More than statistics and studies: This is someone’s life

Editor’s note: This is the second installment of an interview with Jason Bombard, DO, psychiatrist and Specialty Medical Director – Behavioral Health for Aspirus on the topic of how to support someone with suicidal thoughts or behaviors.

Oregon Online Counseling’s website asks: “Why isn’t suicide talked about more in our society?” The website answers its own question with: “It’s because of the stigma around mental health.”

The website goes on to state that the stigma surrounding mental illness is one of them, adding that stigmas about mental health often include attitudes toward mental illness.

If that sounds confusing, that is because it is. The Taylor Counseling Group clarifies Oregon Online Counseling website’s statements by saying:

“The terms ‘mental health’ and ‘mental illness’ are sometimes interchanged, but they differ in meaning. While mental health refers to anyone’s state of mental, emotional well-being, mental illnesses are diagnosed conditions that affect thoughts and behaviors. Though anyone can have moments of poor mental health, not everyone has a mental illness.”

An article published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health titled Epidemiology of Suicide and Psychiatric Perspective, states:

“The majority of suicides worldwide are related to psychiatric diseases. Among those, depression, substance use, and psychosis constitute the most relevant risk factors, but also anxiety, personality-, eating- and trauma-related disorders as well as organic mental disorders significantly add to unnatural causes of death compared to the general population.”

The article provides an impressive number of statistics such as: “According to the WHO (World Health Organization), in 2015, about 800,000 suicides were documented worldwide, and globally 78% of all completed suicides occur in low- and middle-income countries. Overall, suicides account for 1.4% of premature deaths worldwide.”

But to anyone who has suffered the loss of a friend or family member to suicide — to those who have survived an attempt at ending their own life, to those who are contemplating suicide, the topic is not about scientific studies, statistics, facts and figures; It is a personal, painful subject filled with intense feelings, fears and emotions that statistics and facts and figures do not address.

To Jason Bombard, DO, psychiatrist and Specialty Medical Director – Behavioral Health for Aspirus, statistics are important, but issues involving suicide are personal and very real, immediate and human for those touched by suicide.

Very few people really want to die, he said.

“For the vast majority of people who do harm themselves that way,” said Bombard, “it is that they are in such pain that nothing else seems a possible solution. Very few people really want to die. They just don’t want to feel the way they feel anymore.”

An article published in The New Yorker on Oct. 13, 2003, titled “Jumpers: The fatal grandeur of the Golden Gate Bridge,” supported Bombard’s statement before he said it. The article said that survivors often regret their decision in midair, if not before. Ken Baldwin and Kevin Hines both survived the jump from the bridge.

In Aug. 1985, Baldwin, who was married, had made the decision to commit suicide by jumping from the bridge.

“I still see my hands coming off the railing,” the article quoted him as saying. As he fell past the 32-inch chord intended to stop people from jumping, Baldwin recalled: “I instantly realized that everything in my life that I’d thought was unfixable was totally fixable–except for having just jumped.”

Hines was just 18 years old when he made the decision to jump. The article states that he paced back and forth, sobbing on the bridge walkway for half an hour. No one asked him what was wrong.

A beautiful German tourist approached, handed him her camera, and asked him to take her picture, which he did, he recounted. “I was like … nobody cares,'” he told me (article author, Tad Friend). “So I jumped.” But after he crossed the chord, he recalls, “My first thought was ‘What the (expletive) did I just do? I don’t want to die.”

Hines’ 2003 interview, in which he proclaimed nobody cares comes back to what Bombard’s earlier statement, in which he said suicide is preventable; “it doesn’t require special training to help out a loved one in a meaningful way.”

Bombard said the important thing to make the person suffering with thoughts of self-harm that they are not alone and that there is actually hope for improvement.

“Letting them know that there is hope; letting them know that we can make this better — ‘I’m here for you; I will help you through this,’ can be hugely helpful for a person.”

“At that point when they do make that decision, they feel like there is nothing left, there is nothing to hold on to anymore, and because of that, they see this as the only option.”

Houghton/Keweenaw Communities That Care (CTC) provides the following information:

• Dial Help is the Upper Peninsula-wide crisis center and can be reached by calling: 906-482-HELP (906-482-4357); or texting 35NEEDS (906-356-3337) or visiting DialHelp.org.

• The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number is 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255). If some you know is nervous about contacting a crisis line, offer to sit with them while they do.

•If you feel that someone is in IMMEDIATE danger of killing themselves, take them to the hospital or contact the police for assistance.

• Dial 988. 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline

The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline is a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in the United States. The network is dedicated to improving crisis services and advancing suicide prevention by empowering individuals, advancing professional best practices and building awareness.


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