It's time for community conversation about suicide
Suicide is complicated. It’s difficult for most of us to fathom the deep despair that accompanies such a final, fatal act, and it’s even more difficult to talk about.
Yet here we are in the Flathead Valley, where seven local teens ages 15 to 19 have died by suicide over the past year. Nationwide, suicide is the second leading cause of death for children, adolescents and young adults ages 10 to 24.
The answers to this disturbing trend don’t come easy, as the National Institute of Mental Health points out. “Suicidal behavior is complex, and there is no single cause.”
Students, families and community members gathered at Glacier High School last Monday to grieve the painful losses. Perhaps this poignant vigil will be a stepping stone in the healing process. There are many professionals and resources that can help families in the aftermath of a suicide. Daily Inter Lake reporter Hilary Matheson points out many of those resources in today’s stories about suicides among Flathead youth. And it must be emphasized, as she noted in her reporting, that seeking help is not a sign of weakness.
Another take-away from these stories is that having the difficult conversation about suicide with children and adolescents is imperative, and honest conversations need to happen in a proactive manner.
“If suicide is something adults are whispering about in the other room it can create a culture where suicide is something we don’t talk about,” Tina Barrett, executive director of Tamarack Grief Resource Center and a licensed clinical professional counselor, stressed.
Liz Hashley, a Fresh Life worship leader who attended the gathering at Glacier, cut to the chase when she commented, “It’s hard to do life alone. Even though I work for a church doesn’t mean I can’t, or you can’t struggle.”
Hashley said it’s important to find community and experience connectedness. And that’s where we all come in. Suicide is a community struggle, a battle that can’t be fought alone.
“We all can’t do everything, but if everyone does one thing — checking on your neighbor, your friends — we can make a difference,” Hashley so aptly pointed out.
Life is hard right now on so many levels. Covid-19 has exacerbated anxiety and mental-health issues, but even before the pandemic there was a growing need for mental-health services. We all need the courage to ask the hard questions before a death by suicide.
Beyond the resources provided by schools or organizations such as the Nate Chute Foundation and Tamarack Grief Resource Center, there are a couple of upcoming opportunities for support.
Tamarack Grief will offer a virtual adult support group, “Grief after Suicide and Traumatic Loss,” from noon to 1 p.m. Tuesdays, Sept. 21-Oct. 26.
Tamarack also will hold a virtual roundtable on “Interacting with Youth about Traumatic Events and Suicide,” from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. Oct. 13. Practical tools and strategies will be shared to help people comfortable having conversations with teens about suicide and trauma.
Call Tamarack Grief at 406-261-0724 or visit https://www.tamarackgrc.org.
It’s past time for a community conversation about suicide. We all need to know the risk factors and how to reach out and help our friends and neighbors in a meaningful way. We don't want to lose anyone, young or old, to suicide.