"We seldom get into trouble when we speak softly. It is only when we raise our voices that the sparks fly and tiny molehills become great mountains of contention."
- - Gordon B. Hinckley
September 14, 2012
Speaking of the Unspeakable
by Sarah Hancock

Today I looked up from my computer and saw an old friend I’d lost track of nearly 20 years ago. I stood up from my desk and we hugged. As we hugged I began to cry because in the instant we embraced I had a flash of understanding. I knew what had nearly happened. I knew and I was grateful it didn't.

What happened? Many people are too embarrassed, too scared, too baffled to talk about some things in life. Suicide is one of them.

In this day and age there are a lot of days, weeks and months specifically dedicated to a particular worthy cause like breast cancer or autism. The purpose is to draw attention to a particular need and to increase awareness, educating people about topics usually completely uncomfortable to discuss.

In the United States, this week is National Suicide Awareness and Prevention week. In an article published by CBS News this past Monday, "U.S. health officials said nearly 100 people every day commit suicide, and many more attempt it. It is the tenth leading cause of death in the U.S., with rates doubling those of lives taken by homicide (http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-504763_162-57509779-10391704/u.s-launches-new-national-strategy-for-suicide-prevention/).

In other words, it's a real and serious problem. So, even though suicide is probably the most uncomfortable topic, one you would never voluntarily bring up at a dinner party, it is something we need to address.

There many myths about suicide. Dispelling those myths can help you or a loved one prevent a suicide, because when you are educated about the warning signs, suicide is almost always preventable.

Myth: Talking about suicide leads a person to commit suicide.

Surprisingly, the opposite is true. When speaking directly with someone about suicide, it shows the person you are truly concerned about his life. It also opens the door for you to help him get the services he so desperately needs.

When someone mentions death or suicide, listen. It is a giant red flag. No, I take that back, it’s a blazing, bright red flare! People don’t generally talk about anything unless they’ve already given it some thought. The same holds true for death and suicide.

Unfortunately, not everyone talks about their thoughts. Instead the suicidal thoughts are expressed in other ways. Perhaps you’ve noticed someone seriously depressed, who seems relieved and at peace about everything overnight. Red flare! Find out what brought them peace. Is it the peace that comes with resolution of an issue? Or, is it the peace of knowing that he won’t be struggling with his depressive despair much longer because he's planned his own demise?

Perhaps this person starts giving cherished things away. Red flare! Find out why! Are they are simply downsizing to move to a smaller apartment? Or to lessen the burden of their loved ones, are they putting their affairs in order?

When someone starts talking about death or suicide, brushing him off because you feel uncomfortable about it will only in effect tell him you don’t care about his life. Instead, show him how much you care by talking with him directly about death and suicide. If feels he has no one to talk to about thoughts he's initially scared of, he will withdraw and isolate himself, making the situation worse.

Keeping our mouths closed when we suspect something is wrong only makes the situation grave. I don't know about you, but I'd much rather risk offending someone in asking them if they were having dark thoughts, then to have an eternity of asking myself if I could have done something to prevent his death.

Heavenly Father knows your heart and your intent. Whether you are the person who’s having suicidal thoughts or you are the loved one of someone who is, God will strengthen you to open your mouth and start a conversation you never thought possible. Our prophet, President Spencer W. Kimball taught this concept when he said: “God does notice us, and he watches over us. But it is usually through another person that he meets our needs.” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball (2006), 82. Emphasis added.)

Deep down, no one wants to commit suicide. Who knows, maybe in opening your mouth you can be someone’s saving angel in meeting their desperate need to talk. Please choose to join the conversation about suicide. You never know who won’t be able to give you a hug when you need one.

Myth: People who commit suicide are looking for "an easy way out."

Recently it seems like there is an increased number of television shows and movies where a villain commits suicide, making it look like a person who commits suicide is looking for the easy way out. Again, more often than not, the opposite is true. Often times he sees suicide as an act of compassion for his family, trying to relieve his family from the inexplicable burden he’s become.

