rexburg.”

The services and treatment offered by the Behavioral Health Center include individual and family therapy, psychiatric medication management, psychological evaluations, community based rehabilitation and organized peer support groups.

Idaho is one of the states with the highest suicide rates, according to the Suicide Prevention Action Network of Idaho, and in 2013, Idaho had the seventh highest suicide rate, which was 47 percent higher than the national average, which is 13 deaths per every 100,000 people, according to Center for Disease Control.

Suicide affects more than just the immediate family of the individual. Friends and extended members of the family can be seriously impacted by each suicide as well, often becoming at-risk for suicide themselves, according to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.

Richard DeGraw, family clinical coordinator and early childhood education clinician at Madison CARES, a mental health care program in Rexburg, said that sometimes people who are close to those who are considering committing suicide do not know the appropriate way to approach those who might seem to be contemplating suicide.

“If you have that feeling that someone is considering killing themselves, do not be afraid to ask them,” DeGraw said. “It is much better to ask from the first time you notice something different, rather than not asking and being too late to help them.”

Jeni Griffin, director and founding member of SPAN Idaho, said there are many behaviors that should be looked for if one believes that someone might be contemplating suicide.

“The four main signs are: the individual has attempted suicide before, the individual has had significant [erratic] behavior in a short time period, mentions of suicide and disturbances in eating and sleeping, especially having reoccurring nightmares,” Griffin said.

BYU-I’s counseling center offers a stress and anxiety workshop, group counseling and individual counseling, Stoddard said.

Most mentally ill patients do recover after receiving professional help. Eighty percent of those with bipolar disorder, 70 percent of those with major depression, panic disorder or OCD and 60 percent of those with schizophrenia overcome mental illness after receiving treatment, according to the Ohio Association of County Behavioral Health Authorities.

“These services are a great resource that the school provides for the students,” Stoddard said. “If you are dealing with any issues, these workshops are here to provide guidance on how you can overcome them and not let them get too serious. They also provide a safe place where hopefully you will be able to feel comfortable to talk and not feel alone.”

Keele said students should be the type of friend that a person struggling with suicidal thoughts can turn to.

“Those considering suicide, don’t do it,” Keele said. “They are loved and even if it seems like there is no solution, there is a way out. They still have something to live for.”

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