‘We need to have each other’s back’

Groups seek to mitigate the downside to the holiday season

Dec. 21, 2019 — While the holiday season is a time for family and celebration for many, it is also a time of sadness and loneliness for others. There is a perception among the public that the holidays are the worst time of year for those suffering with depression. In contrast, the facts show the months of November and December actually have the lowest recorded suicide rates overall — and per day — of any month each year.

This is not to diminish in any way the depth of the sadness that can affect some during this special time of the year.

Siuslaw Outreach Services (SOS) is a Florence-area organization that often deals with individuals in crisis. Executive Director Bob Teter’s advice is simple and straightforward as regards the potential downside to the season.

“I want to encourage community members to have their neighbor’s back. If you learn a neighbor is home alone for the holidays, invite them over for dinner or bring them food and offer conversation,” he said.

According to Teter, despite the overall drop in suicides this time of year, “The holidays can be a breaking point for many. For some it is a painful reminder of loved ones lost. For others it can be a stressful time because they feel the pressure to provide gifts when they are struggling financially. At SOS, we see a huge spike in domestic violence around the holidays. Please remember, although the holidays are a joyous time for many, it is frightening for others. We need to have each other’s back.”

The idea that other people can help someone in danger by talking to them is a theme throughout the information provided by many support organizations, including the small number of local services tasked with intervening in situations where a potential suicide is of concern. Most of these organizations include local law enforcement in the initial response to a potential suicide call-out. If someone presents a clear danger to themselves or others, people are to always call 911 first.

Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE) and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) suggest that one important way to stop a potential suicide is to simply talk to the person perceived as being in danger.

AFSP suggests a direct approach and to assume that you may be the only one aware of the situations. In other words, don’t count on others to become involved, do it yourself.

SAVE and AFSP advocate following these suggestions when interacting with a person who may be at risk of self-harm:

  •  Talk privately with them.
  •  Listen to what they have to say.
  •  Tell them you care about them.
  •  Ask them directly if they are thinking about committing suicide or killing themselves.
  •  Encourage them to seek medical treatment.
  •  Avoid minimizing their problems or giving advice.
  •  Follow through. Escort them to a therapist or to the emergency room.

The police are called in dire situations to insure there is no danger to other members of the public and to determine if firearms are involved as firearms are used in 50 percent of the approximate 45,000 suicides in the United States each year. That means that one person commits suicide approximately every 12 minutes, averaging 123 self-inflicted deaths a day.

Hanging and poisoning are the second and third most common ways that individuals end their lives.

The fact that there is a misperception about the potential for suicide during the winter months is significant in a number of ways. The most important is the fact that holidays present an opportunity to talk with a family member that may be experiencing depression and even suicidal thoughts.

The need for family and friends to take a more proactive approach to the problem of a potential suicide is mentioned not only by AFSP but also by SAVE, which suggests beginning what may be a difficult dialogue by asking a few simple questions. These might be as direct as “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” to a more subtle approach like, “You seem sad today. Is everything OK?”

The main point is to connect with the person you are concerned about and let them tell you what they are thinking. According to SAVE, if the individual is in immediate danger, do not leave them. If they threaten violence to themselves or others and are weaponized, call 911.

Lori Severance leads Siuslaw Valley Fire and Rescue’s Community Support Team (CST), which has taken over responsibilities that previously were handled by SVFR’s chaplains.

Severance is also an advocate for those that are in crisis. She wants the community to know that there are local avenues available to address difficult situations in life before those situations precipitate a crisis.

“Despite being a small community, Florence does have resources available for people suffering from severe depression, anxiety and/or suicidal thoughts,” Severance said. “There are several excellent therapists in town who work with people to overcome their current difficulties. There are counseling agencies such as Options Counseling and PeaceHealth Behavioral Health clinic. There are also agencies that work with addiction issues such as Reconnections and Emergence. NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) has a free drop-in peer-led support group for adults with chronic mental illness. They accept a variety of insurances, including OHP, and many have funds available for those in need who do not have insurance.”

To help in determining if someone you know is at risk, AFSP and SAVE have provided a series of actions or behaviors that may indicate a growing danger. If an individual starts giving all of their belongs away or starts to settle business and family uncertainties, this may be a warning. If someone that is depressed continues to lose interest in hobbies or family, this may also be a sign.

One of the most important points made by all professionals who deal with suicide prevention and its tragic aftermath is clear: Don’t discount or dismiss actual threats of suicide or violence. If someone you know or love says they are going to kill themselves, take it seriously and act in some way to help.

“If someone is in acute crisis, Florence has a new Mobile Crisis Response team that can respond 24/7,” Severance said. “They are dispatched through Florence Police Department, by either calling 911 or the non-emergency line at 541-997-3515. The MCR team is trained to assess, counsel and provide resources to people in crisis.”

For Teter, the important way to assist someone who may be in crisis is to talk to them and then help them.

“The best thing to do for someone considering suicide is to encourage them to seek help, tell them that they can get through it and give them a shoulder to cry on and let them know someone cares,” he said. “When they get up the courage to seek help, go with them and continue to check in with them. Seeking help can be a struggle in of itself.”

If you or someone you love is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call one of the following hotlines:

  •  White Bird Crisis Line: 541-687-4000
  •  Veterans Suicide Crisis Line: 800-273-8255
  •  The Friendship Line (people 60+): 800-971-0016
  •  Youth Crisis Line (under 18): 541-689-3111
  •  National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255


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