“Being there” for children critical to suicie prevention

Enjoy this article posted in the Carroll News on November 27, 2019

One of the many important messages shared during a Parent-Connect workshop held on November 19 at Carroll County Middle School was sometimes adolescents need us to listen to understand before we get them resources they need. This is critical because help creates hope.

Tri-Area Community Health Services Behavioral Health Director Dr. Joshua Bradley and Clinical Psychologist Dr. Anna Vandevender-Wright were the keynote speakers for the evening, which first focused on suicide prevention. Suicide among ages 10 to 34 is the second-leading cause of death in the United States.

“I want to start with a personal story of why this is important to me….My grandfather suicided so I never got to know him. That impacted my life before I was really around,” began Bradley. “I didn’t find this out until I was an adolescent when my parents shared that with me. When I was 16 years old, my uncle suicided and he struggled with bi-polar disorder and substance abuse for many years. I share this because it’s an important topic to me.”

Bradley said if someone has hope they are less likely to attempt suicide and when hopelessness increases or they can’t see past that moment or the possibility for better things in the future, that’s when suicide rates and chance of an attempt increases.

“You don’t have to be a psychologist or a counselor or a physician or a nurse practitioner to make a difference and to prevent suicide,” Bradley said. “Here in Carroll County, just like most of the counties in Southwest Virginia…we have very few resources when it comes to mental health providers.”

The two work at Community Health in Laurel Fork. Community Health Services in Floyd also has licensed psychologists and licensed clinical social workers. (Patients would have to be established in either of the practices and be seeing a medical provider there to see them because of the firms’ integrated care approach for holistic care. )

Bradley said talking about suicide will not cause someone to consider suicide and most suicides do not occur suddenly without warning. He said people who think about suicide are not insane.

“It is something most people at some point in their life will cross their mind. How far it goes and how seriously they consider that is a different variation and has a whole host of other factors that contribute to that,” Bradley said. “It is a myth that once a person thinks of suicide they will always think of it. These moments pass. Especially if it is something stressing in the moment but then improves.”

He said it is a myth that people who threaten suicide are just seeking attention and any report of seeking suicide should be taken seriously because if a person is talking about this, it indicates something wrong and deserves attention. He said studies indicate the more adverse experiences (risk factors) an individual has in their first 18 years of life, the greater chance it leads to chronic health problems. Among risk factors for adolescents is the experience of loss, rejection, physical or sexual violence or witnessing violence.

“To them (adolescents), a relationship may feel like the most important one they have. Their brains are still developing and will be up into their early- to mid-twenties. It’s hard for them to see and understand that. Even though we might see it in one way they might see it quite differently. What we do in this situation is join with them. Not say it will be alright. To them they feel like we don’t get it. We don’t understand,” Bradley said. “Really try to be there…listen to them…try to join with them in whatever they are saying. That’s one of the most important things we can do. There’s been many a country song written about sometimes you just need to listen and not fix it. Sometimes you just have to be there.”

Wright introduced participants to the “ALGEE” approach and signs and “conversation starters” for adults to pay attention to, which may be indicators of suicidal thoughts. ALGEE stands for Assess the risk, Listen nonjudgmentally, Give reassurance, Encourage appropriate professional help and Encourage self-help and support strategies. (These steps don’t have to go in an exact order so proceed in the order which makes sense for a given situation.)

“Know the baseline of your kid or your student. Noticing if there is any particular change in their behavior or performance in school or work,” said Wright. “One thing, which an unusual thing to pick up on, is if you have a child or adolescent complaining of physical concerns and there is not a clear cause sometimes that can be a sign something is going on which is more emotional. There could be something underneath that stomach ache or headache as well.”

Wright told participants asking if someone is suicidal shows you care and want to help and is critical to assessing the risk of suicide or harm. If you think the person is in danger because they have a plan and are ready to carry it out, call 911 and keep them safe by staying with them or finding someone who can until help arrives.

“Researching ways to end one’s life is something to be on the lookout for in kids and adults. Kids making statements about you’re not going to miss me when I’m gone….I won’t bother you any more when I’m gone. Those are big statements for a young person to make. Being able to check that out and see what’s contributing to that is really important.”

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 by calling 1-800-273-8255. Locally, Mt. Rogers Community Service Board offers a crisis hotline that provides 24/7 empathy and support at 866-589-0265. Tri-Area’s clinic in Laurel Fork can be reached at 276-398-2292.

“It there are thoughts of suicide….no plan and no intent or even a plan but no attempt to act on it…that’s a different ballgame. What I mean by listening nonjudgmentally is it is not a time to debate philosophies on life or politics. It’s about being there with that person. Hearing what’s going on…trying to understand what that person is going through, even if it doesn’t make sense with your world view,” Wright said. “It’s being a human being with them. Trying to understand what’s going on. Remind them things can get better. We all have days where we aren’t having the most fun in our lives. Those can pass if we support each other and help each other get through that.”

David Broyles may be reached at 276-779-4013 or on Twitter@CarrollNewsDave