Connections Summer 2018: Suicide Risk

When the Solution is the Problem.

An alarming increase in suicide attempts has America on edge. Now more than ever, it’s important to know who’s at risk of suicide, what are the warning signs…and how to get help.

From Our CEO

The entire world of late has been focused with sharpened interest on the wrenching and complex subject of suicide and its prevention. Given the recent news, it is of little wonder.

Suicide by definition is the last resort for a person overcome by the troubles of this life.

What’s more, as we have so recently been reminded, even seemingly untouchable persons are not immune. The suicide deaths this summer of Kate Spade, a fashion design icon, and Anthony Bourdain, the globe-trotting celebrity chef, author, travel documentarian, and TV personality, served to drive home that truth within mere days of each other.

Those deaths-at-their-own-hands by these famous people have put a face to the crisis – a crisis that is growing in speed and volume. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were a confirmed 45,000 suicides in the United States in 2017. And those are only the confirmed cases. Drug overdoses, for example, do not count in that total.

Please read on through this Connections newsletter to learn more about the battle against suicide and what Carrier Clinic is doing to help in that struggle. At day’s end, awareness, education, and treatment are the keys to subduing this foe and furthering healthy lives.

In other news, I am proud to announce that Carrier Clinic, a leader in behavioral health with a 100-year history in New Jersey, and Hackensack Meridian Health, the state’s largest and most comprehensive and integrated health network, have signed a definitive agreement to merge to deliver unsurpassed behavioral healthcare to the region.

I can’t imagine a more timely or needed partnership for the betterment of the people of New Jersey and beyond. We expect the merger to be official by early 2019. Please [keep an eye on our website] for future updates.

When a Star Falls

When a larger-than-life celebrity takes their own life, the aftershocks can be felt far and wide.

Even in an age of info-overload, the news made the world skip a heartbeat. Two famous, successful and creative people—designer Kate Spade and chef/author/TV host Anthony Bourdain—hanged themselves within days of each other in June. Two celebrities who seemed to have it all succumbed to the same demons that plague people from so many walks of life.

From Hemingway and Marilyn, to Robin Williams and Kurt Cobain, celebrity suicides have long been a tragic sidebar to familiar stories of fame. But lost among the memorials are the very real and devastating effects that these acts have on “everyday” people. It’s a concern that hit home again in June when the National Suicide Hotline experienced a 25 percent spike in calls.

Just as many people identify with their favorite performers, athletes, and public figures in life, so they
do in death when the suicide of a famous person inspires “copycat” behavior in those of a similar age, gender, or background. It’s a phenomenon that dates back to studies showing a 12 percent uptick following Marilyn Monroe’s passing —and it continues into an era when suicide ranks among the top 10 causes of death for Americans.

With economic factors and the opioid crisis playing a role in the increase of suicides—particularly among middle-aged (45-64) adults —it doesn’t take much to trigger self-harming behavior in those who are most susceptible to such thoughts. Internet-driven rumors and “tabloid” style reporting can turn a celebrity death into a potential copycat scenario. Many media outlets have re-examined the ways in which such news is presented to the public.

Beyond that, the fact remains that the disorders most linked to suicide risk (depression, bipolar, post-traumatic stress disorder, and psychosis) too often go undiagnosed or improperly treated, laying the groundwork for cases in which other external factors can magnify thoughts of suicide as an option. As a regional leader in the treatment of behavioral health issues, Carrier Clinic works to identify at-risk individuals, address the root disorders, and reinforce the fact that the “suicide solution” is
no solution at all. In a world where even the ultra-famous can exhibit all-too-human failings, there’s no need for suicide to go viral.

When the Solution is the Problem

Suicide: “one of the top 10 causes of death in the U.S. right now”

The statistic, delivered in June of this year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Deputy Director Anne Schuchat, MD, was of the sort that might once have inspired the reader to double-check the claim. Yet, here in 2018, it has become all too credible to cite suicide as “one of the top 10 causes of death in the U.S. right now”—a ranking that has catapulted instances of “intentional self-harm” to a place above kidney and liver disease, and many common bacterial infections.

With nearly 45,000 confirmed suicides in the CDC’s data for 2017— a number that does not take in cases of drug overdoses and other deaths that may or may not have been intentional—it’s not hyperbole to suggest that the numbers point to a very real and alarming trend. And when Dr. Schuchat made her statement, just one day before the reported suicide of a well-known public figure, she could not have known that the phone banks of the National Suicide Hotline would soon light up with an estimated 25 percent uptick in calls.

Suicide as a “solution” to one’s problems is at least as old as the earliest human history—and many of the leading motivations for self- inflicted harm are, of course, nothing new. Broken relationships, financial ruin, serious illness, feelings of isolation or low self-esteem, the downward spiral of addiction, even family histories all have played significant roles in such desperate acts across the centuries. That said, there are new factors that come into play in contemporary America — a place in which deeply entrenched histories of bullying and abuse have been forced into the spotlight; in which millions have found themselves on the wrong side of ever-widening economic disparity, and in which a heightened sense of polarization has strained the bonds of family and long-standing friendship. The effects of an increased availability of opioid drugs, the attendant spike in serious addictions, and the ways in which we interact through social media cannot be ignored, in light of recent statistics.

