By SARA ARTHURS
Helping a loved one after a suicide attempt can be incredibly scary. But “With Help There is Hope.”
A support group of that name, for family and friends of those who have had a loved one attempt suicide, will hold its first meeting Thursday.
Nancy Stephani, coordinator of emergency services at Century Health, has run a group called Persons Affected by a Loved One’s Suicide (PALS) for the past 20 years. That group is for people who have lost a family member or friend to suicide. But she has heard occasionally throughout the years from people who have had a loved one attempt suicide and are also in need of support. In the past, she would meet with them or refer them to a therapist.
“In the last month, I’ve had three requests,” she said.
She is hearing from parents of young people who have attempted suicide, parents who are traumatized after a child spent time in the intensive care unit. They want to talk to others who have gone through a similar experience.
“The psychiatric unit can be a really scary place,” and so can the intensive care unit, she said, and it can help to have someone to hold your hand.
Stephani said family friends are usually supportive, “but they also want some distance,” perhaps from a subconscious belief that if they don’t talk about it nothing like that could happen to them.
Her hope is that the group can provide support and “a safe place to talk about what happened.”
Just as after a woman has had a baby, Stephani wants to share with others her thoughts on nursing, in the same way people who have gone through something like this can be a resource for others going through it. Or, she said, it’s like when someone experiences a car accident. You find yourself telling the story over and over, until you are ready to let go of it. The goal is to have a safe place to talk about the suicide attempt, while also learning about resources that can help.
Stephani said there has been an increase in suicide attempts locally.
Hancock County Sheriff Michael Heldman said it comes in waves, with increases and then decreases. Health as well as economic situations can be factors, he said. The sheriff’s entire staff has gone through Crisis Intervention Team training.
Any time a public figure dies by suicide — such as the deaths of designer Kate Spade and chef Anthony Bourdain the same week in June — it can lead to “the copycat phenomenon,” Stephani said.
Traditionally, those most at risk of suicide are middle-aged men who are unemployed and often not connected with others. But “with the increased access to guns,” women are now using more lethal means to attempt suicide. (Historically, men have died of suicide far more often than women, but women have attempted suicide more.)
The 2015 Hancock County Community Health Assessment found that in 2015, 1 percent of Hancock County adults had attempted suicide. Seven percent of Hancock County youth had attempted suicide, and 3 percent of youth had made more than one attempt. One in 25 adults and nearly 1 in 5 teenage girls had considered suicide in the past year, according to the 2015 Hancock County Community Health Assessment.
Stephani’s office sees 110 to 160 clients a month who are in crisis in Hancock County. This number includes people who are suicidal, homicidal or psychotic, or who are self-identifying as being in crisis.
Those who have attempted suicide are more at risk after the attempt, she said.
And a teen whose friend has attempted suicide is themselves at higher risk, because it’s now within their frame of reference, Stephani said. Area schools are good at calling in mental health professionals when children need screening, she said. In teens, sometimes “depression looks like anger,” she said.
The new group is open to anyone, including friends of those who have attempted suicide, as well as family members. Attendees will find out how they can “be supportive without being enabling,” Stephani said.
Stephani said youths do best when their parents listen to them and “see what’s going on for what it really is” and get them help.
One common misconception, Stephani said, is that people don’t realize, “Not all of a person wants to die.” Her job is to keep their body safe until the part of them that wants to live takes over. Stephani said people may attempt suicide for multiple reasons, but the “vast majority” are those who are in pain and don’t see the people who love them.
“Help is available in Hancock County. … It’s just a phone call away,” she said.
And Heldman urged families not to wait if they recognize a problem. “Get help immediately,” he said.
Illnesses such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and borderline personality disorder, as well as alcohol and drug abuse, can put a person at a greater risk for suicide.
Other risk factors include other chronic medical conditions (such as heart disease); knowing someone who has died of suicide, especially a family member; criminal charges; the loss of a spouse; financial worries; or loss of employment. Often people attempt, or think about, suicide at the end of a relationship.
Warning signs include talking about wanting to hurt themselves; increasing substance use; having changes in their mood, diet or sleeping patterns; isolating or pushing people away; or talking about suicide. Stephani told The Courier in 2017 that the “biggest sign of all” is giving away prized possessions; if this occurs, “Do not pass go,” Stephani said. “Call for help.”
The Hancock County crisis line is 888-936-7116.
The first meeting of the new support group will be at 7 p.m. Thursday in the Aller Room on the first floor of the pavilion at Blanchard Valley Hospital. Meetings will be held the second Thursday of each month.
For more information on this group or PALS, contact Century Health at 419-425-5050.