September 8-14, 2013 is national suicide prevention week. In light of the relationship between suicide and trauma, strategies to prevent suicide must be aimed at healing trauma. While trauma symptoms are categorized as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), there is more to PTSD than emotional stress. The effects of trauma are experienced physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritual. The accumulation of symptoms, including feelings of inner emptiness, can cause relationships to fail and make the life of someone who has experienced trauma seem unbearable and not worth living. Many turn to alcohol and drugs in an effort to numb their intense suffering. When these attempts no longer work, suicide can seem like the only way out of the constant misery.
When working with someone who appears to be contemplating suicide it is important to
1) Do a reality check.
While children of all ages have some concept of death those concepts may not be clearly developed. Helpful reality checking questions can be:
· What is dead?
· What is it like to be dead?
· How long is dead?
2) Explore options
It is also important to recognize that when someone is under a great amount of stress, or when they are triggered back to a past trauma, the hippocampus in the mid brain may become impaired. Since the hippocampus does much of its processing through the brain’s left hemisphere, functions of the left hemisphere may also be interfered with, causing the traumatized person to experience difficulties with judgment, decision -making and logical thinking. An important beginning question that can help you assist such a person in thinking the situation through and in exploring other options is:
· How will suicide make your situation better?
3) Secure hope
A person who is contemplating suicide is feeling powerless to change the circumstances. One strategy I use to increase feelings of hope in the ability to change circumstances is to provide a disposable camera and have the person take picture of all the things that could be possible signs of hope. When the pictures are printed the person uses them to create a collage. These externalized signs of hope can then act as a mirror reflecting that hope really does exist.
A question that can assist a suicidal person in exploring other options and in securing hope is:
· Where do you see yourself in a month, a year, and five years from now?
4) Provide information
During National Suicide Prevention Week some of you will be presenting information on suicide. Many in your audiences may be attending in hope of receiving the help they are seeking.
I suggest that in a presentation on suicide prevention you include:
1) Information on how trauma affects the body, mind, emotion, and spirit.
2) Skills to assist a traumatized person to reclaim personal power.
3) Basic strategies to help a traumatized person heal from the effects of trauma.
4) Specific questions to have someone at risk of suicide ponder.
5) Information on how a person who is feeling suicidal can receive more help.