the Warning Signs
by Virginia Gilbert
California-based dancer and poet, will never forget the last time she
saw her older brother Will, a talented artist who was also a paranoid
schizophrenic. She asked him if he was planning to go to a special
meditation service the following week. Michelle remembers that Will
laughed and shook his head as if to say, "I've got bigger
He did. Several
days later, Will carefully arranged his paintings around his house, shut
his dog in the kitchen, and left a "poetic" farewell note.
Then he crawled into bed, took an overdose of drugs, and fastened a
plastic bag over his head.
After she learned
of Will's suicide, Michelle tormented herself for what she describes as
"ignoring the signals, mistaking the faraway look in his eye for
serenity." If she had just prodded him about his plans, she
wondered, could she have stopped the person she considered her soul mate
from killing himself?
Who's At Risk?
knows how to predict suicide—[not] even the professionals. No one has
a crystal ball," says Kenneth Conner, Psy.D., a psychologist at the
University of Rochester School of Medicine in Rochester, NY. It's
unrealistic for suicide survivors like Michelle to punish themselves for
being unable to save a loved one. But because of this uncertainty, it's
crucial to pay attention to a friend or relative's cries for help.
According to Conner, the following factors can increase a person's risk
with romantic partners
ownership or access to a gun
In July 1999,
U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher declared suicide a national health
threat and reported that men are four times more likely to die
from this act than women—although women are more apt to attempt
suicide. Conner believes this phenomenon may be because men are
generally more aggressive than women and suicide is an aggressive
behavior. Also, men typically have greater access to guns—the most
popular choice of suicidal young males and, unfortunately, the most
effective. Finally, Conner says that women are better able to discuss
their problems. Since many men won't talk about their pain, they act on
Conner maintains there is "good evidence that suicide clusters in
families." This may be due to an inherited biological disposition
and the tendency to imitate a destructive behavior that's modeled. For
these reasons, Conner recommends counseling for those who have lost
relatives to suicide.
What to Do if You're Considering Suicide
"The most important thing is to tell someone," says Conner.
"The big issue in suicide is that people don't reach out for
help." Conner urges anyone who is contemplating hurting himself or
herself to talk directly to someone who cares—a clergyman,
parent, good friend, or therapist—and get treatment, especially
for depression or substance abuse.
The stigma associated with depressive and mental illnesses may make
some people reluctant to confess their troubling thoughts. In that case,
confiding in a stranger may be easier.
"Phone books are great with listing hotlines," says Conner,
"If a person's in trouble, they can open page one of the phone
book and find hotline numbers. Or they can call 911 and
they'll be patched through to a hotline."
Additional hotlines and resources are listed below:<?p>
Crisis Intervention Hotline:
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
888-333-AFSP or (212) 363-3500
This Web site contains useful information about suicide and suicide
American Association of Suicidology
This Web site offers information about suicide as well as help to those
crisis. It includes a national directory of hotlines and a link to a
Kids Help Phone Site.
This comprehensive Web site lists hotlines by state.
L.A.-based writer Virginia Gilbert also wrote about caffeine for