Time to talk about suicide prevention

Kauai mourns again another young man who took his life recently. Yesterday, when I decided that it was time to discuss this topic in the Corner and was doing research, I found out that Sept. 7-13 was Suicide Prevention Week. I suffered from the thought that if only I might have known that then and written an article at that time he might still live.

And while it may be true, it is also an example of a common feeling that loved ones of suicide victims feel. They think, “If only I had paid more attention. Why wasn’t I there more for him/her? Why couldn’t he come to me for help from his pain?” The truth is that dark depression, and the feeling of being overwhelmed, clouds clear thinking.

According to www.mayoclinic.org, “People with depression appear to have physical changes in their brains. The significance of these changes is still uncertain, but may eventually help pinpoint causes.” Now they’re talking about that dark overwhelming depression, not the sadness we feel from time to time that we can process and recover from.

Our brains are bio-electro-chemical systems. Our thoughts are received and processed by a process that involves electricity and chemicals. “Neurotransmitters are naturally occurring brain chemicals that likely play a role in depression. Recent research indicates that changes in the function and effect of these neurotransmitters and how they interact with neurocircuits involved in maintaining mood stability may play a significant role in depression and its treatment.” (Mayo)

A car engine won’t work without lubricant, fuel, oxygen and coolant. If any one of these is missing, there will be a problem in how the engine works. If there is a problem in the neurotransmitters in the brain, there is a problem with how the brain works. So, very depressed people are not necessarily going to be able to think clearly. We must be compassionate and patient with them and help them feel safe and loved.

Neurotransmitters affect mood, appetite, anxiety, sleep, heart rate, temperature, aggression, fear and many other psychological and physical occurrences. Epinephrine is the “flight or fight” stress hormone, but it also acts as a neurotransmitter. What can cause neurotransmitters to go off? There are over several hundred different neurotransmitters that affect the brain and its function. They can be affected by drugs and alcohol, poor diet, a chronic state of sadness, illness, heredity, brain injury, a chronic state of stress and anxiety, shock (like the loss of a loved one or fortune), hormonal changes, sleep deprivation and more.

For example, Ecstasy causes the body to produce too much serotonin in the brain. It feels good while it is occurring, because serotonin regulates mood, sleep, appetite, and more. After one’s body produces the excess, it “causes the brain to become significantly depleted … contributing to the negative behavioral aftereffects that users often experience for several days after taking MDMA.” Other drugs and alcohol have similar effects on the brain. Recently, even taking too much Red Bull or energy drinks has shown to “cause heart problems, miscarriages, increased rate of alcohol injury and dependence, risk of drug abuse, and impaired cognition.”

I tell you this in the hopes that you won’t use drugs that can affect your mind and body in such a negative way. Also, eat right! Keep hydrated, get exercise and enough sleep. If you find that you are sad, try to process what need of yours isn’t being met. What are you missing in your life that you want? If you can’t work it out, get help. You may have a genetic disposition for depression.

The good news is that scientists have isolated certain neurotransmitters and their effects on the brain, and they can prescribe them. There’s never shame here. Take care of yourself and maybe you will one day be one of the best ones to help spot the signs of serious depression in others who need us to get them the help that they don’t know that they need.

This is something that Hawaiians must teach and learn. According to Gina Kaulukukui of Life’s Bridges, the agency that sends a person to all sudden and unexpected deaths on Kauai, Hawaii has the highest per capita suicides in the nation. About 12.8 percent of all high school students in Hawaii’s public Schools have attempted suicide.

It is well recognized that when teens have problems, they go to peers (same age friends) to talk. But Gina also teaches that teens should have one trusted adult to turn to in emergency whether it is a trusted aunty, coach, bus driver, friend’s parent, minister, etc. She suggests putting them as an important contact in their phones.

The good news is that most suicides are preventable. People learn that sometimes it’s just a “bad day” and not a bad life. There are many counselors and helpers available on Kauai to help a student handle the crisis that is making them feel so overwhelmed. There are processing (thinking) skills that can be learned. “Self soothing” and relaxing techniques can be taught to calm the mind until it is not as consumed by the emotions.

Gina is also the director of the Prevent Suicide Kauai Task Force. She can be reached at (808) 651-6637 and will come teach a class on suicide prevention whenever a group comes together and asks her to. She says there are three concrete steps to learn that might help us help others who are feeling overwhelming pain.

1. Know the suicide warning signs.

wTalking about wanting to die or to kill themselves.

wLooking for a way to kill themselves, such as searching online or buying a gun

wTalking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live.

wTalking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain.

wTalking about being a burden to others.

wIncreasing the use of alcohol or drugs.

wActing anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly.

wSleeping too little or too much.

wWithdrawing or isolating themselves.

wShowing rage or talking about seeking revenge.

wDisplaying extreme mood swings.

Gina added:

wTalking about giving away their valuable things

wSaying something like, “Tell my girlfriend I love her,” in a depressed way.

wSaying, “I just can’t go on,” or “I don’t want to go on anymore.”

Being happy after a long period of depression because sometimes that means that they have figured out their suicide plan.

2. If you hear or suspect these things, ask the question, “Are you thinking of killing yourself?”

She says that it is better to ask and have them say, “no,” than just ignore the situation. Gina stated no one likes to ask this question, but that asking it has saved many peoples’ lives. The more we get used to asking and hearing it, the easier it will become to ask it in a crisis.

3. Follow your gut

Even if they say “no,” but you just feel that they are considering it, tell their parents, or an older sibling, or someone you know who cares for them, and you can give them one of two crisis numbers below. You can offer to be with your friend when they call a hotline. Gina also suggests that you can use the crisis number on their behalf if they don’t call it. Make the call. Suicide prevention works.

The Hawaii State Department of Health has a 24-hour crisis hotline, with a specialty youth crisis hotline. The number is: 1-800-753-6879.

There is also a 24-hour National Suicide Prevention Hotline. That organization featured the suicide warning signs above. Its number is 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). They can also service the hearing and speech impaired with TTY Equipment: 1-800-799-488

Gina stated that many adolescents can take a lot of difficulty, but there will be one final straw that topples them over the edge. Talk to someone instead. If it’s a real crisis take the person to the Wilcox Memorial Hospital Emergency Department, and they will contact the right people, and care for the person.

There is a spiritual side to this, too. Once we can remove the clouds over the eyes, we can open to the vast amounts of love that are directed to us, from all over the place. Probably a billion people every day are praying or chanting for peace and health for our world and those in it. See if you can catch some of it. Maybe you’d like to join the party.

•••

Hale Opio Kauai convened a support group of adults in our Kauai community to “step into the corner” for our teens, to answer questions and give support to youth and their families on a wide variety of issues. Please email your questions or concerns facing our youth and families today to Annaleah Atkinson at aatkinson@haleopio.org. For more information about Hale ‘Opio Kaua’i and its services go to www.haleopio.org

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