According to the National Institute of Mental Health, suicide is the third leading cause of death among people ages 15-24.
The same organization has found that young males commit suicide nearly six times more than young females, but young females are four times more likely to attempt suicide.
“I was 21 when I first attempted suicide,” said Amy Walen, a senior studying business management. “I started contemplating suicide after I had experienced depression for one or two months. My depression came on all of a sudden very severely.”
Reed Stoddard, director of the BYU-Idaho Counseling Center, said suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
“What you try to communicate to someone who is suicidal is, ‘Yes, I know you feel really bad and it seems hopeless right now, but it’s not always going to be that way,’” Stoddard said.
After reaching out to friends, Walen began seeking treatment for depression.
“Basically, the thing that brought me to the point of suicide was feeling that I wasn’t of worth,” Walen said. “What really helped was having people who knew what I was struggling with.”
Stoddard, who gives a presentation on mental health to campus-approved-apartment managers, said that family, acquaintances and friends can be the first line of defense in preventing suicide; recieving help from family and friends has been something that Walen has experienced firsthand.
“I had a really close friend who lived in the same apartment complex as I did, and some nights when I was really depressed I would text her,” Walen said. “She’d come get me, and I’d go to her apartment and have a safety sleepover.”
Walen said her roommates’ and friends’ considerate actions saved her life on more than one occasion.
According to an article written by Elder M. Russell Ballard for Ensign magazine, the people in a person who commits suicide’s life, including parents, family and friends, can feel the effects of suicide for years or a lifetime.
Scott Sorensen, a BYU-Idaho alumnus from the class of 2012, lost his best friend to suicide when he was 16.
“Matt suffered from depression, and none of us knew it,” Sorensen said. “He was one of my best friends in high school, and none of us knew he had depression. He didn’t tell anybody except for his parents.”
Sorensen said the news of Matt’s suicide sent him into a state of shock and disbelief.
“No human is equipped to handle grief like that, but when you’re an adolescent you don’t know from down,” he said. “You don’t know how to grieve. … I didn’t know what to do.
You feel so helpless, there’s just nothing you can do.”
Sorensen and his friends did what they could to cope with Matt’s death, including spending time with Matt’s parents and doing things that Matt would have enjoyed, but the loss was still incredibly difficult.
“I guess I’m not over it yet, although I don’t think about it quite as often,” Sorensen said.
Stoddard said counseling is an option for those who are bereaved by suicide as well.
“I didn’t find out that there was free counseling at BYU-I until my last semester there,” Sorensen said. “I always wish I had undergone some counseling. Counseling is free at BYU-I, so why not take advantage and talk to someone about things?”
Walen said in addition to counseling, medication and dedicated psychiatric care from medical professionals have helped her regain control of her life.
“Medicine can help, but it’s not an either-or thing,” Stoddard said. “Some people just take medicine and it helps. Other people don’t want anything to do with medicine. They’d rather get some help and learn some coping skills, and they do better as well. However, in many cases, some people need to be using both medication and counseling.”
Walen said that when she began to feel depressed, she felt isolated. According to the National Suicide Protection Lifeline, a lack of social sport is a risk factor for suicide.
“Lots of times people with mental illnesses don’t like sharing that with others, and some people don’t even accept it themselves,” Walen said. “Even if they do accept it, it’s really hard for them to initially open to anybody.”
Stoddard said there are many reasons for this.
“Those who are suicidal may have issues with trust, worrying that the person they’re considering talking to may not respond well,” Stoddard said.
Stoddard also gave advice for those trying to help their friends who may be struggling with suicidal thoughts.
“The easiest way to approach that is through encouraging others to be sensitive and aware and to reach out and sport those who are struggling.”
Walen now runs a weekly sport gro called NAMI Connection at the Community Presbyterian Church in Rexburg for those with mental illnesses.
The gro is affiliated with the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
“NAMI Connection is basically for people who have mental illnesses,” she said. “It’s a place for them to get sport and discuss the troubles they’re currently facing.”
Walen said NAMI Connection is not specifically geared toward suicide or depression, but it can help people with those concerns feel sport and safety.
“Basically, I want to help people who have had similar problems to ones that I have experienced,” Walen said. “NAMI’s biggest goal is to make sure people never give hope.”
Sorensen, who does not suffer from clinical depression, said the best thing for him in coping with his friend’s suicide was discussing it with others who understood. He also said that those systems of sport are helpful for him in dealing with everyday difficulties.
“It’s a normal human emotion to feel depressed sometimes,” he said. “It’s OK to be human about it, to cry about it, to talk to somebody about it. It’s not something to be ashamed of.”
Walen said her faith has also helped her in her struggle with depression.
“The gospel in my life has helped a ton,” Walen said. “One of the big things that stopped me from suicide was realizing who I am as a daughter of God. Talking to him in prayer is a huge help for me. It helps me know that someone is there listening who understands.”
Stoddard and Walen both referenced an October 2013 General Conference talk given by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, in which Holland said that while some mental illnesses are extremely difficult to understand, trust in Heavenly Father’s love can help those affected with depression cope.
“Above all, never lose faith in your Father in Heaven, who loves you more than you can comprehend,” Holland said. “Hope is never lost.”
Those who are interested in attending the NAMI Connection or in scheduling an appointment with a counselor can contact the Counseling Center at 208-496-9370.