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Living Lessons From

Heywood Suicides

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For some, life has lead them to despair. Image by Sander Van der Wel and used under the terms of a Creative Commons license.
Those Who Are At The Point Where They Consider Taking Their Own Lives Can Be Helped With Counseling And Care

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By Laura Larson-Huffaker
Special for Modern Times Magazine

Jan. 17, 2012 — In the wake of the suicide deaths of Bill and Susan Heywood, many people are struggling to understand how seemingly successful people would choose to end their lives by suicide. People wonder if warning signs were missed, and because suicide appears to strike so randomly, people feel vulnerable to losing someone they care about to suicide.

According to the Center for Disease Control, in Arizona there is an average of 11 suicides every 5 days.


The number of suicides in Arizona is double the number of homicides, and the highest risk groups include older adults, veterans, and teens. It’s hard to find someone who doesn’t know someone who has died by suicide, whether that is a family member, friend, schoolmate, or a public figure like Bill Heywood.

Many people believe suicide is a selfish act, and deplore the pain that someone who dies by suicide imparts on the family members and friends left behind. Grieving someone lost to suicide is complex, because it not only involves losing someone suddenly and without warning, but also involves anger that the person did this, and guilt that maybe something could’ve been done to prevent this. The truth is that most people who die by suicide aren’t acting on selfish motives. In fact, many genuinely believe that the world would be better off without them, and that their death is better for everyone.

These kinds of feelings may start as fleeting thoughts (“No one cares about me….they would be happier if I was gone…”) but eventually these thoughts become all-consuming. Death becomes the only answer that a person sees, and other viable options to problems become outside the field of vision. A kind of tunnel vision sets in and a person may fixate on the idea of suicide. A person in this state of mind needs immediate assistance.

Calling a crisis line allows a person to talk to a third party who is not in crisis, who can help in finding positive solutions and options. Most people who are suicidal do give out warning signs. Some common warning signs include:
• Talking about killing oneself or wanting to die
• Giving away possessions
• Loss of interest in most activities
• Isolating or withdrawing from friends and family
• Feelings of hopelessness or helplessness
• Feelings of being a burden on loved ones or society
• Previous suicide attempt or family history of suicide
• Increasing use of substances or other reckless behavior

Many people believe that if someone really wants to kill him/herself there’s nothing that anyone can do about it. This is not true in most cases. People who are feeling suicidal act on it because they are in pain and they want it to end. They don’t necessarily want to be dead, but they can’t see any other way out. A person in this state can be helped, but first they have to be kept safe to prevent a suicide attempt. Helping a person who is suicidal can involve several steps:
• Calling 911 if there is imminent danger
• Calling a crisis hotline with the person (480) 784-1500 or 1-800-273-8255(TALK)
• Removing readily available means of harm such as guns, knives or medications
• Staying with the person until they get help
• Getting the person to agree to see a psychiatrist, counselor or to go to the emergency room
• Contacting family members and alerting them (even if the person asks you not to)
• Getting them to agree not to attempt to kill or harm themselves without first calling a crisis line

It is very easy to get caught up in our daily lives and to not notice that people we know are not doing well. La Frontera Arizona/EMPACT-Suicide Prevention Center created a campaign called, “Reach out. Check in. Save a Life.” This is a call to action to everyone who cares about anyone. It only takes a few minutes to check in with a co-worker, family member or friend. You never know when your call might be the one that brings someone out of a downward spiral. If you don’t reach out to people, you will not be available to see the warning signs. If you don’t see the warning signs, you won’t be able to prevent the suicide.

Laura Larson-Huffaker is the Executive Director of La Frontera/EMPACT-Suicide Prevention Center. Visit their website at www.empact-spc.com.
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