By MATTHEW DIXON
Six years ago, Sally Spencer-Thomas was driving to a party when she received a phone call from her mother. All she heard were the words, “pull over.”
It was Dec. 7, 2004, and her mother had called about her brother, Carson. Spencer-Thomas knew he had separated from his wife, had a million-dollar apartment that was unfit to sell and had left his business partner.
“Things changed dramatically for the first time,” Spencer-Thomas said. “He made a series of destructive decisions that changed his life”.
Her mother had called to inform her that Carson had committed suicide.
The shock from his death has driven Spencer- Thomas to speak to young people about suicide and how they can help someone having suicidal thoughts.
The issue of suicide among young people is increasingly important, Spencer-Thomas said, especially when they are going through trauma or mental illness.
“It’s something they have never experienced before, and they don’t have the coping strategies to get through to the other side,” she said. “The other part is they don’t necessarily know there is another side.”
Her presentation also focused on re-framing the way suicide is regarded in the community. It is not just professionals can deal with suicide and mental health issues, Spencer-Thomas said.
“You’re not necessarily going to do the assessment and treatment of that individual, but you can certainly give them hope,” she said. “You can link them to resources, and you can help change the conversation so they are more willing and open to talk about their distress,” she said.
Carson Spencer had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder during college, although at the time he dismissed it. Later in life, Spencer Thomas saw the effect metal illness had on her brother
“It was a demon of the night that stole his spirit and his soul,” she said.
Initially, when she talked about her brother’s death, she said she couldn’t get through it.
“The first time I got up on stage I was shaking like a tree because I thought people would judge me because I’m a psychologist. The more I do it, the bolder I get.”
Suicide Prevention Week attempted to create awareness about college suicide around the MU campus, as well as diminish the stigma and secrecy associated with mental illness.
“It is important that they hear these issues and start to connect with suicide in their own way and come to a conclusion about what they can do to help,” Spencer-Thomas said.
Organizers listed strategies to help someone dealing with suicidal thoughts:
- Ask and Listen. Talking about the person’s thoughts openly and frankly can help prevent a person from acting on them. You might think that mentioning suicide would put suicide in a person’s mind, but this is highly unlikely.
- Give hope. Often people can’t think of any other solutions to their distress. Acknowledge that the person currently feels hopeless but also convey that things can get better.
- Do not attempt to argue anyone out of suicide. Let the person know you care and understand, that he or she is not alone, that suicidal feelings are temporary, depression can be treated and problems can be solved.
- Be genuine. If professional help is needed, someone will be more willing to follow a recommendation if you have genuinely listened to them.
The Wellness Resource Center on campus often makes referrals to a national suicide prevention hot-line — 1800-273-8255.