130 people commit suicide a day in state

The focus of this month’s Okeechobee Children’s Mental Health System of Care’s Family Night was Suicide Prevention, presented by Lindsey Slattery-Cerny from Florida LINC through the Southeast Florida Behavioral Health Network.


Ms. Stearney explained there is a lot of stigma surrounding suicide and most people find it very difficult to talk about. She said making connections is the number one way to prevent suicide. “A connection is like an instant bond,” she said. “It can help start a conversation.” She explained you can’t always tell when someone is thinking about suicide, and very few people come right out and say they are thinking about killing themselves, so you have to look for clues.


In 2017, there were over 47,000 suicides in Florida, which equates to almost 130 people per day, she said. Approximately 6,000 suicides were committed by people between the ages of 10 and 24 in 2017, and it is the second leading cause of death in youth.


Ms. Stearney explained that when someone commits suicide, it happens in stages. It usually begins with depression and anxiety. The farther they get in the planning process, the harder it is to intervene, which is why they stress early intervention. It is much easier to intervene when someone is sad than when he has already attempted suicide.


Risk factors are things that may increase the likelihood of someone thinking about suicide. Risk factors include things such as a history of suicide attempts, a family history of suicide, alcohol or drug abuse, trauma (sexual assault or child abuse) or bullying, she said.


Warning signs are clues or behaviors we are seeing RIGHT NOW telling us we need to act. They can be things like truancy, threats to hurt or kill themselves, withdrawing from friends, sleeping too much or not enough, giving away prized possessions, drug or alcohol abuse, drastic change in behavior — even if the change seems to be for the better because this can mean the person has made a decision to end it all. This is called suicide euphoria, she explained.


Protective factors are things that may help keep a person safe from suicide. They include things such as talking to your kids, keeping guns and drugs locked up. Many suicides are impulsive and the urge may pass if the method is not easily obtainable. This is not to say the urge is gone forever, but it will help keep it from being acted upon in the spur of the moment.


Family connections are the best deterrent. Kids are more isolated now than they were in the past. Many kids spend the majority of their time in their rooms, by themselves, on social media. They need connections, with real actual people, in the real world, Ms. Stearney said.


When you do talk to your child or anyone else about depression or suicide, acknowledge that there is a problem. Don’t downplay their problems. To them, the problem is real, and it matters even if it seems small to you. Don’t dismiss their problems if you want them to feel they can talk to you. Listen, empathize; validate that it is a problem. Don’t be on your phone or looking off in the distance. Be in the conversation. Let them talk. Listen twice as much as you talk, she said. But, don’t just sit there like a lump, either. Try paraphrasing what you heard so they know you were paying attention. Reflect their emotions. Say something like, “It sounds like you feel sad.”

Take the time they need, no matter how long it takes. Let them know that what they are feeling is normal and that you care. Ask the suicide question. Are you thinking about killing yourself? Are you thinking about suicide? If you can’t bring yourself to ask the question, find someone who can. Not every suicide can be prevented, Ms. Stearney said, but many can.


Finally, she said, help the person work through ways to resolve the situation on their own. Help them learn to problem-solve. With children, create a positive environment not just at home but at school, too. Don’t solve the problem for them, but help them work through it.

Cathy Womble is a staff writer for the Lake Okeechobee News.

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