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March 26, 1978 - Image 11

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Michigan Daily, 1978-03-26
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Page 6-Sunday, March 26, 1978-The Michigan Daily

The Michigan Daily-Sunday, M<

Continued from Page 3)
many pieces to the puzzle yet to be fit-
ted into the general, over-all picture.
Suicide is perhaps most commonly
known as "a cry for help". Gerler
characterizes the suicidal person as
experiencing"a sense of hopelessness
accompanied by a sense of
helplessness. If things look really
hopeless and you feel totally helpless in
a situation, it may look like suicide is
the only way out." In such a circum-
stance, says Gerler, suicide may be
seen as a type of communication. "The
person may feel he's not being heard,
that no one will really take the time to
listeito them. Suicide is a way of get-
ting attention- fast."
While most of the feelings involved
with suicide can be placed under the
general heading of depression, there
are more specific, identifiable feelings.
A suicidal person may feel trapped and
isolated. "Where you see people
seriously contemplating it is when they
feel they have no other options," says
Carli. "They may feel, or they may ac-
tually have no others in their world that
they can turn to. When they are faced
with this feeling, they may see suicide
as the only real option that's left." -
Another common element is the lack
of self-esteem. "One way of looking at
suicide," says Harold Corn, head of
University Counseling Services, "is as
the complete loss of self-esteem; that
you are no longer a valuable human
being to yourself or anyone else."
Of course, a significant loss such as
the end of a relationship, the death of a
loved one or any particularly traumatic
event can act as a triggering device for
Anger may be a central factor in
some suicides. "Many times, suicidal
people are very, very angry," says
Gerler. "You can think of them as being
in rage and that this rage is being tur-
ned against themselves. You find very
frequently in suicide notesand in
therapy after an attempt that this rage
is directed toward some important in-
dividual. At times, they may have felt
like killing that other person but instead
they direct it inwards." Tied in with
this rage are the suicides which are
aggressive in intent, that are commit-
ted to induce guilt in some particular
person or persons. "In some instan-
ces," says Corn, "it may be a very
child-like way of getting even. As in
'you'll be sorry when I'm gone.' I've
run across cases like that."
J OHN. IS VERY familiar with this
type of blinding rage, and it may
have been a factor in his suicide
"All my life, I've felt this anger.
I just felt like ... "(he roars, screws
up his face, holds up his hands like
claws, then breaks up laughing)
. . . I just felt like I wanted to
break things. Usually, I destroy my
own property and then regret it
later. Like the other day, I punched
my fist through my radio. I tore-up
five $35 Bibles in a year."
John isalso the victim of another
very prevalent element in suicides: a
stormy and unhealthy family
background. In recalling his childhood,
John cites one specific incident that
was especially traumatic. Brought up
in a very religious home, John, at the
age of six, was accused by his father of
masturbating, an apparently un-
forgivable sin. From that point on, John
remembers, he and his father were at
See SUICIDE, Page 8


The darkest side of despai

Daily Photo by WAYNE GABLE

AS TABOOS ON THE investigation and analysis of
suicidal behavior have relaxed in recent years,
more effective ways of handling the problem have been -
One of the most important innovations, says Dr.
Harold Corn, head of University Counseling Services, has
been the 24-hour crisis hotline. "There's now something
immediately available, something that a suicidal person
can reach out for and get quick action, while still main-
taining his privacy. I think the hotlines have helped enor-
There are essentially three 24-hour emergency
pychiatric services operating around the University
community. There is 76-GUIDE, the University hotline
which actually receives very few calls of a personal
nature. There is the University Hospital Psychiatric
Emergency Room, which sees about 180 walk-in patients a
month (of which approximately a third are students).
Finally, there is the Walk-in Crisis Center on South Fourth
Ave. that has both a 24-hour hotline and walk-in service.
The Walk-in Crisis Center is perhaps the most
representative of the new wave of facilities created to deal
with psychiatric emergencies such as suicides. It gets
about 500 new cases each year in addition to the several
hundred continuing, long-term patients who are treated
on an out-patient level. About 30 to 50 per cent are studen-
Essentially, the Crisis Center's hotlines are the front-
line of the battle against suicides and other drastic mental
health problems.
ACCORDING TO Peter Bleby of the Crisis Center,
they get an average of three of four "serious" calls
a week, calls in which a person is either "hinting or
stating that they are considering it (suicide)." And while
this number may seem a bit high, Bleby notes that not all
such callers have the same motives or intentions in ar-
ticulating suicidal feelings.
"I don't think you can say everybody who calls us is
seriously considering killing themselves, but that is the

A call
for help
level of desperation that we're working with. The people
who call in may include some who call several times
during a single week because they're in some crisis and
things are particularly hard. Or maybe it's somebody who
we have a long-standing relationship with who goes in and
out of critical periods. And it's not impossible that some
people may develop this as a coping mechanism with the
thought, 'the only way I'm going to get anybody to listen to
me is by saying that I'm going to commit suicide.' That
may not mean they're actually going to, but it may mean,
'you better damn well listen to me or else!"'.
Obviously, handling suicidal calls requires a delicate
and sensitive approach. But, Bleby says, the best strategy
is usually a straightforward and direct manner mixed
with a healthy dollop of human warmth and understan-
"In the case of the person making references (to
suicide), we'll first try to establish as much trust as is
By George Lobsenz
possible over the phone when somebody is in some degree
of panic . . . and after a while, we'll say something like,
'are you perhaps considering killing yourself?' Now some
people might think that this might put the idea in their
heads. No way. The idea is already there. There's no way
that just by asking the question they're going to go 'Ah,
now there's an idea.' Rather, it's almost a relief that they
don't have to say it. They realize that it's not going to
shock or horrify the counselor. It makes it easier to talk
you can get more specific about problems and feelings
rather than using veiled references . . . communications
are much clearer and the essence of helping people is
clear communication."
Says Bleby of most of the people who call in; "They
just want to know that there's another warm body on the
other end of the line that cares."

