Pin It

Pushing Prevention 

Talking about suicide is key after a string of deaths at local high schools

click to enlarge pills.jpg

Americans have trouble talking about death. Suicide, even more so. But preventing suicide begins with talking about it; knowing what to look for and initiating those tough conversations with loved ones when they're acting strange or seem unusually sad.

When is it time to ask if someone is contemplating killing themselves?

If someone seems depressed. If they frequently complain of physical pain. If they stop participating in things they enjoy. If they are giving away prized possessions.

"Look for significant changes in personality or attitude," says Sabrina Votava, Spokane Area Field Coordinator for the Youth Suicide Prevention Program. "You know the people you care about, and when they're acting weird, investigate what's going on."

Often, we're scared to ask, scared to touch on the taboo topic of suicide, like the mere mention might conjure it into existence. We shouldn't be, though.

"Asking 'Are you having thoughts of suicide?' is not going to put the idea in someone's head," says Votava.

It matters how you ask, however.

"Don't shut down the conversation by using judgmental language," says Frontier Behavioral Health Director of Crisis Response Staci Cornwell.

Asking, "You're not thinking about suicide, are you?" adds judgment and tends to elicit a "no" response.

"Ask openly. You don't have to feel comfortable," says Votava. And if the answer is yes? Then there are professionals available who have experience dealing with this sort of thing. Frontier Behavioral Health's services are free and available 24 hours a day.

As Spokane schools increase counseling resources and host community forums, Canadian mental health researcher Ian Colman says it is important that these efforts continue in coming months and years.

"We followed the kids every two years, and we found that if they had had a suicide in their school, they are more likely to be thinking about suicide two years later," says Colman.

Locking up guns and prescription medications can help, too. Last year, 54 of the 91 suicides in Spokane County involved a firearm, according to the medical examiner's office.

For her part, Votava went to work in suicide prevention after two of her brothers took their own lives over the span of six months.

"Twelve years ago we did not know about 'contagion,'" says Votava. "We just weren't aware. Now we know everyone has a part they can play. By being aware and getting past concerns about not wanting to make it worse, or uncomfortable, or awkward."

Suicide is contagious, especially among teens. Stories spread through high school hallways and shrines, and memorials and social media posts romanticize death, often making the deceased seem larger in death than they were in life. In his research, Colman examined more than 22,000 teens and found that those who had lost a peer to suicide were more likely to experience suicidal thoughts and ideations.

It's not just the students closest to the person who committed suicide who are at risk, either, Colman says. School- and community-wide programs are essential.

In Spokane, schools and mental health workers are echoing this model, striving to reach out to the entire community. It appears to be working — teens are talking. In April, 200 teens called the Frontier Behavioral Health crisis line. That's twice as many as in a typical month. Just one week into May, the line already had received 100 calls. ♦

First Call For Help: 509-838-4428

National Suicide Prevention Line: 1-800-273-8255

Tags: ,

  • Pin It

Speaking of Education

  • 'Seek and Destroy'
  • 'Seek and Destroy'

    In his final days as state superintendent of public instruction, Randy Dorn keeps shouting on behalf of schools. Has anyone listened?
    • Aug 18, 2016
  • The Ripple Effect
  • The Ripple Effect

    Education: WSU looks to take full advantage of the new medical school opening in Spokane
    • Aug 1, 2016
  • Too Smart for School
  • Too Smart for School

    What happens when a 12-year-old prodigy tries to go to college in Spokane?
    • Jun 30, 2016
  • More »

Latest in News

  • Token Democracy
  • Token Democracy

    Would letting Washington voters give taxpayer money to politicians reduce the power of interest groups — or just subsidize politicians?
    • Oct 20, 2016

    Breaking down some of the issues you'll get to vote on this year
    • Oct 20, 2016
  • Shea's World
  • Shea's World

    As Matt Shea seeks re-election, his presence may be felt more in other local races than in his own
    • Oct 20, 2016
  • More »


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Today | Mon | Tue | Wed | Thu | Fri | Sat
Bodies Human: Anatomy in Motion

Bodies Human: Anatomy in Motion @ Mobius Science Center

Tuesdays-Sundays. Continues through Dec. 31

All of today's events | Staff Picks

More by Lael Henterly

Most Commented On

  • The Do-Over

    After failing to pass a bus service tax hike last year, Spokane Transit Authority has a plan to get you to vote for it again
    • Oct 6, 2016
  • Pants on Fire

    U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers can't see the forest for the trees when it comes to climate change
    • Oct 6, 2016
  • More »

Top Tags in
News & Comment

election 2016


green zone


trail mix

Readers also liked…

  • The Price of Progress
  • The Price of Progress

    Why the Spokane Tribe says it's still owed for Grand Coulee Dam
    • Apr 1, 2015
  • Don't Test Me
  • Don't Test Me

    The Smarter Balanced standardized test has sparked a rebellion in Western Washington — and it's spreading
    • Apr 15, 2015

© 2016 Inlander
Website powered by Foundation