Friday, September 30, 2016

September ~ Suicide Prevention Awareness Month


September

Suicide Prevention Awareness Month

As September draws to a close, I think of how much I have learned this month because of the various articles that have been shared on Facebook by the National Association for Mental Health (NAMI).  I am so grateful for this organization for the great job they are doing to educate all of us about the many facets of mental health.  I appreciate the help they give to those whom are ill and to those whom have family members, friends, or loved ones with mental illness.

My own personal passion concerns suicide prevention awareness.  Now that the month of September is over, the month designated as Suicide Prevention Awareness month, I don't want any of us to forget that suicide prevention awareness needs to be in place all twelve months of the year, every day of the week, and every hour of the day.  I have taken the liberty to copy the following paragraph from NAMI website page that specifically addresses the risk of suicide:  

According to the CDC, each year more than 41,000 individuals die by suicide, leaving behind thousands of friends and family members to navigate the tragedy of their loss. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death among adults in the U.S. and the 2nd leading cause of death among people aged 10-24; these rates are increasing. 

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Prior to losing my daughter Julie to suicide, I would never have thought about arming myself with information regarding suicide prevention.
I should have.
Julie had threatened and attempted suicide more than once over the years before she completed suicide in 2010.

I thought I knew what I needed to know about talking to her when I recognized that she was in crisis.
I thought I recognized signs.
I thought I had a plan.
Now, I wonder how I could have been so sadly misinformed.

I find it stunning now that even after her previous attempts, I never sat down with her and went over the risk factors and discussed how some of the behavior I would see in her could indicate that she was highly at risk for attempting suicide again.

I never discussed a plan that could help her, me, or the rest of her family and friends during a time when she might be in crisis.
We didn't have a plan in place.
I don't think we would have had the tools to develop such a plan.

I assumed Julie would always call me, or she would call her sister Amy if she were in crisis.
I assumed we would get her help right away.

I  had never even heard the term "completed suicide" before Julie took her life.
That term alone would have terrified me because that would have meant that any attempt had the potential to be
final,
permanent.

That would have meant that my worst fear could have actually happened.

I thought I could deal with her attempts and threats.
I thought I would always have a way to reach her.
I never thought she wouldn't give me the opportunity to reach her.
I never believed that my worst fear would actually happen.

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A lifetime ago,
a decade plus one year ago,
during September of 2005,
my daughters Amy and Julie ran a marathon.
Julie was the driving force when it came to running.
She plotted out the training schedule.
She had more experience in running a race.
She knew how to pace herself.
She and Amy called this experience, the plan for, the preparation for, and the running of the race,
"Oxygen Depravation and Other Fun Times with My Sister."
That was actually the title of the book they wanted write about the fun times they had as sisters.
As they ran, they wrote chapters in their minds and shared how the chapter would read.
Oh how I wish they would have written down those stories.
Amy and Julie were born just twenty-three months apart.
They were as close as any two sister could ever be from their earliest days.

The story between these two sisters is not mine to tell.
It now belongs to Amy.


I just wish that the story of the sisterhood would never have to include a chapter on suicide.

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To say our hearts and lives were shattered when Julie took her life would never fully convey how suicide robbed our family not only of time with our Jules, our lynchpin, our dearly treasured family member, but saying these words could also never convey how suicide robbed us of
our innocence,
our dreams for a future that had Julie in it,
her laughter,
her wit,
her wisdom.
Suicide robbed us from
a legacy that did not include a family history of suicide.

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On that day in 2010 when Julie took her life, a dark black line was drawn down the middle of the timeline of my life.

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A lifetime ago,
just six short years ago,
 dear friends and family came together to walk in our very first Suicide Prevention Awareness Walk.


Team 808 for Jules was formed in 2010.
Julie's friend Leanna, a dear friend from high school, was the one who organized Team 808 and got us all involved in taking part in this important walk that raises money to go towards suicide prevention.

To this day, I am blessed to know that each year at least one member from this original team will participate in a Suicide Prevention Run/Walk.
This year, my daughter Keicha raised nearly $1000 for the walk held in Salt Lake City.
She does this walk each year in memory of her sister.






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Julie had suffered from mental illness since her teens.  She had been diagnosed and treated for both Bi-Polar Disorder and Depression.  Julie hated her diagnosis.  I don't know if she ever fully accepted it.  I think that she thought the word stigma automatically should have been written after the official term for the diagnosis.

