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The Suicide Taboo - Suicide prevention is rooted in communication openness and recognition

Kimberly Nicoletti

For about 20 years Molly Fiore struggled with thoughts of suicide. She floated from careers in marine biology and medicine to business and athletic training but nothing seemed to fit. Then she reached a crisis where death seemed to be the only answer. She felt that no one understood her pain. But as it turns out she's not alone.

From 2007-2011 in Eagle County there were 37 suicides and 60 hospitalizations due to attempts. About 8.3 million adults in the United States — 3.7 percent — reported having suicidal thoughts within the past 12 months in a 2009 study by the Center for Disease Control. About 1 percent of the adult population made suicide plans within that year and half of those attempted suicide. Residents in the Rocky Mountain region statistically have higher occurrences of suicide according to the American Association of Suicidology.

At the moment of Fiore's biggest crisis she surrendered and a new thought entered her mind: “What if I live my life for myself — give myself permission to live my life how I want?” she asked herself. Now she's an author motivational speaker and the executive director of Eagle Valley's suicide prevention coalition Speak Up Reach Out.

While many people fear talking about suicide especially to someone who is actively suicidal the fact is that talking about suicide can not only reduce the stigma it currently carries but also it can save lives. Open communication increases the chance that a person at risk for suicide will ask for help.

“If there's one antidote to suicide maybe it's hope” Fiore said. “It's hope whether it's sharing a personal story of overcoming suicidal ideation or holding on to the hope for them until they're able to overcome it themselves.”

The key is to listen to a person's pain with compassion. Sometimes people don't understand the level of despair people who contemplate suicide are experiencing and they believe a person is just being selfish or seeking attention — especially if the suicidal ideation (the act of putting thoughts into words) is ongoing. But Don Bissett a licensed professional counselor and social worker at Vail Valley Medical Center believes “every instance of suicidal ideation is serious whether it's the first time or one of many times.” He hopes people will listen to others' pain and from there come up with a safety and treatment plan with the help of a professional.

“When someone voices suicidal thoughts they are often met with judgment and that is exactly what they do not need ... It is the psychological level of pain that motivates their suicide attempt. The problem is that they cannot bear the pain” Bissett said. “When people speak with compassion and appreciation for the pain that leads to the suicidal thoughts they are doing exactly the right thing.”

Many people consumed with suicidal thoughts don't say anything because they fear medication or hospitalization. Not all people considering suicide need medication as sometimes suicidal ideation has more to do with a temporary situation than a biochemical imbalance. And only in extreme cases are people hospitalized many people with suicidal ideation can stay at home with a solid safety plan which often includes securing weapons and medications staying home with a loved one or caregiver and agreeing on a set amount of time to refrain from driving and consuming alcohol. Sobriety is often important in a safety plan because “a significant percentage of people are intoxicated when they complete their suicide plan” Bissett said.

Speak Up Reach Out teaches students and people in the community to ACT: Acknowledge Care and Tell. Last year trainers taught 1200 middle- and high-school students to identify symptoms of depression and suicidality and encouraged kids to seek help through the use of ACT.

“If you have more eyes out in the community to spot the crises — the verbal and behavior cues ... (then) we're not losing people when they're in crisis we're helping people when they get to that point” Fiore said. “The (community) need is huge.”

Suicidal thoughts and attempts are significantly higher in young adults ages 18-29 years and suicide accounts for 20 percent of deaths for persons ages 15-24. The higher rates in young people involve their impulsivity and the fact that they don't consider the permanent consequence of suicide Bissett said.

“I often say that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem” he said. “They will get through this they may just not know how — how to navigate the crisis ahead. But with support and the right plan they can get through it.”

Fiore has found this to be true. Even though thoughts of suicide still pop up she no longer takes them seriously or beats herself up for having them. She describes her thoughts like a train station: all kinds of trains go through but that doesn't mean she has to ride every one.

“I realize 'Oh it's just a thought' and I don't have to give my thoughts so much weight or meaning — or make (myself) wrong for having them” she said.

Instead she continues to walk along and share her story which in turn gives others the freedom to share theirs.

Signs of Suicide
• A person might be considering suicide if he or she: 
• Talks about wanting to die or to kill himself.
• Looks for a way to kill herself such as searching online or buying a gun.
• Talks about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live.
• Talks about feeling trapped or being in unbearable pain.
• Talks about being a burden to others.
• Increases the use of alcohol or drugs.
• Acts anxious or agitated behaves recklessly.
• Sleeps too little or too much.
• Withdraws or becomes isolated.
• Shows rage or talks about seeking revenge.
• Displays extreme mood swings.

Note: The risk of suicide is greater if a behavior is new or has increased and if it seems related to a painful event loss or change. This is not an exhaustive list of signs symptoms vary person to person.

Where to Get Help
• Mind Springs Health Crisis Line: (888) 207-4004
• Colorado Crisis and Support Line: 844-493-TALK (8255)
• Speak Up Reach Out: 970.748.4410 (crisis line number is the same as National Suicide Prevention Lifeline)
• Denver Metro National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 888.885.1222
• National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1.800.273.TALK (8255)
• Suicide Prevention Resource Center: (same number as National Suicide Prevention Lifeline)