The holiday season is a tough time of the year for many across the state. The World Health Organization estimates 1 million people in the world die by suicide each year, a number much higher than the number of deaths attributed to homicide and wars.
The most alarming fact is many of these suicides involve young people. Between 2008 and 2009, four students attending a Capital Region high school died by suicide. When we hear these statistics, it makes you wonder if there is anything that can be done to prevent suicides. In the case of young people, the most logical place for suicide prevention is in the schools, as it is the place where young people spend most of their time. Most people feel ill-equipped to handle such a situation.
Communication is the most valuable tool in a person's arsenal. People often are afraid to talk about suicide with people they suspect are suffering from depression because they are afraid of saying the wrong thing. Attempting suicide is a cry for help, even if they don't admit it. If we do not open our ears in time, we may not hear their pleas. A simple act of kindness may be all it takes to get them to open up to you. The mind of a person contemplating suicide is a dark place in which the person often feels no one cares about him, and often when he sees that people do care, it changes his mindset, possibly giving him hope for a brighter day.
This year may be more stressful than previous years, as millions are losing their homes and jobs across the country. A lot of people have lost their jobs right here in Fulton County because of multiple area businesses closing and moving to other parts of the world. This time of year, I am always shocked at how horrible people can be to one another: cursing at each other over a parking space, yelling at a cashier because you forgot your receipt at home and she won't let you return your merchandise, fighting with another person over that last sale item on the shelf, yelling at the person for cutting ahead of you on that monstrosity of a line at Walmart. This time of year, it is important to be good to one another. Maybe that person stole your parking spot because he's in a hurry to get to his second job. Maybe that person wants that last sale item for his sick child in the hospital. We can't get inside each other's heads, so maybe it's better to say "Merry Christmas" and walk away. That simple act of kindness may be all it takes to brighten someone's day.
I'm sure if many of us look back over the course of our lives, we have all been touched in one way or another by suicide. It is one of the most devastating things that can happen to a family or group of friends, and it's something people carry with them for the rest of their lives.
Personally, I know of at least five people who have taken their own lives over the course of my life, and I hold the memory of them all close to my heart. It's something that is very hard to come to terms with. It makes you wonder if there was anything you could have done to prevent it. If only I knew they were feeling that way, if only I called them more often, etc. So many questions are left unanswered in the wake of a death, and the devastation left behind is immense.
People need to educate themselves on the risk factors and possible warning signs of suicide if they want to more effectively intervene and make a difference. If you know of someone or suspect he or she may be contemplating suicide, call local suicide prevention hot lines such as St. Mary's Mental Health Hotline (842-9111) or check out the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention website at www.afsp.org and get educated about the warning signs. Let's all help prevent suicide. Don't give up hope. It is always darkest before the dawn.
Russell W. Dickson, a guest columnist, lives in Johnstown.