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Photo credit: Alan C. Heison / Shutterstock.comSANPETE COUNTY — As families gathered in the auditorium of North Sanpete High School in Mt. Pleasant, Utah, they began to discuss the recent rash of suicides in Sanpete County in December of 2011. The small gathering of people were able to recall six suicides in just the last three weeks. The consensus was swift and unanimous: “It has to stop.”
In record time, the small band of citizens planned a candlelight vigil to raise awareness of the growing problem in Sanpete County. Sisters volunteered to organize the vigil, a brother created a Facebook page, a therapist started a grief group and an army of one delivered flyers from one end of the county to the other. The press was contacted.
The mission: Break the silence. The message: Talk about suicide. Ask the question, “Are you suicidal?” Get help.
Utah needs a lot of it. Recently, the Center for Disease Control revealed that Utah ranks No. 1 in terms of the number of residents contemplating suicide. The Utah Department of Health Violence and Injury Prevention Program reported that Utah has the eighth highest rate of suicide for adults in the nation, and suicide is the second leading cause of death for Utahns ages 15- 19.The rural areas have a significantly higher suicide rates: namely Sevier, Piute, Wayne, Tooele, Carbon, Emery, Weber and Morgan Counties as well as the Glendale, Ben Lomond and Tricounty areas.
We know that help is a phone call away: 1-800-SUICIDE, 1-800-273- TALK and the Trevor Project hotline for LGBTQ teens at 866-488- 7386.
The numbers are staggering, but the grief etched into the faces of those people at North Sanpete High School was overwhelming.
Two weeks later, I stood before the Main Library in Mt. Pleasant, adding my candle to the light of nearly 100 residents of Sanpete County. As with all tragedies, they want to know why — why are their loved ones dying? It's a fair question with an unfair answer: We do not know.
What we do know is that suicide is preventable.
We know what to watch for: depression, drug or alcohol use, moodiness, irritability, giving away prized possessions, anger, isolation, recklessness and language indicating hopelessness, feeling trapped, and considering suicide as an option. We know that a person who takes their life has usually had a crisis within two weeks and is likely struggling with one or more problems with things like physical health, employment, finances, with the law or at school. We also know that there is often easy access to firearms and pills.
We also know that when one person takes their life, it can lead others to follow suit. A young woman at the candlelight vigil shared that she attempted suicide two weeks after cousin died by suicide. She said, “I thought if he could do it, so could I.”
As counselor Monte Hauck said, “People simply don’t know how to handle things, so they try to take care of a problem the only way they could.”
It is true. When one is thinking of taking their own life, they might see it as the only option — the only way to make the pain stop. This is a result of what positive psychologists call a downward spiral. The further down the hole one goes, the fewer options they perceive — even though, objectively, there are many, many, many alternatives to suicide.
Science has revealed a shockingly simple antidote to the downward spiral: counting your blessings. When one is in the clutches of the downward spiral, pessimism is rampant. By identifying a few positives, one can start to realize that life is not so bad and there is hope. The journey of the upward spiral begins.
Since suicide is so rampant in the rural areas of Utah, the free Happiness 101 Webinar to Reduce Suicide in Utah is now available. This means that people in at-risk counties like Sanpete may learn scientifically- proven methods to feel better free of charge while enjoying anonymity in the comfort and convenience of their own home. Over the eight-week course, the myths of happiness will be debunked and specific tools will be offered regarding grief, worry and pessimism. Like the "three good things" intervention, many of these tools are very simple, doable and take little or no extra time to do.
Research has proven the pull of an upward spiral to be just as powerful as a downward spiral. Using the “three good things” intervention, the father of positive psychology Martin Seligman helped 94 percent of his depressed participants rise from the level of severely depressed to either moderately or mildly depressed in only 15 days. Considering that this was the only intervention used in the study and that it takes only a few minutes a day, the results are nothing short of miraculous.
This exercise is a staple of Happiness 101, a class using methods proven by empirical research to restore hope, lift depression and offer alternatives to suicide. The free class —which is now a webinar, also offered free of charge to help reduce suicide in Utah — uses simple yet scientifically-proven methods and techniques to help those in the grips of depression see that there is light at the end of the tunnel. For instance, when one makes a pessimistic statement, using the technique of disputation quickly and easily loosens the grip of pessimism. If one thinks, “I’m doomed,” and that thought goes unchecked, then one will have the emotional experience of hopelessness. However, if one simply asks oneself, “Is that really true?” the dark clouds of pessimism are easily broken, allowing hope to shine through.
There is hope. Suicide is preventable. If you are thinking of suicide, please call 1-800-SUICIDE.
Frank Clayton is a Licensed Professional Counselor specializing in Happiness. He offers Happiness 101 and the Happiness 101 Webinar to Reduce Suicide in Utah as a free service to the community. He also sits on the Utah Suicide Prevention Coalition.