Beyond all of the external pressures are issues of that person’s mental health. A person who suffers from depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), anxiety, or other personality disorders is especially vulnerable to suicidal impulses and equally susceptible to alleviating their pain through drugs, alcohol, gambling, and other high-risk behaviors. Add a busted marriage, the loss of a job, a chronic illness, a devastating personal trauma, or any other factor that threatens the equilibrium of an individual’s life, and you’ll find someone who is at particular risk of suicidal thoughts.

While attention has rightfully been paid to the problem of teen suicide in recent years, the numbers also indicate that an alarming number of middle-aged Americans—defined primarily as those between the ages of 45 and 64—have been turning to suicide; a “silent” epidemic that borders on public emergency. But just as nearly any age group can be at risk of considering suicide, so too can anyone be equipped with the knowledge that real help is close at hand—and that if someone you know (or even you yourself) has exhibited signs of suicide risk, you have the power to connect with caring, compassionate, professional help, at any hour of any day.

Know the Risks of Suicide:

  • Drastic mood swings
  • Marked changes in personality and behavior
  • Increased isolation and withdrawal from social interaction
  • Increased dependency on alcohol, drugs, or self-destructive habits
  • Changes in routine such as sleeping or eating habits
  • Evidence of preparation for taking one’s life
  • Preoccupation with death or violence; talk of committing suicide; wishing for death or having never been born…do NOT take these behaviors lightly!

In the event that you or someone close to you is in an immediate life-threatening crisis, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.

If the individual is exhibiting the tell-tale signs of suicide risk, the Access Center at Carrier Clinic operates a 24-hour helpline at 1-800-933-3579. It’s there that you’ll find a person who can connect you with a behavioral health specialist, advise on an appropriate course of action, arrange an evaluation for possible admission to our treatment facility—and above all else, provide assurance that there is another pathway out of this troubled moment in time; a way in which the light of life and hope can prevail.


The Whole of the Soul

Carrier’s on-staff Chaplain trains the next generation of spiritual counselors.

“Spirituality is a meaningful component of support for suicide survivors,” explains The Rev. Stephen Faller, staff chaplain at Carrier Clinic and coordinator of Carrier Clinic’s CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) program.

A Carrier Clinic team member since 2011, Rev. Faller is the third clergyman to serve as on-campus chaplain, a tradition that goes back nearly 60 years. But as the first to oversee the training program that he helped establish in the earlier part of the decade, he and a group of seminarians and interns maintain a Eucharistic Ministry and a Youth Ministry program, while graduating six trainees each year—three from a class that runs from October through May, and three from a “faster tracked” June-to-August summer session.

“It’s incomplete treatment to overlook the spiritual factor in wellness and recovery.”
–Rev. Stephen Faller Staff chaplain at Carrier Clinic

The graduates aim to move into a growing field of comprehensive care in which “more institutions like this one are utilizing faith and spirituality as part of group therapy… evaluating how these elements engage the whole person, and what it means to the soul of the human being who feels discouraged or fearful.”

“One of the beautiful things about working with Carrier Clinic is the team-oriented approach,” says the Methodist minister, who chose chaplaincy as a career path. “I’m one of a number of care providers across a network that sees the value of holistic care…and it’s a privilege to be part of it.”

Carrier Profile

Megan Kelley BFA, MA, LAC, ATR-BC, Expressive Arts Therapist, East Mountain Youth Lodge

“I am passionate about creativity,” explains Megan Kelley — gallery exhibited mixed- media artist, 5Rhythms® dance/movement meditation practitioner, and licensed associate counselor and board-certified registered art therapist at Carrier Clinic’s East Mountain Youth Lodge. It’s a passionate pursuit Kelley has applied toward her work with at-risk young people in ways that incorporate “art as medicine.”

Kelley and her fellow team members at East Mountain Youth Lodge recently hosted a “wearable art fashion show and pool party” featuring custom-crafted clothing and accessory creations designed by Lodge youth across a six-week curriculum. One “fashion look” developed by teens found inspiration by exploring a “warrior theme” that spoke to balancing the light and shadow attributes of a warrior such as “skill and discipline” vs. “trading ethics for victory at any cost.” Such special events are a colorful component of “a core strategy that includes both youth and their families in programming,” one that also encompasses music, drama, an on-campus equine program, and other holistic therapies.

A Carrier Clinic staffer since 2009, Kelley has represented the program to the general community via live presentations at high schools and local libraries—and on Wednesday, September 12th, she’ll be featured in a special webinar keyed to the theme of “Preventing Suicide Among Our Kids.” The event offers facts about youth suicide, details of common risk factors, as well as an explanation of where the work of the Lodge comes in, as it partners with the Carrier Clinic medical team, community providers and families who are included in treatment planning.

“It’s about getting the information out there to the public,” the counselor explains, “for teens whose needs go beyond the typical developmental stressors of adolescence…and for the families who are so much a part of helping kids in crisis.”

We’re Part of Your Community

Carrier Clinic is your good neighbor—one that’s invested in the well-being of our communities. There are many ways to partner with us, from participating in our new Webinar Series to registering for the annual Walk of Hope and Awareness. Or, join New Jersey’s premier advocates for mental health awareness at our yearly Gala. Check back with us for updates on these and other ways in which Carrier and you can work together as good neighbors!