Vail Valley: Understanding the myths about suicide |

Vail Valley: Understanding the myths about suicide

Dr. Henry Goetze
Special to the Daily
Vail, CO Colorado

VAIL, Colorado –The statistics are as grim as the reality – the death of someone by their own hand devastates family, friends, and reverberates throughout an entire community like Colorado’s Vail Valley.

Suicide is the third most common cause of death in our young, right behind accidents and homicide. There are many reasons why we do not deal more effectively with this tragedy, and much of that has to do with common myths and misunderstandings about suicide.

Those who commit suicide most often talk about it. Talking about it is not just a “cry for help,” it is an acknowledgment of a desperate thought pattern which often precedes an attempt.

When we look back on those that have taken their own lives, there are often warning signs and indications of the person’s intention. We do not instill in others suicidal thoughts simply by asking about whether someone we care about and love has thought about it. Asking a person about suicidal thoughts opens up a dialogue and can be an important step in saving a life.

Talking about it is clearly a preventative measure. The listener needs to determine if there is suicidal intent, a plan and access to the means to kill oneself. If those three factors are present, the person should not be left alone and help should be called immediately – call the police, notify an authority (like the principal), take the person to the emergency room and stay with the person until a plan for care and treatment can be worked out.

The risk factors for suicide include prior attempts, a family history of suicide or violence, a history of depression or other mental illness, alcohol and/or drug abuse, and feelings of isolation or loneliness. Warning signs often precede an attempt.

Precursors to suicidal behavior usually include changes in personality, social withdrawal, substance abuse, giving away prized possessions or no longer caring about activities and a significant loss.

Pay attention to serious notes and drawings which make reference to death and violence. These days many suicidal youngsters will write on blogs or Facebook and MySpace pages about their level of desperation. Reckless behaviors, motor vehicle accidents and self inflicted injuries are often explained away as accidents, but often these events are preceded by suicidal thoughts and intention.

Access to means to commit suicide is an area that parents can control to help minimize the risk. We need to be aware of how easily firearms, alcohol, prescription drugs and the family car can be obtained by our family members, particularly when there is depression present. Reducing access to means is a very important component of prevention.

Another notion that is sometimes responsible for inactivity is a belief that If someone really wants to commit suicide, they will find a way to do it. This common misunderstanding fails to recognize that people who are suicidal are seldom absolutely determined to do it, and have changeable and ambivalent emotions about living.

Most people who attempt suicide and survive report being grateful for another chance at life. The act itself is often impulsive and not well thought out, but occurs at the junction of desperation and opportunity. Those in the throes of unbearable physical or psychological pain experience a sort of tunnel vision, which prevents them from having an awareness of any solution or alternative. It is this absence of hope which most often will trigger the suicidal behavior in an attempt to escape pain.

This is where proper evaluation and treatment is so important. It is vital that we do not minimize or ignore the hints of suicidal tendencies.

We must be willing to risk being wrong and overcome our fear of overstepping bounds, and insist that the person we care about is not left alone. An often used therapeutic technique is to employ a “no suicide pact,” in which the individual makes an explicit contract to not harm themselves, and is given an array of options to call for help if suicidal thoughts should return.

Therapeutic interventions begin with the reestablishment of some hope in the person’s life. Through counseling and, if appropriate, the proper use of medications, the suicidal person begins to re-experience a belief in feeling better.

We must be mindful that certain medications have been implicated in actually increasing the occurrence of suicidal thinking in young patients and require careful monitoring. Our community has resources such as the Samaritan Center, Colorado West and a wide array of private licensed mental health practitioners who can assess someone at risk, and begin the road back to a healthy psychological state.

Dr. Henry Goetze is a licensed psychologist with a private practice in Avon. Visit his Web site at

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