PLATTSBURGH — The Clinton County Coalition to Prevent Suicide has existed for 13 years, working both inside and outside schools on suicide prevention.
Many of its programs are aimed at getting people to look at suicide from the point of view of the person who is considering taking their own life or has tried to do so, said Bonnie Black, who has been part of the coalition since its inception.
“We get a lot of information from people who didn’t die,” she said. “And a lot of them tell us that once they decided they were going to (take their own life) they had a moment of clarity — they are released from the voices or the unclear thoughts and it is as if the weight of suicidal thoughts is gone — and they realize they don’t want to die.
“They wanted to get rid of the intense emotional pain, and the only way they saw was to die — but in that moment of clarity, they realize it wasn’t the desire to end their life — they wanted to end the intense emotional pain.”
Such revelations add to the body of knowledge being put to use in prevention, she said.
MUST REACH OUT
Understanding comes from looking at suicide from the perspective of the person contemplating it, Black said.
“They want want to tell somebody, they want somebody to ask, they want somebody to listen nonjudgmentally and to keep them safe for the moment.
“If we can understand that and grasp that, then we can help them. They really do want help. It’s not like they will say ‘I’m going to kill myself’ and then that’s it.
“They don’t have the capacity to reach out, so we need to be trained on how to reach out to them.”
Education is key, Black said.
The coalition offers multiple ways to learn about suicide prevention.
Forums, classes, seminars and loads of reading material are made available to the public as much as possible.
“We need far more people who are willing to be aware of the warning signs,” she said.
And they need to know how to act upon recognizing them.
Black said the idea is to teach people to administer a sort of first aid for the brain.
“You have to keep in mind that people (considering suicide) are in such intense emotional pain that they don’t see any other way even after trying to get better,” she said.
TO BE PRESENT
Dealing with youths in pain is especially critical.
“A majority of our mental illnesses occur before we are 18 years old,” Black said. “We have to be aware that sometimes it’s not something to discount like, ‘Oh, he’s always behaved that way,’ or ‘She’s hormonal.’
“We need to know what’s the difference and be able to walk up to that person and say, ‘Hey, what’s going on? You just don’t seem like yourself.’”
Training provides some comfort level and data to better understand the complexity of the matter.
“It really could be anything at this moment that has this person thinking about suicide,” Black said.
“We have to be able to take our judgement out, our assumptions out and our attitudes out and just look at the person, right here, right now.
“The big thing is listening because our gift is presence. Our gift is to be with the person, and everyone in these trainings talks about how we need to be present.”
For those who are identified as suicidal and taken in for help, the person bringing them in must provide all the pertinent information.
“If there are thoughts of suicide, they need to tell the intake person,” Black said.
Having counselors in schools helps because kids can take action themselves in anonymity.
“A lot will do that because mom and dad don’t have to know because of the stigma,” Black said.
“They can talk honestly with a guidance counselor.”
Adults need to take talk of suicide seriously every time.
“You have to always believe it,” Black said.
“Never discount it because it is a young person saying it. We need to believe every child, every adolescent person.
“We can’t assume it’s attention-seeking behavior even if they do it regularly. Believe it every single time.”
LET THEM EMOTE
Adults also need to be aware of potentially fatal substances and medications in their household that can be used by young people.
“Because typical adolescent behavior is risk taking,” Black said.
“It’s impulsive behavior. They impulsively say and do things.”
For many teens, life events such as a breakup can lead to dangerous thoughts.
“We need to take that seriously,” she said.
“We can give information, but we really should not give advice like telling them that ‘Oh, there’s plenty of fish in the sea’ or ‘I remember my first breakup,’ because they don’t care about that.
“They can’t relate to that. Let them emote and tell you more.
“As they talk it out, the pressure cooker of the emotions are let out and they begin to feel better because it’s not all bottled in, and then you can have a dialogue.
“All we want to do is keep somebody safe for now,” Black continued.
“We can’t promise they will be safe forever, but if more of us are trained and we know how to keep somebody safe for now, that’s another day they are alive.”
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