I will not claim to be an expert on this topic, but thought this would be a great time to address it since several things coincidentally happened all at once last week. My Rotary club had a program about the Adams County Suicide Prevention Coalition and their upcoming fundraiser, “Behind the Mask: A Night in Venice”. It’s probably sold out by now, but call Ally’s Boutique for tickets. I will outline some of their information as well as give their website in a moment.
The other coincidence was an announcement from our answering service, ASD, based in Media, Pennsylvania, that they had implemented a new program for their call specialists named Suicide Telephone Operator Patch System (STOP). I recently spent time with one of the owners and company vice-president, Kevin Czachor, and can tell you that this family owned business sincerely cares about the funeral homes which use them and more importantly the families who are speaking to their operators.
Since I seldom believe in coincidences, these two things spurred me to undertake this blog. As I have previously written, my grandfather Spear committed suicide the year I was born so I never got to meet him. It wasn’t until I was in my 20s that I learned how he died. That’s the way families that have experienced suicides so often respond.
But this blog is about being more proactive if you ever have the chance. I know that there have been several suicides in our area in the past few years, with a substantial number of young people taking their lives. As ASD mentioned in their press release, “When someone is feeling hopeless or alone, there is no telling who they may reach out to and, in some cases, they contact a funeral home.” This happened to us within the last ten years. We were sent an out of town obituary by email from a person’s personal computer that listed that date as the date of death. The death had not yet occurred, and with a funeral underway, we scrambled staff to start trying to contact any who might know how to reach that person. The obituary listed a church membership, but it was a Texas megachurch, and none of the staff recognized the name. Fortunately there were still family members in our area who were reached and were able to locate the person before anything happened. So we actually have experience with this. Kevin suggested that 50-75% of people reach out in one way or another, so we need to be aware of the warning signs and what to do.
What the STOP program does is that the ASD call specialist can call a suicide hotline and patch them into the call without ever interrupting the caller or placing the person on hold. Since many times these calls occur late at night, ASD is at the forefront of suicide prevention. Thank you Kevin.
The Adams County Suicide Prevention Coalition also hosts a 24 hour suicide prevention hotline (217) 222-1166. But the resource we all need to be familiar with is their website which has great information.
The Adams County Suicide Prevention Coalition
Adams County Suicide Prevention Coalition
It outlines what one can do to help someone who is struggling as well as how to identify if someone is having suicidal thoughts. The key concept there is ALES- Ask, Listen, Encourage, Support. Always take any talk of suicide seriously, and don’t assume that ‘someone like that’ would never do it. Stay with the person. Take them to a professional. Don’t dismiss the talk with, “Oh things will get better.”
Take the time to visit their website and learn as much as you can. And be aware that even your best efforts may not succeed. My aunts and uncles, when they were just in grade school, used to position themselves between my grandfather and the train tracks, making it harder for him to jump in front of a train. They all knew he wanted to commit suicide. He finally accomplished it in the barn. Back then, the subject was strictly taboo. It still is to a large degree. If you think someone is contemplating it, get them directed as quickly as possible.
I wish the resources available now had been available in 1955. It would have been nice to listen to my grandfather tell stories about coming from Greece as an teenage immigrant, marrying a Czech girl from Texas (when he was arranged to marry her sister initially), and what working on a steam locomotive in the Chicago train yards was like. Unfortunately, I never got that chance. He committed suicide.