Suicide prevention training saves lives
Know the warning signs, reach out before it’s too late
By MARK RANDALL
Grace McLaren has 30 years of counseling experience and executive business coaching helping people get from Point A to B in their lives, but never imagined that her own son would commit suicide.
When the call came on Tuesday, August 15, 2017 that Ryan had taken his own life, like many people who have lost a loved one to suicide, she couldn’t believe it.
“It was like this elephant appeared in my world,” Mc-Laren said. “It was totally shocking.”
On the outside, Ryan was living his dream. He moved to Chattanooga where he graduated with honors from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. He ran two Iron Man triathalons and several marathons. He had a deep love of God and started a non-profit foundation working with at-risk students at Dalewood Middle School. He chose to live in the Glass Street community, a predominantly black, working poor area of the city, where he helped neighborhood kids. He didn’t have any debts. His car was paid for. Everything was taken care of so Ryan could do his mission work.
By all accounts, Ryan had a natural joy for life and brought laughter to people who knew him. But as Grace did more research about suicide in the days and years following her son’s death, she now knows that the signs were there. She just missed them.
Ryan came from a broken home. His parents were divorced and his father is an addict. His home had been recently broken in to. His grandfather, who he was very close to, passed away suddenly. He had witnessed two shootings involving children in his neighborhood. He took in homeless people and helped them with their problems.
“I can look back and say I missed a lot,” McLaren said. “People have asked, when did you start to worry about Ryan? I got caught out in the blue. I didn’t worry about Ryan. But the phrase I hear a lot is, I think he just swam out too far. There is no one to blame. It was just a lot to take on.”
McLaren used her son’s pain and the experience of dealing with his loss, along with her professional training in counseling and personnel, to found First Responder Coaching. Her goal is to raise awareness of suicide and to coach professionals and members of the community on how to recognize and respond to people who are “fragile” and possibly at risk of suicide.
McLaren said the prevalence of suicide is real and growing: 45,000 people a year – or 129 people a day – die from suicide. That’s a 56 percent increase in suicide deaths in the past ten years. Another 1.1 million or 3,000 people a day will attempt suicide and 36,000 people a day contemplate suicide.
“The numbers are real,” McLaren said. “Those 129 people a day represent the names of children, fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, husbands, wives. It is ungodly what is happening. I mean, think about it. If you read that 129 people died in Germantown today by suicide, and 3,200 attempted suicide, and 36,000 thought about dying, there would be panic all over the city. We would be seeking out the families who lost loved ones. We would be lost in mourning. Once it had calmed down, we would seek with a vengeance to know the cause of such loss.”
McLaren said the numbers are even more alarming among children. According to the 2018 Youth at Risk Survey, one in three children are sad; one in six contemplate suicide; one in seven have a plan; and one in 13 have made at least one attempt.
For children ages 10-13, suicide rates have more than tripled from 2007 to 2017. For older teenagers, the suicide rate has gone up 76 percent. And for all ages, the suicide rate is up 56 percent.
McLaren said she believes the numbers are increasing because people don’t talk about suicide, and, secondly, children and adults today are not as emotionally equipped to handle life and are taking on too much in their lives.
“The challenge, I think, is that America is designed to want more and never be satisfied,” McLaren said. “And the problem is, you can’t do it all. You can’t have it all. You can’t keep up with all the Joneses. And we don’t want to talk about suicide. But we are willing to talk about cigarettes, but not suicide. These are real numbers and it is happening.”
McLaren said she would like to see more professionals and first responders trained in suicide prevention. Suicide prevention programs typically focus on what to do when an individual is already suicidal. Her First Responder Coaching, on the other hand, goes deeper and teaches audiences to recognize when individuals are fragile and provides them with tools and training on what to do to help before a person’s “Dark Chip” voices go unheard and escalate.
McLaren said there are actual questionnaires that help identify stressors linked to suicide such as feeling bad about yourself, trouble sleeping, being withdrawn, having a child or losing a child, a recent death, divorce, or change in job status.
“If a person is aware of these things, they can be better in tune with what is going on with people because it gives you an emotional thermometer,” McLaren said.
McLaren said the biggest difference is that First Responder Coaching treats the prevalence and realities of suicidal tendencies with the urgency it warrants and gives organizations a response plan just as in the event of a fire, tornado, active shooter, choking or heart attack.
“I know if I had been trained in this process, I would have known my son was fragile and he would probably still be alive,” Mc-Laren said. “This training in our schools, businesses and churches is vital for when, not if you talk to a person who is fragile.”