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Teaming up to stop suicide

Watch for warning signs

The American Association of Suicidology reports that the risk factors for suicide remain essentially the same around the globe: Mental illness, substance abuse, previous suicide attempts, hopelessness, access to lethal means, recent loss of loved ones, unemployment and vulnerability to self-harm.

Protective factors that buffer people from suicidal behaviors are also the same in all corners of the world: High self-esteem, social connectedness, problem-solving skills, and supportive family and friends.

These warning signs of an individual experiencing an emotional crisis are listed by the National Council for Suicide Prevention:

• Depression or apathy that interferes with obligation or participating in social activities;

• Lack of coping skills around day-to-day problems or extreme reactions to certain situations;

• Extreme highs that may include rushed thoughts, bursts of energy, sleeplessness and compulsive behavior (like excessive spending or promiscuous sexuality);

• Severe anxiety or stress

• Constant feelings of sadness or hopelessness;

• Increased use of alcohol or drugs Change in sleeping patterns (too much/little);

• Change in weight or appetite Loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities;

• Withdrawal from family and friends;

• Fatigue or loss of energy Feelings of worthlessness, self-reproach or guilt;

• Statements such as “Life isn’t worth living,” “Nobody understands me -- nobody feels the way I do,” or “I just can’t deal with everything -- life’s too hard:”

• Getting affairs in order (paying off debts, changing a will);

• Giving away articles of either personal or monetary value ;

• Obtaining a weapon;

• Speaking and/or moving with unusual speed or slowness;

• Neglecting physical heath

If you or someone you love is at risk, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifetime at 1-800-273-TALK or access www.suicidepreven...

Suicide has long been an uncomfortable topic of discussion because of the pain, fear and confusion surrounding it, but Susan Gabay of Mosier believes that difficult conversation is necessary to save lives.

“You don’t know what a difference you might make by reaching out to someone at just the right time,” she said.

Suicide is the eighth leading cause of death in Oregon — one person takes their life every 12 hours — and Gabay is on a mission to help people take steps to turn that trend around.

“More than five times as many people in Oregon die by suicide than by homicide,” she said. “It’s one of those chronic diseases that is preventable if we can get the word out and get the right approach.”

September is National Suicide Prevention Month and Gabay is working with a committee of community members and mental health professionals on several events to raise public awareness about the issue.

“We aren’t afraid, as a society, to focus on the warning signs for heart disease and stroke and we need to be just as unafraid of teaching people about the warning signs for suicide,” she said.

On Sunday, Sept. 10, which is World Suicide Prevention Day, people are asked to light a candle near a household or business window at 8 p.m. This symbolic gesture remembers those lost and pays respect to the families left behind.

Gabay survived the death of her daughter, Susanna Blake Gabay, to suicide on May 6, 2010, from a severe depression that stemmed from a chemical imbalance.

Now that Susan has retired from a 40-year career with the Department of Human Services, she is dedicating her full attention towards helping troubled individuals and their families avoid tragedy.

The need for intervention is great, said Gabay, because suicides across the nation are on the increase.

“There are things that anybody can do,” she said. “There is a suicide in the world every 40 seconds and for each completed suicide, there are 10 to 20 attempts. Most people don’t really want to die, they just don’t see any way out and maybe you can divert them long enough for them to get past the immediate crisis.”

On Monday, Sept. 11, Gabay and mental health professionals will host a community conversation about the warning signs of a person considering suicide and what can be done to help in a moment of crisis. The forum takes place from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at The Dalles-Wasco County Library, 722 Court Street.

“We want to be able to reach out to people and support them immediately,” said Gabay, who is preparing a resource list that will be available and distributed soon in the community.

On Thursday, Sept 14, she invites teens to a prevention workshop from 4 to 6 p.m. at the library. Pizza will be served and evidence-based curriculum used to provide education about identifying depression and learning to see the red flags when a peer is contemplating suicide.

Parents many times don’t want to think their child is having problems serious enough to lead to suicide, said Gabay, but being able to recognize red flags can stop a heartache from happening.

“No family is immune to this,” she said.

Be bold in your discussion, said Gabay. Don’t beat around the bush, just ask “Are you considering suicide?”

She said people need to be nonjudgmental and supportive if the person says “Yes” to that question.

Listen to their reasons for being in emotional pain and then help them focus on their reasons for living, without imposing your will on them.

Help them see that there is hope and they are going to get through a temporary situation, that things will get better.

She recommends that area residents interested in doing more to save lives access the website save.org, which is a treasure-trove of information.

Gabay is a strong supporter of the Blue Zones project to help The Dalles build a physically, emotionally and mentally strong community.

She heartily agrees with Blue Zones that a sense of well-being and living with purpose gives people a reason to keep going during times of crisis.

“I’m excited about the potential for The Dalles,” she said. “The connectedness we can provide to people is super important.”

Suicide rates are higher for men than for women by a factor of 3.5 to 1.

The elderly are at-risk, said Gabay, because they often feel isolated because they are not involved with school or work anymore.

She said social media can create the same sense of disconnection because friendships take place long-distance instead of up close and personal.

“How much face-to-face contact do we have with people now?” she asked.

The theme for the 2017 World Suicide Prevention Month is “Take a minute, save a life,” and Gabay said that is exactly how it can work if people aren’t afraid to step in when they notice a problem.

“In my perfect world, we would all be checking in on each other,” she said.

Because mental illness plays a big role in many suicides, Gabay helped found the Columbia Gorge affiliate of NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Oregon, which meets each month in both Hood River and The Dalles.

The group gathers at 10 a.m. the fourth Saturday at the Hood River County Library, 502 State Street.

On the first Thursday, the group meets at 6 p.m. at One Community Health at the corner of 10th and Webber streets in The Dalles. “People come to us with an adult son or daughter in their 20s or 30s who can be diagnosed, undiagnosed, medicated, unmedicated, on drugs, off drugs and often fighting with their caregiver,” she said.

By learning to listen, empathize, and find someplace to agree on, Gabay said progress can be made toward a workable plan.

For example, she said the individual with a mental health challenge might be refusing to take his or her medication because it bogs them down, but also refuse to be hospitalized to regain stability.

“You can agree that you don’t want them to go back to the hospital either,” she said.

“Then you can ask, ‘What can we do?” to start creating a plan. That allows you to raise the issue that taking meds could keep him or her out of the hospital, and that might start a dialogue about how new meds are being developed and how dosages can be adjusted to not impair him or her.”

The bottom line, said Gabay, is that “We’ve just got to keep trying.”

For more information about any of these programs, Gabay can be reached at 541-478-3576 or via email at susanbgabay@gmail.com.

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