Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘suicide prevention’ Category

In a May, 2013, press release, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that in recent years, the number of annual suicide deaths in the United States has surpassed the number of people dying yearly in automobile accidents. In 2010, for example, 33,687 people died by automobile and 38,364 by suicide.

“Suicide is a tragedy that is far too common,” says CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D. “[We] . . . need to expand our knowledge of risk factors so we can build on prevention programs. . .” (www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2013/p0502-suicide-rates.html)

Fortunately, Harvard psychologist Matthew Nock is attempting to do just that. In 2003, Nock and a colleague began developing a series of tests they consider potentially capable of detecting suicide risk. The tests are modeled on the Implicit Association Test originated in the late 1990s which uses word associations to reveal biases about race, sexuality, gender and age that people either don’t wish to acknowledge or cannot even recognize in themselves.

In short, Nock and his Harvard colleague have devised a series of tests to measure a person’s bias for and against being alive or dead. On a computer screen, “life” and “me” appear on one side and “death” and “not me” on the other. A person is asked to rapidly categorize a series of words such as “thrive,” “breathing,” and “funeral,” under one of those headings. Though complex in the execution, the tests basically detect how quickly a person identifies with either “life” or “death.” Hesitation in responding to the “life” heading, for example, might signal an association with dying that reveals a risk factor for suicide.

“Doctors of all kinds, including psychologists, do no better than pure chance at predicting who will attempt suicide and who won’t” writes Kim Tingley in a recent article in The New York Times. “Their patients often lie about their feelings to avoid hospitalization. Many also appear to mislead by accident, not realizing they are a risk to themselves or realizing but not knowing how so say so.” (www.nytimes.com/2013/06/30/magazine/the-suicide-detective.html)

Along with the hope Nock’s system brings to the worrisome field of suicide prevention, it brings deeper appreciation of my daughter Mary who died by suicide in 1995 at the age of 17. Several months before her death, Mary’s psychiatrist asked her whether she was thinking about suicide and heard, “No, I would never do that.” But maybe Mary wasn’t simply lying; maybe she didn’t recognize her risk or know how to talk about it.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Among healing rituals for those bereaved by suicide, the most imaginative I’ve heard about is the “Out of the Darkness Walk”–an annual event organized by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. This year, the walk will take place from sunset June 1 to sunrise June 2 over a course of some eighteen miles in Washington, D.C.

Many participants are either suicide survivors or attempters who walk to emphasize suicide as a national health concern, heighten awareness of the need for suicide prevention, and raise funds for both research and prevention. What makes the event unique–even biblical–is its offer of a communal passage from darkness to light.

“By walking from sunset to sunrise,” says executive director of the foundation Robert Gebbia, “walkers make a powerful statement about suicide–that there is hope, a light at the end of the tunnel for those affected. It’s emotional but also very uplifting. . . and, in some ways, liberating because many people have not talked about this; and all of a sudden they’re with other people who understand because they’ve been through the same thing” (Arlington Catholic Herald. May 16-22, 2013, p. 7).

Regarding the June event, the foundation’s website states, “We’ll prove to the capital and to the nation What a Difference a Night Makes.

Less dramatic but no less essential, three–five mile “Out of the Darkness Walks” take place in communities all across the United States during autumn daylight hours. (www.afsp.org.) It’s customary to form a team that walks in a person’s memory and even, it would seem, to wear a shirt bearing that person’s name.

My daughter Mary left us in the dark of the night after overdosing on her anti-depressant medication when she was a senior in high school. But the mere thought of putting on a “Team Mary” shirt and walking out of darkness in the company of the courageous helps to reverse the damage of that night in 1995.

Truly, I won’t be walking eighteeen miles in D.C. on the first night of June. I honor and thank those who do walk and pledge that, in time, I’ll make a daytime walk on behalf of Mary and the tens of thousands of Americans who die each year by suicide.

Read Full Post »