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Local group encourages people to learn warning signs of suicide

October 24, 2017 GMT

REXBURG - Hopefulness and loving support for those who are hurting emotionally.

That was the message behind the Voice Advocacy and Suicide Prevention Action Network that held a “Community Conversation” Saturday at Madison High School. The conversation followed a Mental Wellness Conference. Both events were sponsored by Madison County School District, Madison Memorial Hospital, Brigham Young University-Idaho and the Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center Behavior Health Center.

“It is really about instilling hope and health and not focusing on gloom and doom. That’s what’s important,” said Madison Cares Clinical Director Rick Croft, who helped organize the event.

The expectation is that family members, friends, co-workers, ministers, doctors and employers can spot when someone is considering suicide and get them the help they need. It’s also about assuring those with suicidal thoughts that there is counseling available to help get them through difficult times.

Croft says that the various organizations are pushing to have family physicians routinely ask their patients if they’re feeling suicidal. He noted that nearly 50 percent of those who committed suicide had not been asked by their doctors how they were feeling.

“There’s a stat out there that says 45 percent of those who completed suicide, saw their family doctor within the last 30 days prior to this,” he said. “I think it’s so important that all of our local physicians, nurse practitioners and physician assistants ask that during routine checkups.”

Croft says that everybody has bad days, but that doesn’t mean they’re suicidal. He did note that signs of potential suicide involve someone with a normally bubbly personality suddenly becoming withdrawn. Instead of their home being continually lit up, it’s suddenly dark, and they’re found curled up on their couch.

“There are changes in their regular sleep cycles and changes in regular eating habits. That’s not them typically. That’s when you start becoming concerned,” he said.

It’s okay to ask someone if they’ve been feeling suicidal and sometimes it takes several questions to get the truth out of them, Croft said.

“Sometimes you have to force that a little bit. They want somebody to know they’re struggling, and that they’re having a hard time,” he said.

Croft emphasized that it’s okay to call the police. Doing so doesn’t mean a suicidal person is going to be locked up in the county jail.

“Calling law enforcement doesn’t mean that person is going to be arrested. The police don’t arrest people for having mental health issues. The officer might take that person to the nearest emergency room for a mental health evaluation,” he said.

During Saturday’s event, Idaho Falls resident and construction company owner Matt Morgan spoke about the sexual abuse he experienced as a child. He recalled feeling out of sorts and not understanding why until he sought counseling at a California-based clinic. There he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress and disassociated amnesia.

An uncle sexually abused Morgan as a youth. Morgan recalled going through school and relying on drugs and alcohol to sooth painful emotions. He continued to do so through his adulthood.

Despite the desperateness that washed over him at times, Morgan managed to create a successful construction company resulting in what he called the American dream.

“I’ve been a man who’s been blessed in business and accomplished monetary things in my life,” he said. “Most people realized I was a hard-working guy. What people didn’t realize about me was that I was a very unhappy man. I struggled with hopelessness. I didn’t want to live anymore.”

Morgan recalled feeling extremely fearful, anxious and lacking confidence at times.

“There was confusion in things about my childhood that I couldn’t quite connect with,” he said.

Morgan said that he hit rock bottom while drinking.

“I was in a place where I look at now and call ‘a very thin veil.’ I stood in that place and went to my wife and children. I told them I needed to get somewhere to get some help. I felt like I was going crazy and asked them to get me help fast.”

The California facility helped temporarily, but what really helped was Morgan confronting his uncle and having a jury side with him. From that point on, Morgan became an advocate for those who suffered from sexual abuse. He later went on to set up a webpage called “Building Hope Today” that can be found at www.buildinghopetoday.org.

Also speaking was Alyson Deussen, formerly of Idaho Falls and now of Utah, whose 17-year-old son Stockton committed suicide in 2016.

Devout Mormons, Stockton announced to his parents that he was gay as a young teenager. He was open about his sexuality, and, as a result, he often found himself alone.

“Most of his friends said, ’If our parents knew you were gay, we couldn’t do things with you,” Alyson Deussen said. “Being gay is not contagious.”

Deussen doesn’t believe her son killed himself because he was gay, but because he so often felt left out.

“I don’t think it was because of his sexuality. I feel he had some treatment that wasn’t ideal. Because of his sexuality, he was probably more excluded. I wouldn’t call it bullied. He was excluded,” she said.

Croft agreed that gay people often kill themselves because they feel so isolated – not because of their sexuality.

“There’s an increase of them completing suicidal - not because of their sexuality - but because of societal pressures, family pressures, sometimes religious pressures that can be overbearing,” he said.

The Deussens said it was often difficult for young Stockton to attend Mormon church meetings, and his parents stopped having him attend when he was about 14 years old. They cite a lack of resources to help church leaders work with gay youth.

Stockton’s father George Deussen says heterosexual people often lack Christlike love for homosexuals, and that is of great concern to God.

“To be honest, I think God is more worried about us. If you really get to know gay people, they have more Christlike attributes. I think they’re here for me and you, verses us being there for them. You can quote me on that all day long,” he said.

Croft estimated that about 115 people attended Saturday’s conferences.

“This was just a way, hopefully, to get people talking about mental health and mental wellness. There are resources out there,” he said. “Suicide is a tough, tough, tough topic to talk about. There’s a lot of research that shows what’s not healthy, is not to talk about. What’s more healthy than to talk about it?”

The hope is that after talking about it, that people will take note of those suffering from suicidal thoughts and that those who need help will get it, Croft said.

“If one person came away or one family came away with less gloom and doom and leaves feeling like there’s help and hope out there, we’ve accomplished something,” he said.