Nearly 200 Attend Lake Orion Suicide Prevention Forum (video)
(Crystal A. Proxmire, Feb. 25, 2014)
The Oakland County Youth Suicide Prevention Taskforce revealed its new Youth Suicide Prevention Toolkit for Parents at a forum with nearly 200 attendees at Lake Orion High School on Sunday evening.
When the taskforce’s scheduled guest speaker ran into a snag, local individuals who had been touched by suicidal thoughts stepped in to share their stories, including Lake Orion Township Supervisor Chris Barnett who emceed the forum. Parents, teachers, and students listened as respected community members talked about the times when they were close to ending it all. Then they heard from a panel of experts about what resources are available to help prevent suicide.
Craig Sharum of Oxford, Communications Manager for Easter Seals Michigan, took the audience back to a time when he was in his early teens and struggling without the tools to know how to deal with life’s stresses.
“I was 14 when I thought about suicide for the first time,” Sharum said. “I ws in a baseball field near my house. It was completely quiet and no one was around… It was scary because I had never thought of it as an actual solution to problems. It was something that had kind of been at the outskirts of my thinking, but then it was something I thought could be real… I just started to cry because I had never taken myself there mentally. The scary thing about the depression is at it seemed like a rational solution to what I was going through… I went home and I didn’t tell anybody about it… A few months later I finally got to the point where I scared myself too much. It wasn’t a full on attempt but it was dangerously close. I told them [my parents] and they took me to a psychiatrist.
“I remember sitting in the room and started going through everything that could have been triggers, saying to me “Are your parents divorced?” “How’s your home life?” And I remember saying my parents are happily married, my home life is good. We started going through everything. “Are you active in school? “At that point I was. I played football. I was on the track team. I was in leadership class. I went and spoke for DARE, so I was not abusing any sort of substance. And I ended up getting put on a medication called Paxil, which is an antidepressant. It was a lifesaver. In fact 80% of people who receive treatment actually are very successful at doing so. ”
Sharum’s experience is one that may surprise some people. There is a false notion of suicide that it only takes the lives of people in certain demographics, or that only mentally ill people, or high-risk individuals even think about it. But in reality, thoughts of self-harm can affect anyone, under a variety of circumstances. Among youth aged 15 to 24, suicide is the third leading cause of death. Research shows that most people with suicidal thoughts want to find an end to emotional pain. Ways to reduce suicide include discussing it with young people so they understand that it is normal to feel overwhelmed, encouraging them to ask for help when they need it, knowing how to spot signs of emotional distress, and teaching youth ways to cope with stress and anxiety.
Another representative from Easter Seals, an organization that has mental health services, explained that everyone can benefit from understanding depression and anxiety. “Do as much research as you can about anxiety and panic disorder. The anxiety itself is more anxiety-provoking, and so often times when you’re struggling with anxiety, You’re thinking “oh what’s wrong with me? Why am I having this anxiety? And then your brain feels an anxiety attack coming on. And so as a parent, if you can do as much research and understand anxiety is, because it is very real, it is scary, and it’s physical. It’s a physical thing. And a lot of us who don’t necessarily struggle with anxiety directly, feel like it’s on the head. But when someone is suffering from an anxiety or panic attack, it’s very physical. It’s very real. And it’s extremely terrifying.
“So as the person being the support person, if you do a lot of research and try to really understand as much as you can about what your daughter is really struggling with, so that you can be as empathetic as possible. I think that what Ethan [another speaker] shared in his story was terrific. You shared that your parents constantly just said “We’re here. We’re here. We’re here.” And that mantra over and over again will also prove to be, [good] in the long run. Keep in mind that it isn’t going to happen overnight. It is something that your daughter will probably struggle with for the rest of her life. She willing to cope with it, but it won’t just magically go away. So it is something that is going to take some time.”
Risk factors include previous suicide attempts, substance use, mental illness, and interpersonal conflicts like bullying, trauma, relationship breakups, sexting, questioning sexual orientation and loss such as moving, death of a loved one, or parents going through a divorce.
Warning signs include making threats of self-harm, giving away possessions, hopelessness, anger, seeking revenge, reckless or risky behavior, alcohol or drug use, withdrawal from family or friends, anxiety, sleeping irregularities, dramatic mood changes, depression, and talking about of lack of purpose.
Lake Orion resident George Edwards lost his 22-year-old son to suicide in 2011. He along with others in the Lake Orion School District have worked to create Lake Orion SOS (Students Offering Support), a group of over 300 people, mostly students, to spread the word about suicide prevention. “There’s so many different things that we identify as the causes or why, but the stigma associated with it is just unbearable for some people. And it was for me for a bit. But it wasn’t going to change anything, right? I couldn’t bring him back,” he said. When asked how many in the room had their lives impacted by suicide, Edwards and nearly everyone else in the auditorium raised their hands.
Several organizations offer support that can prevent suicide. The Oakland County Youth Suicide Prevention Task Force is made up of Common Ground, Easter Seals, Oakland Schools, Community Mental Health and Oakland County Health Division. Those seeking more information on resources should call Common Ground’s 24-hour Resource and Crisis Helpline at 800-231-1127. There is also a 24-hour text service, designed to give youth a way to communicate their problems in a way that is accessible to them. The text service is available at 248-809-5550.
For a previous story on Lake Orion SOS, see: https://oaklandcounty115.com/2013/10/06/lake-orion-students-grow-support-system-to-prevent-suicide-video/
For a previous story on Royal Oak SAFE, another suicide-prevention initiative, see:
Nearly 200 Attend Lake Orion Suicide Prevention Forum (video)