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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Picking up the pieces

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Loss is always hard.

As we get older, it's an unfortunate fact that we experience more and more of it.

As much as we dread it, we expect to outlive our grandparents and, if the circle of life goes as it is intended, our parents as well. We lose aunts and uncles, and often friends.

We are never really "prepared" for these losses, even if the people are ill or elderly. There is just no way to ready oneself for such an occurrence.

Last week, I lost someone very dear to me. My not-quite-24-year-old stepbrother took his own life.

My 19-year-old daughter called to tell me what had happened. I was floored. This came totally out of left field. None of us ... not me, not my mother, not my stepfather, not my stepbrother's fiancée ... had any indication it was coming.

When someone dies, it is always painful for those who are left behind. For those of us who are suicide survivors, there are a variety of issues that make it a whole different experience.

Brandon has been gone for a week, and I've already gone through a gamut of emotions. I'm sad, of course.

But I'm also confused and angry, and I even feel some guilt. I hate that someone I loved so much was obviously so sad, and I had no idea.

I went through this once before ... right before my 17th birthday, one of my best friends committed suicide. At that point, it was the worst thing that had ever happened in my life.

It's 23 years later, and it's just as devastating.

I'm no psychologist, but I have to believe that people who take their own lives must just be so far down that they can't think of anything else but how big their troubles, real or imagined, seem. Brandon was not a selfish person. He was incredibly gentle and kind.

He would never, ever have done anything to hurt us this way on purpose.

I've done quite a lot of reading since this happened, trying (mostly without success) to make sense of it all.

According to mentalhelp.net, suicide is the third leading cause of death for adolescents and young adults from age 15-24 in the United States.

Between 1970 and 1990, suicide rates for adolescents (ages 15 through 19) nearly doubled.

"Since 1990, the overall suicide rate for this age group has stabilized at approximately 11 deaths per 100,000," the site said. "Younger people are more likely to attempt and less likely to complete a suicide than older people."

The site also pointed to alcohol and substance abuse, as well as the increased availability of firearms, as possible reasons for this spike.

"The fact that many mental disorders (such as depression and schizophrenia) begin or worsen during these ages also contributes to these statistics," the site said. "Suicide victims under the age of 30 are also more likely to have dual diagnoses (a combination of a mental illness and a substance abuse disorder), impulsive and/or aggressive behavior disorders, and legal problems than people over 30 who commit suicide. However, the challenges of adolescence alone are enough for some teens to commit or attempt suicide."

Caucasian males commit suicide at the highest rate of any population groups, and men are more likely to use methods like firearms than women (while women attempt suicide at a higher rate than men, they are more likely to overdose or cut their wrists, less lethal methods).

The site said men are more likely to commit suicide than women because they are less likely to seek help for depression or other mental illness, viewing it as a weakness.

I know that if my family and I are ever going to get past this tragedy, we have to stop wondering "what if." But I will do anything I can to keep another family from going through what we are.

According to webmd.com, these are some common suicide risk factors:

* One or more prior suicide attempts

* Family history of mental disorder or substance abuse

* Family history of suicide

* Family violence

* Physical or sexual abuse

* Keeping firearms in the home

* Incarceration

* Exposure to the suicidal behavior of others

Suicide warning signs include:

* Always talking or thinking about death

* Clinical depression -- deep sadness, loss of interest, trouble sleeping and eating -- that gets worse

* Having a "death wish," tempting fate by taking risks that could lead to death such as driving fast or running red lights

* Losing interest in things one used to care about

* Making comments about being hopeless, helpless or worthless

* Putting affairs in order, tying up loose ends, changing a will

* Saying things like "it would be better if I wasn't here" or "I want out"

* Sudden, unexpected switch from being very sad to being very calm or appearing to be happy

* Talking about suicide or killing one's self

* Visiting or calling people to say goodbye

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, between 20 and 50 percent of people who commit suicide have had a previous attempt.

Above all else, if you need help, ASK FOR IT. It is not a sign of weakness, and here in Putnam County we have so many resources.

Suicide may alleviate the problems of the victim, but it leaves total devastation in its wake.

Jamie Barrand is the editor of the Banner Graphic.