The Practical Mac

There's Much More to Life than Macs

- 2002.10.08 - Tip Jar

During the last week, I experienced one of a manager's worst nightmares. When I left church Wednesday night, I found a message on my cell phone.

My Network Administrator had left a message that was essentially his last will and testament.

I immediately called his cell phone and found that he had changed his greeting to a "goodbye world" message. I notified the authorities in the town where he lives. They went to check on him and discovered that John (not his real name) had apparently decided that, at age 35 and with two children, he was finished living.

As our office and especially our department worked through the grief and spoke with counselors over the next few days, it slowly began to emerge that there had been some warning signs:

  • Sudden change in family situation (in this case, a separation from his spouse)
  • Personality change (from outgoing to withdrawn, or vice-versa)
  • Periods of near-giddiness followed by deep depression
  • Person becomes "distant" and apparently disinterested

Every one of us believes that if John had just talked to us about what was going through his mind, we could have talked him out of it. The counselors tell us this is not necessarily true. We still wonder.

John had only been with us about two months. While each of us noticed some of these signs, we all thought it was just a normal part of working through the family problems he was having. We are told that it probably was, but at some point it went beyond that and John's situation must have appeared, at least to him, as hopeless.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, in 1999 (the most recent year for full data), there were 29,199 suicides in the U.S. That's one every 18 minutes. It is estimated that every suicide intimately affects a minimum of six other people. At least some of these might be prevented by professional counseling.

The goal of the American Association of Suicidology (AAS) is to understand and prevent suicide. According to information on their website, a person might be suicidal if he or she:

  • Talks about committing suicide
  • Has trouble eating or sleeping
  • Experiences drastic changes in behavior
  • Withdraws from friends and/or social activities
  • Loses interest in hobbies, work, school, etc.
  • Prepares for death by making out a will and final arrangements
  • Gives away prized possessions
  • Has attempted suicide before
  • Takes unnecessary risks
  • Has had recent severe losses
  • Is preoccupied with death and dying
  • Loses interest in their personal appearance
  • Increases their use of alcohol or drugs

Here are some ways to be helpful to someone who is threatening suicide:

  • Be direct. Talk openly and matter-of-factly about suicide.
  • Be willing to listen. Allow expressions of feelings. Accept the feelings.
  • Be non-judgmental. Don't debate whether suicide is right or wrong, or feelings are good or bad. Don't lecture on the value of life.
  • Get involved. Become available. Show interest and support.
  • Don't dare him or her to do it.
  • Don't act shocked. This will put distance between you.
  • Don't be sworn to secrecy. Seek support.
  • Offer hope that alternatives are available but do not offer glib reassurance.
  • Take action. Remove means, such as guns or stockpiled pills.
  • Get help from persons or agencies specializing in crisis intervention and suicide prevention.

I realize that this article has little to do with the Mac or Information Technology. However, as the late Mac columnist Rodney O. Lain (whose life tragically ended in this same manner) once wrote, "There is more to my life than Macs, so I write about more than Macs."

If you know someone at risk for suicide, talk to them. Better yet, try to get them to talk to a professional. Whether it be at work, school, church, or in other settings, statistics say that we will all eventually encounter someone contemplating suicide. Ours may be the only help they get.

The National Hopeline Network 1-800-SUICIDE provides access to trained telephone counselors, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. LEM

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Steve Watkins is the Vice President for Information Technology for a mid-sized bank, an attorney, and an Army Reserve JAG on extended active duty. He has been a Mac user for about 12 years. He has owned some PCs along the way - but always came back to the Mac. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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