Thursday, May 17th, Pomegranate Health Systems co-sponsored the OSPF (Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation) conference, ‘Restoring Hope-For Survivors of Suicide Loss’ held at Daymar College in Chillicothe. The keynote presentation was by John (Jack) R. Jordan, PhD, a nationally known expert in loss and bereavement and founder of the Family Loss Project.
Dr. Jordan is a licensed psychologist in Wellesley, MA and Pawtucket, RI. He is also the Clinical Consultant for Grief Support Services of the Samaritans in Boston, and Professional Advisor to the Survivor Council of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSAP). He is co-author of After Suicide Loss: Coping with Your Grief and Grief After Suicide: Understanding the Consequences and Caring for the Survivors.
Dr. Jordan’s presentation was followed by a panel discussion for parents who have lost children to suicide, and survivors of siblings and spouses. The afternoon break-out sessions were led by Dr. Jordan-group session, Dr. Yvette Jackson- art therapy, and Lisa Kincaide MT-BC music therapy with a closing memory ceremony. You can see the smiling faces of those who died by suicide on the memory quilt, and realize the tragedy of their loss.
The parents of teens who had died by suicide said it was likely their child was bipolar or in deep depression at the time. It is difficult to know if or when to act upon a child’s behaviors because it is easy to assume a teens mood swings, angst over school events, break-ups, infractions, fears, bullying, gender issues etc. are part of normal adolescent drama, or, as Dr. Jordan explained, ‘In adolescents, variability in mood makes it difficult to assess risk’. The other notable thing with adolescents is impulsivity; moods can cycle dramatically within a half hour.
The warning signs of suicide are listed on this convenient Mnemonic from the OSPF: “IS PATH WARM?” This stands for: ‘ideation, substance abuse, purposelessness, anxiety, trapped, hopelessness, withdrawal, anger, recklessness and mood change’. Dr. Jordan said the biggest reluctance [almost a cultural taboo] is asking the question, ‘Are you feeling suicidal?” Though each suicide ‘has a unique narrative’, it is ‘a permanent solution to a temporary problem’, an ‘attempt to escape from the pain for what is perceived as an unsolvable life crisis’.
Jordan explained that it is a ‘perfect storm of factors’ which combine to ‘cause suicide’. These include genetic factors, biological factors, personality, past experience, recent life stressors, lack of interpersonal connectedness, social issues, and opportunity/access to means. The wiring of a teen’s nervous system is affected by neuro-chemicals or brain chemistry- such as dramatic depletion of serotonin.
Society historically views ‘taking one’s life as a strange deviant act’, ‘someone from a dysfunctional family, but otherwise has nothing to do with the rest of us.’ This can make it challenging for survivors. ‘A lot of people who attempt are off the radar and not getting mental health assistance,’ according to Dr. Jordan. ‘There is no common narrative of why people kill themselves, and for survivors, there is the ‘tyranny of hindsight’. He stated, ‘Being suicidal is an altered state of consciousness accompanied by distorted thinking’.
The OSPF handout says, “A person in acute risk for suicidal behavior most often will show warning signs of acute risk. Those are: threatening to hurt or kill him or herself, or talking of wanting to hurt or kill him/herself; and/or looking for ways to kill him/herself by seeking access to firearms, available pills, or other means; and/or, talking about or writing about death, dying or suicide, when these actions are out of the ordinary. These might be remembered as expressed or communicated ideation. If observed, seek help as soon as possible by contacting a mental health professional (Netcare, a hospital ER, or by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for a referral.” Assess whether a teen has access to lethal means.
Pomegranate Health Systems acute hospital treats teens in crisis, typically over a short period stay of 3-10 days. A teen is usually referred by Netcare, Nationwide Children’s Hospital, an Ohio Health hospital, Mount Carmel provider, Ohio State University, a regional or community hospital within a 75-100 mile radius, or a counseling center. Upon arrival, the Pomegranate nursing staff meets with the teen and family for admissions. Each teen receives a private dorm room with bathroom, and 24-7 care and therapy regimen- including nursing care, individual therapy, group therapy, art therapy and treatment team meetings under supervision of a psychiatrist to help stabilize the crisis and begin to promote ‘hope, healing and resilience’, which is at the core of Pomegranate’s identity as a company.
See Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation http://www.ohiospf.org for more information. Also the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention http://www.afsp.org – which has all sorts of useful resources in its online directory. If you know of someone in crisis and may be considering suicide, visit: http://blog.samhsa.gov/2012/05/24/take-action-during-national-prevention-week-prevent-t… for more resources and information on their ‘What a Difference a Friend Makes’ campaign, and ‘It Gets Better’ YouTube project for LGBT youth.
[Photo credit: memory quilt for those whose loved ones died by suicide, Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation workshop]