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No Second Chance with Suicide

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By Mary Jo Rapini

We see the news reports and hear about it on the radio. We read about it online and in the newspapers, and we will continue to until we can all do something about preventing it. Suicide is the 11th cause of death in the United States. It kills 31,000 people each year and severely inflicts injuries on another 425,000 each year. Suicide is the third-leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year-olds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), surpassed only by accidents and homicide.

APRIL IS THE MOST POPULAR MONTH FOR SUICIDE IN THE UNITED STATES. We see parents out of work or losing their homes and their teen's depression or anger may go unnoticed. We see teens bullying or harassing other teens, leading the victimized teens to kill themselves. We see teens going through a break-up and feeling like their life cannot go on, and being sure their only peace is suicide. How does this happen? What is wrong with our children? How did we not notice as parents?

The profile of someone who turns to suicide is complicated. Many times it is someone we would have never suspected, but more often they have one of these issues: clinical depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, alcohol or drug abuse, being bullied, feeling isolated or described as a loner or suffering a break-up. Those who are in the midst of one of these medical disorders may also have a chemical imbalance that prevents them from thinking clearly. They may convince themself that the world is better off without them, and many times they make that call for others as well. They may feel like they need to save others and to kill themself would be better. They have confused ending their pain with ending their life. What can you do if you know someone -- or if a child you love -- is struggling and you worry about them committing suicide? Step I. Don't ignore it. You cannot talk someone into suicide and bringing it up won't make someone act on it if they aren't feeling like it. In fact, it may have the opposite effect. Once you ask someone you may begin a dialogue with them where they begin to feel safer and more willing to discuss their pain or problems with you. Children are exposed to bullies not only at school but also in cyberspace. Three weeks ago, a child was brutally attacked in Florida by another teen over a text message. The child had been fearful but had not told her mother because she didn't know how to bring it up. Currently the child is in an intensive care unit in grave condition. Last week a 13-year-old boy in Texas hung himself in his parents' barn after being bullied, harassed at school and through Facebook and text messages. Schools are not sure how to handle this sort of bullying and if parents don't ask, many times children won't talk.

Step II. Make a doctor's appointment for your child right away. Your pediatrician is an excellent place to begin to assess why your child is depressed. It is not uncommon for children to become depressed during puberty. A physician can diagnosis if there is concern with hormonal changes as well as medications reacting with other possible medications.

Step III. Invest in a good counselor. Sometimes problems are so shameful or difficult that your loved one or child cannot talk with a family member or close friend about it. A third party provides an environment as well as expertise at helping a person trust and be vulnerable with them. Once the problem is out in the open, it will be much easier to deal with. Very few problems eliminate themselves immediately. It takes time and patience to work through difficult issues. Remind your child that you are on their team, and you will not leave their side. Reassure them that this bad time will pass in their life. Children don't understand that what is such a big issue today will change to become something more manageable.

Step IV. Have your loved one sign a contract with you that they will not kill themselves. With the help of a counselor, you can make a family pact that your child will not do anything to endanger themselves. This may take vigilance on the part of the parents to spend the night watching their child, but this is more reassurance for the child that they are embraced in love and they can count on their parents to help protect them. If your child is over the age of 16, it may be important for them to be hospitalized during this vulnerable time. Alert your child's teacher as to what their part will be in helping keep the child safe. Teachers want to provide a safe place for your child but many times they don't know how. If a professional assists the parents and teachers, the child can get through this time feeling supported and confident.
Never forget that when someone is contemplating suicide they are also looking for weapons. Remove all guns, knives, belts, scarves and other potential threats from the immediate area. If we all become more aware, we can help prevent this deadly decision. A child's decision is never well thought out to end their life because they don't have the full brain development to make such a decision. Perhaps this is what is so scary. Although it isn't well thought out...it is deadly.

Mary Jo Rapini is a licensed psychotherapist and the co-author of Start Talking: A Girl's Guide for You and Your Mom about Health, Sex, or Whatever  (http://www.starttalkingbook.com). Learn more about Rapini at www.maryjorapini.com



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