Monday, September 21, 2015

My Guest Column in the Intell - Sept is Suicide Prevent Month

The story disappears from the online edition of the Doylestown-based Intelligencer in 24 hours if you don't have a subscription.

The editorial page editor, Alan Kerr, didn't okay my idea for a couple weeks since he was on vacation. I was both relieved - that I wouldn't have to write it - and terribly disappointed.

Then he wrote said, Get it to him ASAP. Sweeter words were never heard.

Our ceremony to install the tree in October, 2013. View blog post here.

Posted: Monday, September 21, 2015 12:15 am

By Ruth Z. Deming

My friend Carole attended an unusually tragic funeral. A young woman, bright, beautiful and beloved by mourners who filled the church, died suddenly by her own hand. She was about to enter grad school.

Yet the word “suicide” was never spoken.

Oftentimes, the brain tells lies when we are depressed. Did the young woman feel “I am not good enough”? “I’ll fail and dishonor my family”?

The real tragedy is she never asked for help. Depression is a disease of the brain, nothing to be ashamed of and easily treatable, for most people, with psychiatric medication and psychotherapy.

September is the perfect time for “suicide prevention awareness,” as thousands of students return to their classrooms, backpacks filled with heavy textbooks and note pads.

Think back to when you were a student. Did you feel the stress the current generation experiences in these fast-paced times?

An easy-to-use resource to help those thinking about suicide is a free, confidential 24-hour Crisis Text Line, accessible via the number 741741, per a recent story in The New York Times.

The topic of “college students and mental health” was covered several days ago on the PBS Nightly News Hour. The seven-minute story described the need for colleges to provide services for students suffering from anxiety and depression.

Years ago, reported the story, depression was the chief cause of concern, but in the past four years, anxiety has overtaken depression. One out of four students, the report noted, takes psychiatric medication.

Colleges react differently. Some simply want the at-risk students to leave. Others, like the large Ohio State University, have devoted many staff training hours to figure out how to help individual students.

“Renee” is a member of New Directions, the support group I founded to help people and families affected by depression and bipolar disorder.

As a law student in Philadelphia, she was experiencing overwhelming anxiety, so she met with her psychiatrist for a med adjustment. She also dropped one of her classes to lessen the enormous reading and memorization load.

She met with her adviser, who helped her sign up for accommodations from the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Her own note-taking will be backed up by a professional note-taker, and she will receive “extra time,” if she needs it, when taking exams.

Renee is worth it. Despite her diagnosis of depression, she was one of the top scorers on a national law exam.

We should all be alert to the signs of suicide. If anyone talks about suicide, he or she must be taken seriously. Ask questions. Contrary to popular belief, this is not going to encourage them to do the deed.

Say, “I’m here to help you.” Take them to see a doctor or to the emergency room, if they agree. Visit their home and talk with their family members. No one needs to die when a medication adjustment may be needed, along with all-important “talk therapy.”

Check the website of the Montgomery County Emergency Service ( for top-notch information and guidance. They save lives.

You may also call the free and confidential Suicide Hotline — 800-273-TALK (8255) — also serving veterans.

As we know, Pennsylvania is still without a budget. Gov. Tom Wolf has pledged to restore some of the cutbacks to funding for mental health. Suicide prevention is among the top priorities and, yes, this costs money.

The other day I visited Pennypack Trust Nature Center in Huntingdon Valley. Tromping up and down the shady paths, my boyfriend and I visited “Tony’s Tree.” New Directions had planted an ironwood tree in memory of Tony, a man whose mental anguish was so intense he took his own life.

The tree with its glorious green leaves stretching toward the sky is testament to all the lives that will be saved through education and asking the right questions.

Ruth Z. Deming is a psychotherapist and founder/director of New Directions Support Group of Abington and Willow Grove. View meeting schedule and special events at For information, call 215-659-2366.

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