Clues to suicide
1. Unusual periods of sleeplessness. Because individuals are so burdened in the first stage of the suicide plan, they find it difficult to sleep. They wrestle with thoughts that may affect them for eternity, and these thoughts aren’t easily turned on and off. Such insomnia is frequently accompanied by periods of general sadness.
2. Sudden changes in appetite, weight, or sexual drive. These could include either an increase or a loss in appetite, an intensification or loss of interest in sex, or an unusual preoccupation with and consumption of drugs and alcohol.
3. Loss of interest in family, friends, and familiar pursuits. Suicidal individuals often become so preoccupied with their own thoughts that they begin to neglect their friends and family. They do not participate in family functions or discussions. To a noticeable extent they lose interest in such things as sports, hobbies, and work.
4. Frequent discussions of death, the wish to die, or feelings of worthlessness. Such comments as “You’d be better off without me,” or “I can’t take much more of this,” or “I wonder where people go when they die, and if they feel any pain after they are dead” should be taken as possible indicators of a contemplated suicide. This is especially true if these comments are made along with other types of clue behavior.
5. Sudden, unusual interest in death and death rituals. When individuals uncharacteristically begin to discuss making or changing a will or insurance policy, or when they show excessive concern about making funeral arrangements, it may indicate some suicidal intention.
6. Unexplainable or illogical giving away of prized possessions. When an individual begins to give away things they have spent a lifetime accumulating, especially to casual acquaintances, such behavior should alert family members to the possibility of suicide.
7. Collecting information and means for suicide. This could include a sudden interest in guns, the collecting and hoarding of medications, or a surprising interest in news accounts of other people’s suicidal deaths.
When that call comes
When you get that urgent call in the middle of your dinner or in the middle of the night, what should you as a pastor do? Here are a few basic points.
1. Remain calm and don’t act surprised, frightened, or overwhelmed by what the person is telling you.
2. Take seriously anyone’s talk of suicide. Don’t get caught in the “boy who cried wolf” syndrome. Remember, everyone who talks about suicide is a potential danger to themselves.
3. Be genuine and honest in expressing your interest, concern, and support for the person with whom you are talking. Often they will say something like “Why should you care about me? You hardly know me; even the people who are closest to me don’t care.” Give an honest answer, something like “It’s true, I don’t know you very well, but I want to hear about your pain; I care about your well- being. and how you deal with that pain.”
4. Don’t he judgmental or moralistic. Telling them that they are committing a horrible sin or reminding them of how selfish suicide is will only add to the guilt that has led them to contemplate suicide.
5. Don’t argue. Don’t tell them they can’t commit suicide. They really can, and nobody can stop them if they are intent on such an act. They may go ahead just to prove they are in control.
6. Listen carefully, especially to the hidden meanings behind the words. Often the one thing the person most lacks in life is another person who is genuinely willing to listen. Never rush in with platitudes or suggestions. Let them have their say. Many times they won’t come right out and say they are going to kill themselves. Instead they will make such statements as “I’m thinking about checking out…” or “My time has come…” Get them to clarify these vague statements by asking a direct question, such as “Are you telling me that you are thinking about killing yourself?” Such a question tells them that you are listening and that you are actually hearing their message. By listening carefully, you may hear something that will significantly help you in giving them aid.
7. Get them to seek professional help from someone trained in dealing with suicidal behavior. To do this, you should maintain a current list of professional counselors in the area. A good source of information is the local suicide-prevention hot line, if there is one in your area.
8. Act quickly. After you have established a strong rapport with them by your genuine concern, gently insist that they immediately see someone for counseling. If necessary, encourage them to get into a hospital setting.
9. Don’t assume guilt for things over which you have no control. If you deal with suicidal people long enough, the chances are high that you will eventually be involved with one who refuses your intervention and commits suicide. At times like this it is easy to torture oneself with feelings of guilt. Remember that no one is ever responsible for someone else’s actions. If you feel burdened by your feelings, don’t be too proud to seek professional help yourself.
I was a student of Vern at Loma Linda University Riverside before and after it became La Sierra University. I know of his health issues at the time. I think of him often and wonder if he is still teaching. Would you know? He has a paper I wrote for his psych class that I would like to get back or, at least, get a copy of. The course was thanatology and the paper was about my grandmother’s death. If you could let me know how I might get a copy of it, I would be ever so grateful.
Deborah L. Burdette
We’re sorry, but we do not know the whereabout of Vern right now. Perhaps you could do a little research on the web to find other places he is mentioned? (The articles on here are pretty old, though still relevant. Human nature doesn’t change that much. 😉 )
If you find him, perhaps you can let us know.