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Suicide Prevention: How One Question Can Save a Life

Cardinal Innovations Healthcare — September 15, 2020 — 5 min read
Losing someone to suicide can change your life. Carol Senick, a Cardinal Innovations Community Engagement Specialist, knows this all too well. Senick’s passion for suicide prevention and education began 45 years ago as a result of lived family experience. She cared and advocated for several family members.

Seeing Suicide Attempts from an Early Age

Carol's momSenick’s mother (pictured left) had bipolar disorder. From a young age, she watched the toll mental illness and thoughts of suicide could have on a family.

“Whenever I came home from school, I never knew what I was going to find. I literally didn’t know if I was going to find my mother dead or alive,” Senick said.

“After I got my driver’s license, I ended up taking all the silverware out of the kitchen—even down to the spoons. I put them in the trunk of a car and kept them with me during the entire school year. Whenever we needed to use a utensil to eat with, I got it out of the car. Then after dinner, I’d wash it and put it back. This was because my mother threatened to kill herself with knives.”

Senick’s mother attempted suicide countless times—once she tried to drown herself in a pond near the house. Witnessing these attempts caused a lasting impact on Senick’s own mental health. It also impacted the way she coped with the completed suicides of four others in her life.
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Coping with Four Losses by Suicide

After Senick’s uncle died by suicide, she found out he had been receiving treatment for depression for years. Two weeks before his suicide, Senick and her uncle were speaking about his family history. Senick often wondered afterward, “Did anything in that conversation trigger him that could have led him to act on his suicidal feelings?”

When she was working in a financial institution, Senick developed a friendship with the branch manager. They often talked about Senick’s mother and her suicide attempts. After five years of working together, her coworker completed suicide. She considered whether their conversations had an impact on her friend’s decision to kill herself.

Another good friend of Senick’s was also diagnosed with bipolar disorder. This friend had a history of not taking her medication consistently. She was often impulsive. During a heated argument with her daughter, this friend declared, “I’ll show you,” and killed herself shortly after.

During Senick’s work at the bankruptcy trustee’s office, a client (with no history of mental illness) had recently filed for bankruptcy. He killed himself because he was facing a huge amount of debt. This showed the impact external factors can have on someone’s mental health.

Finding Hope After Losing Someone to Suicide

Senick shares her advice for those who have lost a loved one to suicide.

The Importance of a Support System

“We’re all resilient in different ways,” Senick said. “Survival has to do not only with what’s inside you as a person, but it’s also about having a support system. It’s important to have at least one person in your life that you could trust with anything. You should be able to talk about your deepest, darkest emotions.”

Navigating Guilt After Suicide

Senick explained the feelings someone may feel if they’ve lost a loved one: “Often we blame ourselves for someone’s death by suicide. Guilt is huge.”

“However,” she said, “it is really a false sense of guilt. It’s not your fault. You might wonder: ‘Did I do something? Did I miss a sign?’ But you can’t hold yourself responsible for someone else’s actions.”

Understanding Why People Take Their Own Lives

“The majority of people who kill themselves do so because they are hurting inside. Whether it’s mental illness or a serious situation—that person feels hopeless. Stress can push someone to that breaking point.”

Why Suicide Prevention Training Can Save Lives

After joining Cardinal Innovations, Senick began learning about suicide prevention. Knowing what she knows now, she sees suicide as entirely preventable.

“In almost every case of attempted or completed suicide, there is a warning sign,” she said.

The more Senick learned about how preventable suicide was, the more she wanted to teach others. So, she got involved in the QPR institute’s suicide prevention training. QPR stands for “Question, Persuade, Refer.” These are each of the steps you should use if you think someone might be considering suicide.

Who Should Get QPR (Suicide Prevention) Training?

“Everybody,” Senick said. “They even have a curriculum now for teenagers. QPR typically trains nurses, doctors, library staff, teachers, social workers, administrators, hospice, and members of the health department. However, everyone would benefit from learning more about suicide prevention. It could save countless lives.”

Many QPR trainings are free of charge or offered at a low cost. Cardinal Innovations offers this training for free.

What to Do If You Think Someone is Considering Suicide

“Go with your gut. Start a conversation. Ask the question if you can—Are you considering killing yourself? It’s a really hard question to ask, but it’s vital to do that.” Senick also made other recommendations:

Don’t put yourself in danger.

“If someone you’re worried about has a weapon and is considering suicide—contact the authorities.”

Ask for a CIT officer.

“Any time that you must call the police about a behavioral health crisis, ask for a Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) trained officer. They have been trained to deescalate the situation and look at it from a mental health perspective.”

You can learn more about what to do if you’re worried someone is considering suicide with this blog.

Carol Senick first joined Cardinal Innovations Healthcare (formerly PBH) as a Board of Directors member in 2004 and served as the Board Community and Family Advisory Committee (CFAC) Liaison. In 2005 she came onboard as an employee in the Consumer Affairs Department. At Cardinal Innovations, she developed and provided several behavioral health and advocacy trainings for members. She also became a Certified National Trainer for QPR and MHFA in 2014 and 2015 respectively.
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