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Dating with Disabilities
by Melissa Blake

Suicide Prevention and Survivors of Suicide:
An Interview with David Sacks

I haven’t discussed my father’s suicide in 2003 very much in these columns, but this week, I think it’s important to shed light on the devastation of suicide, especially for the loved one’s left behind. November 21 is the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s annual National Survivors of Suicide Day – a day set aside to remember those we’ve lost, but to also remind ourselves of one very important thing: We’re survivors. We’re still living in spite of quite possibly the worst life experience anyone could go through.

To that end, and to raise awareness of the shameful societal stigma surrounding suicide, I had the opportunity to interview Dr. David Sacks, a psychiatrist and currently CEO of Promises Treatment Centers on the effects of suicide and how you can help someone who may be at risk.

We shall return to our regularly scheduled dose of love insights next week.


Why is suicide such a rising concern in this country?
Numerous factors influence suicidal behavior. Among healthy
individuals and especially among teenagers and young adults, suicide is among the leading causes of death. Suicides occur at every age, but the risk actually increases as people get older. As the baby boomers reach their sixties, it is likely that many will be touched by suicide personally.

In your view, why is the subject of suicide such a taboo topic?
Many cultures see suicide as a sin or a character weakness, so a history of suicide is often hidden from friends and family members. In addition, people are fearful that if they raise the issue of suicidal thoughts with a depressed or distressed friend, they will somehow place the thought in their heads. People who consider and commit suicide harbor these thoughts for long periods and are not going to attempt suicide because a friend raises the question. In many cases, the individual has attempted to suicide at other points in their lives.

What can people do to help eliminate the stigma that surrounds suicide?
Suicide occurs as a consequence of medical and genetic factors. A suicide attempt is almost never the sort of rational choice that is portrayed in romantic novels or movies. There is evidence for genetic pre-disposition to certain types of suicide (violent suicides such as gun-shot wounds, hanging, jumping), as people who have first degree relatives who have died from a violent suicide are much more likely to do so as well. Brain serotonin (a neurotransmitter involved in the regulation of mood and impulsivity) has been found to be decreased among suicide victims and attempters. The stigma that surrounds suicide will decrease as people realize that it is part of medical conditions that are treatable and that people who attempt suicide deserve our compassion.

Experts always speak of the person who committed suicide, but those left behind have a tough road to travel. What are some of the typical emotions and experiences those left behind face?
I have worked extensively with patients whose parents have committed suicide, and the reactions vary to some extent on the age of the person. Most people feel rejected and abandoned. It is the feeling that “I must not have mattered very much to them or they wouldn't have killed themselves.” For any child, the death of a parent is traumatic and leaves a lifelong scar that is manifested as an increase risk to depression and substance abuse. Suicide is much worse because the child feels it was the parent's choice. For the children who may develop depression or substance abuse as adults, their parent's suicide may seem like an invitation to do the same. If they feel hopeless, they can just do what their parent did. For others, it may feel like it is somehow their destiny to die the same way.

What advice do you have for those who are suicidal?
It is important to get treatment. Start by talking to family members, your personal physician, your minister. If someone is having active suicide thoughts, thinking about ways to kill themselves, friends and relatives need to treat it like other life-threatening medical emergencies and have their relative seen immediately. I try to reassure my patients that as hopeless as they may feel today, that it will pass. It is important to diagnosis and treat the underlying causes, provide support through their families and friends and create a safer environment, by having people stay with a patient or check in frequently, removing handguns from the home, monitor prescription medications and when necessary hospitalization in a psychiatric program.

What advice do you have for those left behind after a loved one takes his/her life?
First and foremost, don't blame yourself. You didn't cause it, and no one can prevent someone who is fully determined to take their own life from doing so. There are grief and support groups that can be very helpful. Individual therapy is also helpful in processing the anger and grief many relatives feel.

Dating with Disabilities is published every Tuesday by Online Dating Magazine columnist Melissa Blake. Melissa is a freelance writer and columnist. Her work has been featured in Redbook, Pregnancy magazine and the Chicago Tribune. She can be reached at

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