She didn't want to be different from others.  She didn't what this diagnosis attached to her.  I'm not sure she ever fully accepted her illness.  I don't know if she ever fully accepted that her illness was just that: an illness.

I would talk to her about diabetes.  I would say, "Do you think that a person has diabetes because of something they did or didn't do?  Do you think it is an illness that can be treated?  Do you think it is something to ignore?  Do you think it is something to be ashamed of?"  We would talk about this analogy of mental illness and an illness like diabetes often.  She always agreed that I was right about diabetes, but I'm still not sure she fully bought into her own illness as not being something she did wrong.  I'm not sure she ever really believed that her illness could be successfully treated and managed.  I think the STIGMA of suffering from her illness haunted her, caused her not to seek treatment when she could have, and caused her to ignore warning signs that she should take care of herself.  Even as I write these words, I hear her saying would a, could a, should a.  She often said that when things went wrong in life.  

She would not go into treatment for her illnesses associated with her mental illness because of the STIGMA she thought would prevent her from earning a living, getting married, having children.

She had never seen the hashtag #stigmafree because she died before we all started using hashtags.  She died before there was so much information freely available on the internet about preventing suicide, or about supporting those with mental illness.

That does not mean that Julie was not informed.  She was very informed about her illness.  She asked me to read Kay Redfield Jamison's book An Unquiet Mind when she was still in college.  She said it would help me understand what she was experiencing.  It did give me understanding to read this book.  I just wish I would have read it each year, or kept it by my bedside as a reference, or talked about it more with her.  We talked about it, but did I really get what she was going through?  Did I really comprehend all that she suffered?

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What do you know about what you could do to prevent suicide?  
Have you informed yourself? 
I am including a link to a very important public service announcement here:
Read it.
 Print it out for ready reference.

As I read the list provided in this article, it caused me to think about how I might have been more helpful when Julie talked to me about her depression, her hopelessness, her anxiety, her suicidal thoughts.  We had many talks about these topics, and generally, she either called me or her sister Amy when she was most at risk.  On the night she took her life, she did not call me, nor did she call her sister.  It is not my wish to second guess how any of us could have been proactive in preventing her death when it occurred because quite honestly, we really did not see it coming, and none of us really know what anyone could have done had they been aware of what was going on with her on that fateful evening.

Nevertheless, I read the list, and I think of some proactive things that we might have been able to do.

I have taken the list I reference above and added a few of my thoughts about the list.  

  • Removing the means of taking one's life is the most reasonable approach to take when a loved one is aware of another's struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts or tendencies.  Remove the access to guns.  Please do that.  A person struggling with these thoughts should not have access to guns.  Period.  It is not possible to removed all those items that one could use to end a life, but at least be aware of what means that person might use.  Ask them if they have a plan.  Act accordingly.  
  • Asking if you can help call a therapist rather than asking if you can call a therapist is a good plan.  In my opinion, this helps the loved one think of a different plan or approach they can take rather than you taking the approach for them.  You might not be given this chance, but if you are, I like this approach.
  • Ask those hard questions.  I have had to do this.  It is not easy to do, but the questions must be asked.  "Are you thinking of hurting yourself or taking your life?"  "How will you take your life?  Do you have a plan?  What is it?"  Believe me.  You would rather hear the answers to these questions so you can act accordingly, than to not ask the questions and find that your loved one has taken his or her life.
  • One person speaking at a time with a loved one in distress is best.  It is calming.  There are not contradictory statements being made.  The loved one can focus better.
  • Ask what you can do to help.
  • Stay calm.  The world may be threatening to crumble, you may want to vomit or pass out, your blood pressure may soar, and your heart is probably racing, but try to stay calm or at least appear calm.  Don't argue.  Don't threaten.  Don't pace.  
  • Provide safety and support.
  • Reach out for others to help.
  • Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:  1-800-273-TALK (8255)
I carry a pocket size National Suicide Prevention Lifeline card in my purse.  It lists the suicide prevention lifeline phone number on it.  It also lists the warning signs of suicide.  I have used these guidelines to speak to those I find are depressed or suicidal.  I turn the listed warning signs into questions, or I have addressed how I have observed these warning signs in behavior.

A larger lifeline card with similar information is next to my desk for ready reference.

