Breaking the silence around suicide

Categories: Around the Diocese

Speaker stresses importance of being aware of warning signs and symptoms

By Kristi Anderson
The Visitor

Darren Reed is an alcoholic. He has struggled with addiction and mental illness. He knows what it is like to live with a pain so great he could not see beyond his own darkness.

Reed eventually escaped the “tunnel vision,” as he calls it, and now spends his life helping others by raising awareness about suicide prevention.

“I do this work because I have been there. I have been inside the tunnel vision, where I could only see pain at the end,” he said. “I could not see outside where people that love me and supported me wanted to help.

suicide“However, I made it through addiction and mental illness with help from family, friends, support groups and maybe with divine intervention,” he said. “The pain experienced by those in desperation is unimaginable for those who have not experienced it themselves. As a result, I will do everything I can to help those still suffering.”

Reed, a certified prevention professional and president of the board of directors for the Yellow Ribbon Suicide Prevention Program for Minnesota, spoke Jan. 18 at a gathering organized by Spirits and Saints, a combined faith formation program of St. Anthony, St. John Cantius and Holy Spirit parishes in St. Cloud.

He talked about ways to recognize symptoms of depression, warning signs of suicide and practical suggestions for talking to someone who might be in danger of suicide.

“Depression is a treatable, physical illness of the brain,” Reed said. “Most people with depression don’t die by suicide. We can help by becoming ‘gatekeepers,’ by being aware of symptoms of depression and by staying with a person at risk of suicide, listening to them and helping them seek the professional resources they need.”

Ginny Duschner, faith formation director of Spirits and Saints, has seen teens “suffering in silence” with depression and feelings of sadness and despair.

“Sometimes they were already being medicated for depression and had stopped taking their medicine,” she explained, “but most of the time, they had not told anyone and were struggling alone. Parents see television portrayals of teens being withdrawn, sullen and morose. They see tears and mood swings as a normal part of growing up — and sometimes they are —but sometimes it is more than that. There are subtle clues and we need to learn how to watch for them and how to assess if intervention and support are required.”

In 2013, there were 56 reported suicides in the four-county area of Stearns, Benton, Sherburne and Wright counties, said Reed.
Duschner was astonished to hear those statistics during Reed’s presentation.

“Because there is such a stigma about suicide, it is hidden from the public even after the death,” she said. “The family is traumatized and perhaps ashamed to tell anyone. If this is happening in our community and we don’t hear about it and start to talk about it, we can’t do anything to help the situation get better.”

And, Duschner says, the stigma isn’t just around suicide.

“People don’t believe that depression is an actual biochemical imbalance — a physically detectable condition,” she said. “So, in our society, anyone going to a mental health specialist feels they have to keep it a secret. This impedes their ability to get support from their friends, families and communities.”

Reed created a website, www.beyondthetunnelvision.org, and he travels wherever he’s invited to help “erase” the stigmas associated with suicide, mental illness and addiction.

“Depression and other mental illness left untreated or undertreated can lead to suicidal [ideas] for some people,” he said.

“Talking about mental illness makes it easier for people to ask for help when they are having symptoms . … There is so much negative stigma associated with mental illness, but if we can break that stigma people will be more likely to ask for help and suffer less.”