Woods Cross City Councilmember Wally Larrabee educates the community about suicideJul 07, 2022 01:16PM ● By Peri Kinder
As a leading cause of death in Utah, and across the country, suicide is more than a tragedy – it’s a major health problem affecting people of all ages. But with a high suicide rate, senior citizens are one of the most vulnerable populations.
While seniors make up 12% of the population, they account for almost 18% of suicides, and those numbers are growing. One in four seniors will die by suicide, compared to one in 200 youth attempts. Men over 75 comprise the highest demographic for suicide.
“We’re very, very concerned about our senior citizens,” said Wally Larrabee, Woods Cross city councilmember. “They are the fastest-growing group of suicides, much, much quicker than our youth. It’s so sad because quite often those tragedies aren’t as well known.”
Several factors contribute to senior suicide attempts. They might be living longer, without high-quality health. They might not have the financial resources to carry them through the rest of their lives. They might fear being a burden to families or they don’t feel useful to the community.
Some warning signs for seniors might be losing interest in hobbies, isolating themselves, feeling worthless or hopeless, not eating or drinking enough and talking about giving away belongings.
“If you have any kind of hint that someone is struggling, don’t wait. Ask the question,” Larrabee said.
As a certified QPR instructor for suicide prevention, Larrabee educates adult and youth groups about identifying people who might be at risk and helps people have difficult discussions. He knows talking about suicide is uncomfortable, but the alternative can be deadly.
The QPR program breaks the conversation into three parts: Question, Persuade and Refer. The first step can be the most difficult, once you recognize someone you love may be in a dangerous situation and thinking of ending their life.
“If you suspect that someone around you is having a suicidal crisis, it’s vital that the question be asked. If you feel you don’t have the courage, you need to find someone who will be willing to ask that tough question,” Larrabee said.
Ask the person if they’re considering suicide, and give the individual time to respond. Don’t rush to judgment. Just listen and be persistent. If the person denies there’s a problem, let them know there are resources and support, that suicide is a permanent solution to a problem that is probably temporary, and there are resources to help manage those problems.
The second step is persuading a person that their life is worth living. This might involve taking a loved one to counseling or getting them to call the national crisis suicide hotline, which is open 24 hours a day. Most people don’t realize the number of resources available to overcome the crisis.
The third step is to refer people to those resources and get them to someone who can help navigate the situation.
“Quite often, individuals who go through a suicidal crisis and get the help they need at the time of that crisis, many times are not suicidal again,” he said. “It brings them back from the brink and helps them focus and helps them realize they are a valued individual and important to their community and family and those that care about them.”
With children and teens, parents need to have the conversation, especially if signs indicate growing depression or sadness. “The best thing a parent can do is to ensure that in their home their kids can talk to them about anything,” he said. “What kids face are so many dangers, there are so many things they can be up against and if they don’t feel they can talk to their parents about it, that’s where a problem can begin.”
It can be scary to ask kids what challenges they face and what keeps them up at night, but having the conversation on a regular basis helps break the ice and opens dialogue. Larrabee suggests leaving the conversation with the feeling that you’re open to any discussion at any time, and there will be no judgment or punishment.
“When kids truly believe that, that’s a huge step in combating suicide among our youth,” he said.
In schools, Hope Squads are available for struggling students. The members are trained in QPR and know how to recognize red flags. Parents can also subscribe to the SafeUT app which provides access to resources that can reach out and intervene in a crisis situation. To learn more or to schedule a training, contact Larrabee at 801-209-2663 or [email protected].
“Suicide is a very complex tragedy,” Larrabee said. “We like to simplify it but it’s very rare that suicide is simple. Suicide is such a tragedy in its truest sense.” λ