Living in the river towns we are affected more often than most with suicidal people threatening to or actually jumping off the Tappan Zee, a popular bridge for jumpers because it is high, the water is deep and rushing, and the guard rails are low.
The signs on the bridge instructing people to call a toll-free number if they feel suicidal has not helped matters, and from what I have heard, there have been few, if any, calls to the hotline.
Our communities have again felt the impact of suicide. On September 5, a 24-year old Connecticut woman jumped to her death from the Tappan Zee Bridge. Several weeks ago a young woman, just out of Dobbs Ferry High School, on her second day at Columbia University, jumped to her death at the school. Only three years ago an Irvington man killed himself while attending school at NYU.
[blockquote class=blue]In these high-achieving, affluent suburbs, kids often feel they must succeed at everything or be a disappointment to their families.[/blockquote]
There is no doubt that young people today feel a lot of pressure. College admissions have become more competitive, and then the adjustment from a small school district to a large university can cause stress. The economy is in a bad place and many kids are afraid they won’t find jobs when they graduate. In these high-achieving, affluent suburbs, kids often feel they must succeed at everything or be a disappointment to their families. It is not unusual for those who feel such despair that they think about suicide, to be high achievers, or even valedictorians, like the young lady who took her own life in early September. But even if they feel terrible pressure, there is obviously a bigger problem if they feel that suicide is the only answer. Sometimes underlying mental illness such as depression, panic disorder, or even more rare and more serious issues like psychosis, may push someone to the edge. Sometimes the end of a college or high school romance is too much for a young person to handle on top of the other pressures he is feeling. A bad grade can send a youngster into a spiral if school has always come easily. Whatever the cause, it is enough of a problem that we can’t ignore it.
[blockquote class=blue]I know it is hard to want help, find the strength to ask for it, or have the confidence or optimism that it can work when a person feels so hopeless, but it’s important to seek help…[/blockquote]
There is help for people who feel such despair. I know it is hard to want help, find the strength to ask for it, or have the confidence or optimism that it can work when a person feels so hopeless, but it’s important to seek help, because as the cliché goes, suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. There are very few problems we have in our lives that can’t be solved. Suicide doesn’t solve the problem, it only makes more problems for the people left behind. How can these families go on, having a child who committed suicide? How will their friends move ahead with their lives? What about siblings, who may have to deal with survivor guilt, or worry that a typical sibling argument or normally friendly competition pushed a loved one over the edge?
What are the signs that someone might be suicidal? Obviously if you see a lot of depressive symptoms—sadness, crying, sleeping or eating a lot more or less than usual, or not getting enjoyment out of things anymore—this is a sign that must be investigated. Many people are depressed without suicidal thoughts or intentions, but any signs of depression must be discussed with a qualified therapist or medical professional to get guidance on treatment. Often people considering suicide give things away to loved ones. If you see someone giving away things that he cares about, things that previously had value, you should be concerned. People who are depressed often isolate themselves from others, so if you see a loved one hiding away, not socializing, not returning calls or leaning on friends and family, reach out and see what might be the problem.
Westchester has many psychologists and clinical social workers to provide psychotherapy, as well as a multitude of psychiatrists and nurse practitioners who can prescribe medication if need be. In my suite alone there are about a dozen of us, some full-time, some part-time, with various specialties, but all qualified professionals who can diagnose and treat depression. Our region has excellent hospitals for both inpatient treatment, if a person is a threat to herself due to suicidal feelings, or intensive outpatient services when an hour or two a week of therapy is not enough, but 24-hour care is not necessary. The County also has a crisis team run through St. Vincent’s hospital in Harrison (Phone #: 925-5959), and while the team can’t help everyone or do everything, they will respond to emergencies, or put you in contact with the correct agency. When trying to hospitalize someone in a crisis, the team will cut through some of the red tape before you arrive at the emergency room, so that the admission can be quicker.
What is important is to get help as soon as possible, so that the problems can be addressed with alternatives to suicide or self-harm. Everyone feels sad sometimes, and many people grapple with clinically significant depression due to overwhelming life events, biological predisposition to mood disorders, or other reasons, but the treatment out there is excellent, and it is successful in most cases. Many people who have felt suicidal or wished they would die in their sleep so as not to face a new day, have come out the other side through treatment, changes in life circumstance, learning new coping skills, or finding a medication that addresses flaws in the brain chemistry. Suicide does nothing but stop a life from continuing on.
My heart goes out to the families of the young people who have felt such despair that they saw no other solution but to take their lives. Hug your loved ones, be grateful for their presence, and if you sense any problems, reach out for help. With the new school year starting, some kids may feel a whole new slew of pressures, both academic and social. Keep an eye out for anything that seems abnormal, and communicate as need be to remain on top of what is happening within your family. Help is out there.
[blockquote class=blue]Barbara Kapetanakes, Psy.D., practices child, adult, and family psychotherapy in Sleepy Hollow.[/blockquote]