Forum Addresses Area's Sobering Suicide Statistics

By Delfavero, Gina | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, July 6, 2007 | Go to article overview

Forum Addresses Area's Sobering Suicide Statistics


Delfavero, Gina, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


INDIANA--It may have been just a rumor, but Indiana Area School District wasn't taking any chances at the prom this year after word came to school officials, through a note written on an Internet site, that an individual or group of students may have been planning a suicide attempt.

That vague threat back in May prompted heightened security, including the use of metal detectors, at the prom.

Together with the fact that the suicide rate in Indiana County has skyrocketed this year, the incident also helped spur the Suicide Task Force of Indiana County to hold a community forum, titled "Suicide, Adolescents and the Internet," last Thursday in the Indiana Area Junior High School auditorium.

The panel-led gathering was meant to inform parents and students about available services as well as the signs to look for in a person who may be at risk for suicide.

"Giving people information is power," said panelist Dr. Peter Hauber, psychiatrist and medical director of the Community Guidance Center of Indiana.

According to Dr. Ralph May, clinical psychologist and chief clinical officer with the Community Guidance Center, there already have been 10 suicides in Indiana County so far this year, although most were not adolescents.

Over the past 25 years, Indiana County typically has seen 10 suicides per year. Nine of the 10 usually are men, eight of them taking their lives with guns.

May explained the task force keeps a close eye on such patterns of suicide and brings them to the public's attention in hopes of preventing further self-inflicted deaths. He said a similar forum was held in 1989 after the county saw a spike in suicides among adolescents.

"After that, we saw a drop. I'd like to believe that when you raise community awareness, it can make a real difference," he said.

The Armstrong-Indiana Mental Health/Mental Retardation Program is just one of the sources of help available to troubled teens in the county. Emergency services also are available through the suicide task force 24 hours a day.

Joe Bujdos, mental health director of the Mental Health/Mental Retardation Program, acknowledged, "We don't know exactly what people are going to do under duress."

But panel members discussed some behavior and statements that can be warning signs of a suicide risk.

Signs cited by Hauber include self-mutilation, "recreational misadventures" such as huffing and asphyxiation, and other forms of self-abuse.

Sadly, though, according to May, 20 percent of suicide victims show no signs or give no warnings that they are at risk.

According to Courtney Hankinson, crisis hotline coordinator for The Open Door counseling center, three telltale words are "hopeless," "helpless" and "worthless."

"These are the generalized thoughts and feelings that you're listening for," she said.

Should anyone feel that someone they are close to is feeling any of those three emotions, the best thing to do is confront them, Hankinson said. "Tell them, 'I'm concerned about you. I want to know, are you thinking about killing yourself?'

"You have to ask that question, but it's very difficult."

May said there is a misconception that bringing up the subject of suicide will encourage someone who has suicidal tendencies to go through with the act.

If the person admits having suicidal thoughts, there are several steps one needs to take, Hankinson said.

"Don't act shocked or dare them to do it," she said, also advising against arguing with the person or being judgmental.

Hankinson said the person should be taken seriously and should be encouraged to verbalize his feelings and thoughts. "Let them know that you're concerned and that you care," she said.

The next step, she said, is to ask how the person plans on killing himself and how far he's gone with the plan.

"You could be sitting there talking to somebody and they've already ingested the pills," she noted. …

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