A silent struggle

Holly Johannsen

It’s always hard to watch a friend go through tough times, but for Angela Schmitz, a sophomore in graphic design, it was devastating.

Schmitz isn’t alone in dealing with the loss of a friend to suicide.

According to the American Association of Suicidology, a nonprofit organization targeted at suicide prevention and awareness, suicide is the 11th highest cause of death among Americans – and the third highest cause of death among Americans ages 15 to 24.

“It is hard to know where you are in that stage of development,” said Dr. Megan Murphy, director for the ISU Marriage and Family Therapy Clinic. “There is a lot of peer pressure to be a certain way.”

Murphy said the best thing a friend can do for someone who is going through a hard time and may be thinking about suicide is to talk to them about it.

“A friend can take the [suicide] statement seriously, even if it is scary,” Murphy said. “You won’t plant the seed; they have already done that themselves.”

A person who is thinking about suicide will often start acting differently – possibly talk about death, give away possessions or just completely withdraw from life, Murphy said.

“Don’t just run away; don’t ignore them,” Murphy said. “Reach out to them.”

Schmitz noticed some changes in a friend who later committed suicide.

“Her grades dropped dramatically,” Schmitz said. “She had been a really good student.”

Schmitz said that after her friend had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, things really took a turn for the worse.

“She started taking the wrong pill – she took the pill that made her feel good,” Schmitz said. “She loved a rush. I tried talking to her, but she didn’t talk after a while.”

According to the AAS, mental health diagnoses are generally associated with a higher rate of suicide.

Murphy said there are many reasons a person uses to justify suicide, such as isolation from a community or a biological imbalance.

Two weeks prior to committing suicide, Schmitz’s friend hit a car and walked away with nothing but bruises and a satisfying rush.

“I think she was actually trying to do it,” Schmitz said. “She loved showing off the bruises. It didn’t matter what kind of attention, as long as she got it.”

Murphy said the ISU clinic has dealt with people who are thinking about suicide before. The therapists are trained to deal with people when they get come to such a low point in their lives.

“We assess [the situation] to see how serious their intentions are,” Murphy said. “We look at the bigger picture to see where to best help them.”

The main thing is to get the suffering person help, whether it be talking to them about it or going with them to a counseling session.

“It can seem like the only way out, but it may seem like the easiest way out at the time,” Murphy said. “Tough times come, but tough times go, too. Things will get better.”

Schmitz said it took her years to really get over her friend’s suicide, while the girl’s family completely fell apart.

“I was the last one to talk to her; I had no idea it was coming. Overall, I was not surprised because of the way she was acting and her downfall in life,” Schmitz said.

“I didn’t know what to do. I basically fell apart myself. Losing her was like losing a part of me. I find it a selfish act; it ruined so many people’s lives.”

Anyone who has questions about suicide prevention or would like to speak to a counselor can call the Marriage and Family Therapy Clinic at 515-294-0534 or stop by the clinic on the second floor of the Palmer Building.