Just one conversation can save a life

As part of Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, Raynard Meridith, intake clinician-therapist at Oakland Family Services, discusses suicide warning signs.

As part of Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, Emily Kaminskas, clinical supervisor at Day One, discusses how to talk to someone you believe is suicidal.

Did you know suicide is the 10th leading cause of death among adults in the United States and the second leading cause of death among people aged 10-24?

Suicide often is the result of a person experiencing an unexpected, major loss in their life, such as the death of a loved one, a job or home. Suicidal thoughts also can be caused from bullying, having a lack of social interactions with people, side effects to drugs and alcohol, and a family history of suicide.

“Today in the United States we have experienced an increase in suicide across all cultures, genders, ethnicities and races,” said Raynard Meridith, intake clinician-therapist for Specialized Services for Youth at Oakland Family Services.

As part of Suicide Prevention Awareness Month in September, Oakland Family Services is working to ensure community members have access to the resources they need to talk about suicide prevention. The agency helped sponsor the screening of The S Word, a documentary that shatters the silence surrounding suicide, at Emagine Royal Oak on Sept. 9. Following the event, which was hosted by Oakland County Youth Suicide Prevention, local suicide prevention experts participated in a panel discussion.

It can be scary when someone you know shows signs of suicidal thoughts. Emily Kaminskas, clinical supervisor at Day One -- a program of Oakland Family Services that offers mental health and substance abuse counseling -- said it’s OK to ask the person if he or she is thinking about suicide.

“You’re not putting that thought in their head,” she explained. “You are showing concern and taking seriously what they are saying. When you are listening, be yourself, allow them to vent their frustration, discuss their anger, thoughts of hopelessness and despair. Discuss with them how important they are in your life.”

Research suggests one of the best ways to prevent suicide is to recognize the warning signs. Some of these include:

  • Increase in mood swings
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Giving away possessions
  • Statements like, “I can’t take it anymore.”
  • History of suicidal attempts or self-harm
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Increase in alcohol or drug use.

If your loved one denies having suicidal thoughts but you remain doubtful, his or her body language will usually indicate he or she isn’t being truthful, according to Meridith.

“The person may be hesitant or pause when giving a response, look away, break eye contact, become fidgety, or be more reserved,” he said. “They don’t want their life to end; they want the pain to end. They are not being selfish, or cold-hearted. They literally can’t think of another option to end their pain.”

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the Oakland County Community Health Network Emergency Line (800) 231-1127. To seek counseling assistance, contact Oakland Family Services at (248) 858-7766.