Saturday, September 15, 2012

Remembering Guy Parsons, and National Suicide Prevention Week

This week is National Suicide Prevention Week.  It is a time for us to reflect on the tragedy of people who feel so desperate and depressed that they feel life isn't worth continuing.  Maybe they feel bullied.  Maybe they are chronically ill.  Maybe they have lost a loved one.  Whatever the cause, the end of their suffering, sadly, is the extension of pain to those who survive them.

According to the CDC, almost 57% of violent deaths in America are due to suicide.  Firearms are used in just over 50% of suicide attempts (71.7% in males, 46.4% in females).  More than 90% of attempts using firearms are successful, far exceeding the success rate by any other method.

From one source:

More than 90% of suicide attempts using guns are successful, while the success rate for jumping from high places was 34%. The success rate for drug overdose was 2%, the brief said, citing studies.
"Other methods are not as lethal," a co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research in Baltimore, Jon Vernick, said.

I have lost a friend to suicide.  When I was 15 years old I had a friend named Guy Parsons, who was a couple years younger than me.  I didn't think I had any pictures of him and me together.  Then, the other day, I was digging around for something in my attic and found an old Middle School yearbook.  There, in a group picture of the Science Club, Guy and I were both in the group.  Guy is the one with the red arrow.  I'm the one with the green arrow.

Guy Parsons, age 13
Guy was a rambunctious teen, always quick with a joke and very active.  We were in the same Boy Scout troop (his great uncle was our scout master), camping and running crazy in the woods.  But Guy was a bit awkward, socially.  He was overweight.  He was hyper.  He had problems fitting in.

Then one day, not long after that Science Club picture was taken, I learned he had gotten hold of his family's Colt .45 revolver.  His sister came home to discover him with a fatal, self-inflicted wound the head.  The gun had been bought for self-protection.  Obviously, his father failed to secure the gun or consider the consequences of having it in the house, and he didn't think about the possibility that his son might use it.

As we say at the Kid Shootings blog, "Every gun in the hands of a child must first pass through the hands of an adult."

I went to Guy's funeral and saw the overwhelming sadness in a room that was packed with the many people who loved him, many standing because there weren't enough seats in the largest room the funeral home had. 

Afterward, the name of Guy Parsons rarely came up around me.  People didn't want to think about who might be at fault, who might have missed the warning signs, or relive the sadness that it brought.  As far as I could tell, his family didn't realize Guy was suicidal.  The tragedy of suicides is extremely personal.  That's why you practically never see news reports on suicides, even though they outnumber murders or shootings of any sort. 

Unfortunately, the silence is itself deadly.  If we don't talk about the problem -- if we pretend it the danger doesn't exist -- the deadly cycle will continue.

But it doesn't have to be this way. 

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is an excellent source to learn about suicide prevention and warning signs.  There are many risk factors.  Here is what they say about warning signs:

Warning signs of suicide include:
  • Observable signs of serious depression:
    Unrelenting low mood
    Anxiety, psychic pain and inner tension
    Sleep problems
  • Increased alcohol and/or other drug use
  • Recent impulsiveness and taking unnecessary risks
  • Threatening suicide or expressing a strong wish to die
  • Making a plan:
    Giving away prized possessions
    Sudden or impulsive purchase of a firearm
    Obtaining other means of killing oneself such as poisons or medications
  • Unexpected rage or anger

If you know anyone who is suicidal or severely depressed, there are steps you can take.  Here are some of them:
  • Take any threat of suicide seriously, no matter how "jokingly" or briefly it is presented. 
  • Be willing to listen to them, at any time. 
  • Be a friend and a shoulder to cry on.  Be there for them.  Try to stay optimistic, for their sake.
  • Find your local suicide hotline and give it to them to post by the phone. 
  • Don't leave them alone if the threat is imminent.
  • Urge them to seek psychological help.
  • Urge them to remove any weapons or unnecessary and dangerous medicines from their home.
  • Alert other close friends and family to be there as well.

Some of these steps may seem imposing in some manner, and may require you to go the extra mile, but those small sacrifices are better than losing a friend or family member, and they will thank you later.

We can all work together to reduce suicides in America.  Let's make a new trajectory for our community away from gun violence.

RELATEDHERE is a link to the "Stop Teenage Suicide" Facebook page.

ADDENDUM (9/17/12):  HERE is an informative fact sheet for youth suicide.