Continuing the Conversation on Suicide

adelle-labrecqueBY ADELLE LaBRECQUE
Staff Writer, UAS Whalesong

Tue 12/1/2015, 12:40 a.m.

I can’t believe I’m actually saying this, but today marks the second suicide within one semester. I don’t even know what to do with all of this, right now … I’m writing you to let you know two things:

1. I want to apologize in advance if I leave class a few times to leave for the restroom. It is likely to happen, and I will do my best to not disrupt others while they are working.

2. Today in class I will be very withdrawn, and likely cannot handle being paired with “non-gentle” classmates, if possible… [I] hope that’s not too much trouble for what you have planned… I’m truly sorry for burdening you with such rough news… I seriously wish I was dreaming right now.

The above quote was retrieved from an email I sent to a professor last year, after learning about the second loss of a loved one to suicide within the space of one semester. I’m not even sure if there was an email for the first time. I couldn’t find one. That first month everything was a complete blur, in all aspects of the word. I was a mess every day. I hardly slept. I sobbed into the chests of complete strangers inside bathroom stalls of loud bars, brushed my hair only when it became too terrible to be seen at work, and consumed enough alcohol within that first weekend to inspire thirty-five days of straight sobriety – not even a single drop, and I’m a bartender. Vaguely put: 2015 was one of the most heartbreaking years of my life, thus far, and looking back, I could not be more grateful for the support I received from loved ones within and outside of Alaska.

If any readers were wondering, yes, in the Whalesong’s most recent issue, the poem titled “For You, I Will Wear Pink Camouflage” is directly related to those losses. Suicide is indeed a heavy subject of conversation, and for obvious reasons. For many, it can be highly uncomfortable to talk about, however, as a “suicide survivor” I can testify that it’s crucial we do.

Certainly, I am not the only student at UAS who has experienced this kind of tragic loss, not to mention all faculty and staff. In fact, according to The Alaska Bureau of Vital Statistics, (2015), “Alaska has the highest rate of suicide per capita in the country … with 1,525 suicides between 2005 and 2014 – an average of 152.5 deaths by suicide per year.” Further research from this source states that, “In 2014, the rate of Alaska Native males that died by suicide was 50.9 suicides per 100,000, nearly four times the national average.” This information echoed statistics from earlier years (of the same source) stating that, “Alaska Native men between the ages of 15-24 have the highest rate of suicide among any demographic in the country, with an average of 141.6 suicides per 100,000 each year between 2000 and 2009.” Surely, this growing problem is not a secret within our state.

In order to gain an even deeper perspective on this subject, I had the opportunity to interview a local suicide survivor who has asked to remain nameless. The following quote is a snapshot of the dialogue between us:

Adelle LaBrecque: “As someone familiar to UAS, are you aware that each student is eligible for six free counseling session on-campus?”

Speaker: “I was not, actually… I knew they gave away free Vitamin-D and lent out Happy Lamps, though… but that [counseling] is good.”

Agreed. Yes, all students taking “for credit” courses are eligible for these sessions. If you feel you may be interested in a session for any reason, speak to someone at the Student Resource Center in the Lower Mourant Building.

AB: “Would you say that you’re more aware of suicidal tendencies in others since this experience?”

Speaker: “Well, there were definitely certain people that it really made me want to get a hold of. It was a reality check, in a lot of ways: this is something that people will actually do, not just think and (maybe) talk about… ”

Recognize the signs: depression; talking in about “feeling hopeless and helpless;” becoming and remaining increasingly disconnected from others, especially loved ones; sharing suicidal thoughts with others; having lost a loved one to suicide; engaging in abusive substances; recklessness behavior; getting rid of personal belongings; etc. Recognizing and addressing these signs with the person at-risk for suicide and other loved ones goes much farther than you would think. Involve a councellor is possible.

Speaker: “I guess, that even though I’ve experienced suicide, I’m still an outsider to suicide, if that makes sense. It’s not an inherent reaction for me. Suicide doesn’t make sense to me the way it makes sense to somebody who is actually contemplating it. It’s an extreme response… My concerns immediately lie with the people who were closest to that person–those who it’s going to impact the greatest.”

Though, this article does cover some highly uncomfortable information, it is valuable conversation. Understand the seriousness of the subject, and educate yourself as to what resources are available to you at all times within the University, your workplace, your community, etc. Take note of your own feelings. Be honest with yourself: How are you doing? Are you doing great? Have you been better? Would you like to feel better?

Every reader walking down these hallways has experienced some form of depression in their life, however felt. It can become easier to hide in our homes, when we don’t feel like seeing “the World.” Eating junk food and skipping classes when we don’t finish our homework on-time are definitely activities this writer has taken part in.

However, we need to keep showing up. We need to see those people in our classes and in the hallways, drink that cup of coffee, and keep going. Whether we realize it or not, those people are largely a support system for us. As exhausting as life can be sometimes, we are never really alone and should never see ourselves living that way. Life can truly be a genuine exchange of positive choices, if we make them.

In the words of Louise L. Hay, in regard to lifting ourselves above darkness, “It is only a thought, and a thought can be changed.”

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