Banner Staff Writer
“About 1 million people attempt suicide each year,” shared Granger Brown, substance abuse outreach coordinator with Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network.
Brown spoke recently at SkyRidge Medical Center on suicide prevention. The Cleveland GRAAB Coalition (Going Respectively Against Addictive Behaviors) and SkyRidge’s Pine Ridge Center hosted the training. The first seminar addressed suicidal ideation (the formation of ideas and concepts) and behavior in substance abuse treatment and prevention. Around 35 members of the community attended.
Tim Tatum, director of behavioral health at Pine Ridge Center, introduced Brown and the program.
“We wanted to sponsor this event because we know how important substance abuse and suicide are. At Pine Ridge, we see people come in daily who have a diagnosis of some kind, like depression, but there is also alcohol or drug abuse, as well. We understand that the two are co-occurring,” Tatum said.
“Research has revealed that asking [about possible suicidal thoughts] will not place the thought in a person’s head,” Brown began. “It is much better to ask, because they are going to have the thoughts on their own.”
Suicide statistics have led Brown and the TSPN to propose, “Question, Persuade, Refer.” QPR is designed to help people help others who appear to possibly be considering suicide. The first step is to question a person about suicide. The second is to persuade the person to get help. The third and final step is to refer the person to the appropriate resource.
“Remember, how you ask the question is less important than asking the question,” Brown assured. “You may make a mistake while asking someone, but that is OK. Sometimes I will ask a question and it will just come out wrong. I take a couple of minutes and then ask again.”
Brown discussed using indirect and direct questions to ask if someone is suicidal. An indirect question would be, “Have you been unhappy lately?” while a direct question would be, “Have you had thoughts of suicide recently?” It is important that the person in question feels the questioner is both comfortable and nonjudgmental. A question like, “You’re not suicidal, are you?” shows discomfort and may cause the person to shut down.
He also spoke about the role of substance abuse in suicide.
“If I am depressed, I may want to die, but part of what keeps me alive is fear,” Brown explained. “This includes the fear of pain, of messing up, or disfigurement. How does a person overcome that fear? Liquid courage. Once I become intoxicated, I am ‘brave’ enough to attempt suicide.”
Brown revealed that alcohol and drug abuse can be a determining factor in whether or not a person attempts to commit suicide. According to Brown, 30 percent of deaths by suicide involve alcohol intoxication. This makes substance abuse a risk factor. A risk factor is any characteristic of a person that increases the likelihood that somebody will die by suicide. Risk factors may also include any losses in a person’s life.
Several startling facts Brown presented included:
- Approximately 300,000 people had thoughts of suicide in 2009 in Tennessee.
- There were 947 deaths to suicide in 2009 in Tennessee.
- The top 3 suicide methods in 2010 for Tennessee were: firearms (64.7 percent), suffocation (15.4 percent), and poisoning (15.1 percent).
“Many times a suicidal person will tell you their reasons for wanting to die and in those you can find reasons for living,” Brown explained. “While I was a crisis worker I came in contact with a woman who was the definition of depressed. She was unkept, could barely move and had no energy. I asked her what was wrong and she said, I quote, ‘I am getting divorced from the biggest SOB on the planet.’ Her husband routinely abused their children and the child services and police could not help.”
Brown pointed out that if she killed herself then it was his understanding the children would go to live with their father. The woman went from seeming almost lifeless to being fueled by anger. She became determined to live and fight for her boys.
Added Brown, “Your willingness to listen and to help can rekindle hope, and make all the difference.”
For more information on suicide prevention, visit tspn.org. or call the hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The hotline is available for people with thoughts of suicide and those hoping to prevent others from committing suicide.
For more information on prescription drug abuse, visit graabcoalition.com.