N THE STILL of the small
bedroom, the question settles
around him like the curling smoke
of his cigarette. He takes a drag,
pauses, stares off into space momentar-
ily. As he begins, his eyes and de-
meanor are calm. He might be talking
about another person if his voice
did not wobble from time to time.
"The second time was last
January. I was living in a foster
home in Ypsilanti. It was so
depressing I couldn 't stand it ... I
just felt awful there. It was about
nine o'clock at night. I had been to
work that day and when I came
home I was really tired and
depressed and discouraged. I just
couldn 't look at anybody and I just
put my head down on the table and
said to myself, 'Oh God, there's no
hope. What am I living for?' I took
7,000 milligrams of Thorazaine.
That should have done it but they
pumped my stomach out. ... I just
couldn't see any other way out. It
just felt like my life was at an end.
Nothing ahead but total blackness."
At 33, John, a holder of a master's
degree in psychology from the Univer-
sity, has tried to kill himself three times
in the last seven years.
Few people can begin to understand
the kind of emotions and thoughts in-
volved in most suicides. The extreme
despair, hopelessness, and above all,
the level of desperation required for
such an act go far beyond the normal
range of human experience. Except
perhaps for an occasional, fleeting fan-
tasy that floats through one's mind un-
der the most trying of circumstances,
most of us find suicide somehow alien,
something so senseless and terrible it
defies comprehension.
Part and parcel of our attitudes
towards suicide is an active dislike of
talking about or dealing with it. It is a
subject most people will readily admit
feeling uncomfortable about. Slight
brushes with it - say, the suicide of a
distant acquaintance - engender a
kind of numb distaste. For the most
part, there is the tendency to put
suicide back on the shelf where so many
other touchy social issues - such as
homosexuality, for instance - have.
languished for so long. Some of these
negative attitudes may stem from the
general Western reluctance to come to
grips with death in any form. Others
point to the long-standing condem-
nation of suicide in Judeo-Christian
culture and tradition. Whatever the
reasons, only in the last 20 years has
suicide emerged from behind taboo to
receive the kind of scholarly and
popular attention it merits.
FEW REALIZE how pervasive a
problem suicide is in American
society. With 60 or 70 suicides
each day, suicide is more frequent than
murder in the United States. There are
22,000 suicides each year and nine times
that many attempts.
Even more troubling is the trend
George Lobsenz is a former Daily
managing editor.

By George Lobsenz

towards younger victims. Formerly a
problem associated with the isolated
elderly and middle-aged, the suicide
rate for adolescents and young adults
has been climbing steeply over the last
two decades. Suicide is presently the
second leading cause of death among 18
to 25-year-olds, surpassed only by ac-
cidents. And yet, despite the obvious

newspapers of a one-car accident
where someone wraps their car around
a tree and you just can't say," observes
Gerler, "however, it is not uncommon
to hear someone in therapy having the
ideation, 'Boy, sometimes when I'm
driving my car, I really have the urge
not to navigate the curve . . . just go

The other ha
perplexing. Qu
bits and piece
wherefores of
systematic und
adequate theor
attempt to sing
or causes is use
depression is a
each individua
to a host of f
history, person
social milieu oi
ts in the individ

Daily Pho

urgency of the problem, the scope and
nature of suicidal behavior remain
maddeningly unclear for a variety of
Most psychiatrists and mental health
workers would agree that there are no
reliable statistics on suicide. Part of
this is due to negative societal at-
titudes. For example, it is generally
recognized that there are a large num-
ber of "cover-ups", especially among
more socially prominent families. Of-
ten, experts say, a family may put
pressure on coroners or medical
examiners to officially classify fairly
clear-cut suicides as "accidents" so
they may avoid the social stigma at-
tached to suicide.
There may be more personal reasons
for this as well. Notes Dr. William
Gerler, an associate director at
the University's Counseling Cen-
ter who has done some research on
suicide: "To say My son died in a car
accident' is not as emotional-
ly debilitating as it is to say 'my
son committed suicide'. There's
all kinds of guilt feelings involved in
this." Finally, there are some cases
where the evidence is simply incon-
clusive. "You frequently read in the

N ANY CASE, this contributes to
statistics that may considerably
underestimate the frequency of
suicide. Dr. Bruce Danto of the Suicide
Prevention Center in Detroit cites
Wayne County figures as an example.
"In Wayne County every year, there
are 300-400 deaths that are classified as
accidents where a fall from heights is
involved. There are 30-40 accidental
poisonings. There are 30 accidental
gunshot deaths. Now, no one is going to
convince me that all, or even most of
these deaths are 'accidental'. I think
very few people accidentally drink
poison, except for maybe very small
children . . . with auto crashes, drug
overdoses, falls from -high places -
unless you're there with an Instamatic,
it's not going to be recorded as a
As for Washtenaw County, there are
an average of 40 "official" suicides
each year, a figure, again, that most
local mental health workers say
significantly undershoots the actual
total. The University apparently keeps
no records on the incidence of suicide.
Thus, both nationally and locally, the
parameters of the problem are largely

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