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Town, agencies focus on suicide prevention

September 19, 2018

GREENWICH — Julie Carriero recently learned a 7-year-old family member, who lives in another state, expressed she was considering suicide.

“She said that nobody in school liked her and she was thinking about killing herself,” the Riverside resident and mother said. “That was just so shocking to me.”

The child’s guardians didn’t react to the statement the same way Carriero did, she said.

“I ...wanted to see if I was overreacting to this,” Carriero said. “And I don’t think that I was.”

So she decided to participate in suicide prevention training the town offered this week.

The main lesson she learned was: “Take everything seriously.”

The Question, Persuade, Refer training, hosted by the Greenwich Department of Human Services and regional mental health nonprofits, gave community members tools to help others they believe are at risk of taking their own lives. Participants learned how to identify warning signs, ask directly if a person is considering suicide and refer those in need to available resources.

“This training is aimed at the general public,” said Margaret Watt, executive director of the Southwest Regional Mental Health Board. “These are concepts anyone can learn; recognizing warning signs and reducing the emotional barrier to go deeper with someone.”

The point is to offer hope, Watt said.

“When people are thinking about suicide, it is something they see as a solution,” she said. “When you come across someone that seems distressed, you are literally offering hope and you’re saying it’s OK to talk about this. That is huge because there is so much shame attached to suicide.”

Warning signs

Red flags to look out for include direct verbal clues like, “I wish I were dead,” or, “I’m going to end it all.” Indirect verbal clues like, “No one cares if I’m dead,” or “I won’t be around much longer,” are also indicators, said Watt.

Behavioral clues including a person stockpiling pills, collecting guns, giving away prized personal possessions or getting their affairs in order are also warning signs. Previous suicide attempts, sudden interest or disinterest in religion, drug or alcohol abuse or relapse, and unexplained anger are all indicators, according to the training.

Situational clues can include a person being fired or expelled from school, a recent move, loss of any major relationship and diagnosis of serious or terminal illnesses, Watt said. A sudden unexpected loss of freedom or fear of punishment, anticipated loss of financial security or a fear of becoming a burden to others also indicate a risk of suicide.

Asking the question

The best way to ask someone who might be at risk if they are thinking about suicide is to simply ask directly, said Watt. Many people don’t want to use the word “suicide” because of its stigma or a fear that by using the word, they may encourage the action.

“You feel worried by asking you’re somehow going to put the idea in someone’s head,” said Christophe Armiero, a Greenwich resident who lost his son to suicide. “It’s great to hear from the experts that that’s not the case.”

The worst-case scenario is that the person might get mad or be shocked by the question, said Watt.

“But they’re not going to do anything to themselves because you’ve asked,” she said.

“If you ask and they are thinking about it, they will open up.”

Other tips Watt offered include being persistent if the person is reluctant to answer, talking in a private setting, allowing the person to talk freely and allowing plenty of time for the discussion. It’s also important to have resources in-hand, like a counselor’s name, crisis line numbers and any other helpful information.

Sometimes the best person to have the conversation is someone who isn’t close to the person at risk, said Ingrid Gillespie, executive director of Communities for Action. Many times spouses don’t want to open up to their partners because they don’t want to hurt them. Or children might not be as forthcoming about their feelings with their parents.

“If your kids have a mentor or friend or teacher they feel comfortable with, they may hear the message very differently from them,” said George O’Loughlin, director of case management for the town Department of Human Services. “If you think someone can deliver the message better than you, that’s a good tool you can use.”

Gillespie said it’s also important to not phrase the question in a way that already implies an answer, like saying. “You aren’t thinking of doing anything crazy or stupid, are you?”

Persuading and Referring

Once the person opens up, it’s essential to give them full attention, said Watt. She said to not jump to conclusions, to express caring about their feelings and to thank them for sharing.

The next step is to ask if they’ll get help. Offering to go with them or make appointments for them is a proactive way to ensure getting help will be possible, Gillespie said, suggesting to stay with the person until they have help.

At this point, it’s a good idea to get other people involved in aiding the person at risk, said Watt, so multiple people are looking out for their well-being.

There are 45,000 deaths due to suicide each year in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control. It’s the 10th leading cause of death in America and has an annual cost of $69 billion.

If you or someone you know needs help, call the Connecticut Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 211. In parts of Greenwich where 211 does not work, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-203-1234. Those in need of help can also text “hello” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741.

For more information about resources offered through the town’s Department of Human Services, visit greenwichct.gov.

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