Let me make something clear. I’m not trying to rationalize suicide, nor do I in any way condone it. I’m just trying to explain the mindset that is often behind it. If you have a hard time wrapping your head around this logic, it's because your brain chemicals are balanced. When brain chemicals are off, illogical things can and do suddenly make complete sense, which is why it's so important for people with balanced brain chemicals to educate themselves about suicide warning signs. Only someone with balanced chemicals can intervene when a person is past the point of recognizing his illogical thoughts as such.

To the families and loved ones of someone who committed suicide, I hope I haven’t made you question your own actions or inactions. This was in no way my intent. My intent is to help every loved one learn the red flares of suicide so that others won’t ever have to experience the tragedy you did.

To those of you who may have been thinking about death or suicide, there is hope. I promise. Open your mouth; your friends and family can't help you unless you let them know you need help. If your loved ones don't know how to help you, make the choice to help yourself. You are worth it! You may not be able to see that at the moment, but it's just because your brain is imbalanced and it’s not your fault.

I may not know your name, but I do know you are a child of God. You may feel God doesn't care, but He does. He wanted me to answer your silent prayers by pleading with you to get help. Check yourself into a hospital. Call 911. Recognizing you no longer have complete control of your actions is in itself a miracle. Most people in your state don’t have that insight.

Some people may think that by checking yourself into the hospital you are simply seeking attention. Well, I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather get attention and satisfaction for my talents than for getting locked away on a psych ward.

Some people may feel you are just looking for a vacation from responsibility. Again, do they honestly think going to a psychiatric ward or hospital is a vacation? It’s not. If they think it is, maybe they need to be checked in too! Personally, I’d rather save my hard-earned money and have fun, maybe by going to the Caribbean.

Some people may believe that by checking yourself into the hospital you are giving up. They couldn’t be further from the truth. You are taking control! You are choosing to positively act on your unsafe feelings, rather than being pushed into reacting to weighty negative emotions.

Leaving this life by suicide will leave a very large hole no one else can fill, which is exactly why I cried when I hugged my friend. We never even hung out at school, but I knew who he was. I knew his name and I would have missed him if he hadn’t been there today to give me that hug.

There is hope. You can get better. With the proper care, you will get better. I promise. I did.

For immediate help, if you choose not to call 911, call the free, confidential U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-237-TALK (8255) Ironically you will be put on a brief hold, but it’s only to make sure they are connectingin your area or go to www.YouMatter.SuicidePreventionLifeline.org/

Some of what I call the "red flares" of suicide include:

  • Talking about being a burden to others.
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain.
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live.
  • Increasing alcohol or drug use.
  • Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly.
  • Sleeping too little or too much.
  • Withdrawing from family or friends
  • Talking about feeling isolated.
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge.
  • Displaying extreme mood swings.
  • Talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself.
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself online or buying a gun.

This is not an exhaustive list, but the key is to start the conversation when you see these red flares. Please learn these warning signs and raise your voice! If you need help, call 911 or call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) go to www.SuicidePreventionLifeLine.org

Sadly, just as I was sending this to my editor, I learned my friend’s brother-in-law was found this morning, a victim of his own hand. We need to start raising our voices and helping others realize we care enough about them to do something! To those who mourn, remember God promises, “Thy friends do stand by thee, and they will hail thee again with warm hearts and friendly hands” (Doctrine and Covenants 121:9). I promise it too!


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About Sarah Hancock

Sarah Price Hancock, a graduate of San Diego State University's rehabilitation counseling Masters of Science program with a certificate psychiatric rehabilitation.

Having embarked on her own journey with a mental health diagnosis, she is passionate about psychiatric recovery. She enjoys working as a lector for universities, training upcoming mental health professionals. Sarah also enjoys sharing insights with peers working to strengthen their "recovery toolbox." With proper support, Sarah knows psychiatric recovery isnít just possible ó itís probable.

Born and raised in San Diego, California, Sarah served a Spanish-speaking and ASL mission for the LDS Church in the Texas Dallas Mission. She was graduated from Ricks College and BYU. Sarah currently resides in San Diego and inherited four amazing children when she married the man of her dreams in 2011. She loves writing, public speaking, ceramics, jewelry-making and kite-flying ó not necessarily in that order.

NAMI San Diego's Fall Keynote Address: Living in Recovery with Schizoaffective Disorder

Having recently moved into a new ward, she currently serves as a visiting teacher.

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