NEW YORK—Suicide. It can be a difficult word to hear.
A conversation about how to broach the subject with those considering ending their lives took place at Bronx Community College (BCC) Tuesday.
Although college is a social environment, students are under unique pressures there.
“Students feel they can’t live up to the expectations that they have, or their parents have, or their professors have for them,” said Esther Levy, a clinical and social worker with BCC’s Psychological Services, adding that most students are also under financial pressure these days.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death for college students, according to the Samaritans of New York.
While the conversation centered on students, all New Yorkers are likely facing similar pressures in the fast-paced city and lean economic times, according to panelists.
About 500 suicides are committed in New York City every year, according to the city’s Department of Health.
Suicide itself is a word that people often avoid, said Ketsia Delarosa-Torres of New York Foundling. “This is a topic people do not want to discuss, they want to act like it does not exist,” she said. “Our society is taught that this doesn’t happen in our communities, which is the biggest myth.”
Other myths about suicide include the ideas that only crazy people have suicidal thoughts and that it only happens in one age group.
Motivation for ending your life can come from untreated depression or mental illness and chronic physical pain, according to Levy. “People contemplate suicide because they’re in pain,” she said, “and they don’t see a way out of the situation.”
A key distinction is the isolation those considering suicide often feel, which makes it important to talk with them, said Levy. That talk might just “help them to see a way out where they aren’t able to see one.”
Students on campus Tuesday thought about what they would say to someone feeling suicidal.
“I would try to inspire them to live; I would give them all the beautiful insights that living has to offer,” said Alexis Cedeno, who added that she would try to “have them realize that they are still here, and that no one has tried to take them out yet, so there is a reason for them to be here.”
Mike Brown echoed the sentiment, saying he wouldn’t feel happy about such a decision and that he “would try to get them some help because there is a lot in life to live for.”
Being direct with people you think are contemplating suicide, such as asking them if they are okay, discussing with them the way they plan on carrying out the suicide, and other nonjudgmental conversation points can help, according to the speakers. If someone seems to be seriously considering it, Levy recommends not leaving the room at all and potentially bringing in a professional at that point, while telling the person what you’re doing.
Warning signs include a sudden shift in people’s demeanor, such as someone who is typically sullen becoming very happy. That likely means they’ve finalized a decision to commit suicide and are “thinking all their problems are going to be over,” said Miriam Steinberg, coordinator and case manager with the Latino Youth Suicide Prevention Training Center.
DO—Express your concerns
DO—Ask more questions (for example, how would you do it)
DON’T—Make a promise of secrecy
DON’T—Become their therapist
DON’T—Judge the person
DO—Think about bringing in a professional
DON’T—Leave person alone if it seems dangerous
Meanwhile, Torres and Steinberg are offering training in suicide prevention to any communities or groups that are interested.
There are also other services such as hotlines, a comprehensive list of which can be found at the website of The Samaritans of New York.
With reporting from Benjamin Chasteen
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