I also have an app on my phone called:  Safety Net.  It is a great app.  It has some of the following features:
  1. Step 1 - Warning Signs
  2. Step 2 - Internal Coping Strategies
  3. Step 3 - Social Supports and Social Settings 
  4. Step 4 - Family and Friends for Crisis Help 
  5. Step 5 - Professionals and Agencies
  6. Step 6 - Making the Environment Safe
There is a place on the app to list emergency numbers that one at risk or a loved one for one at risk can find in just an instant.  I also list emergency numbers for agencies where my loved ones live because one never knows when a life threatening situation may present itself.  Our family is at risk for suicide simply because we have had a suicide take place in our family.  I take this risk seriously.

You might wish to ask your loved one if you can have the names and number of those they are seeing for treatment of mental illness.  If they wish for you to have these numbers, you can list them on this app.

Be aware that due to privacy laws, you will not get answers about the treatment you loved one is getting in many instances.  That doesn't mean that you can't give information out that might be helpful to the caregiver.  


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My purpose for writing this has to been to increase awareness about preventing suicide.  There is hope.  There is help.  Together, by informing ourselves, and by being observant and proactive, I believe we can can make a difference in lives of those suffering from mental illness or struggling with suicide ideation.

I will always believe Julie did not wish to lose her battle with an illness that had caused her so much pain in her life and had robbed her of so much. She fought valiantly for many years.  She was brave and courageous, but in the end, her illness won.  Now, those of us left must do what we can do to support others with mental illness.  We do this to honor Julie.  



Julie passes her sister Amy at the finish line.

Runners need a plan before they enter a marathon.  They train and rehearse for every unforeseen event that might interfere with their goal.  They create a team for support.  They need cheerleaders along the way.  They need encouragers when the race seems much longer than they had planned and so much more difficult than they expected.

Be that helper.  Be that encourager.  Be that one that cheers another on.  

You can join Team 808 for Jules by informing yourself about what you can do prevent suicide.  Do what you can do to stop the stigma attached to mental illness.  Do what you can do to raise awareness about the treatment of mental illness.  Do it in memory of my beautiful daughter, Julie Ann Christiansen.




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11 comments:

DJan said...

Thank you for this thoughtful and informative piece, Sally. My heart goes out to you and all families who must suffer with this. Blessings to you and your wonderful family. :-(

The Furry Gnome said...

Thanks for having the courage to share that Sally. My heart will always be with you a little bit.

Jeanie said...

This is an extremely important post, Sally. And I know from "knowing you" for so long that it has to be, in many ways, a difficult one to compose and walk through, so I admire you all the more. I would like to hope that through your sharing your experiences and bringing awareness to this issue that someone, somewhere, is prevented from this action and receives the needed help so that it never, ever again feels like an option.

Arkansas Patti said...

This is a very thoughtful and helpful post Sally. My heart goes out to you and your family over the mind numbing loss you have suffered with Julie. The information you have supplied is invaluable and I wish it had been around--or I had been aware of it--when I lost two of my cousins this way. Suicide isn't just something that happens in other people's families. It can hit any of us and we should all be on guard. Thank you for this post.

Jean said...

A most powerful post, and surely a difficult one to write. Thank you.

Laurie Larson-Doornbos said...

Thank you so much for writing this, Sally. It was informative and heartfelt. I have family members who have depression and some who have substance abuse. I will read the links and educate myself.

Barb said...

I always shed tears when you write about Julie. I see her smiling face on the photos and want to stop time. Many of us either have experienced suicide in our families or know someone who has committed suicide. You provide a valuable service by reminding us that help is available and there are signs that we need to watch for and act upon.

Rose said...

Sally, you have done such a great service by providing all this information. A former student of mine recently committed suicide, and I saw his mother a few weeks later. I had no idea what to say to her, so I just gave her a big hug; any words seemed inadequate. I know everyone around him wished--too late--that they had noticed the signs and could have done something to prevent it.

troutbirder said...

Thank you Sally. It has been almost twenty years now since bi-polar took our eldest son Ted. He was 27. We didn't have a clue. Our group here in Minnesota is SAVE. Suicide Awareness Voice of Education.

fiftyodd said...

I feel so sad for your Julie - I thought we were past the era of mental illness having any stigma. My brother-in-law took his life 5 years ago. He was the youngest of 7 children and the apple of his mother's eye. Thank goodness she was not around for this. We think his problems were financial which means we could have rallied round and helped, but he never asked...or let us know how desperate he was. Tragedies abound, even without mental illness. Pride is an awful sin.

Kay said...

I'm so sorry for all you have gone through. It is very kind that you have taken this terrible tragedy to help and guide others through their pain.