This Issue

Suicide: Out of the darkness

The tough road for those left behind

A preventable loss of life

Q & A

Need more information?

What puts a person at risk for suicide?

  • Depression or other mental health disorders

  • Substance abuse

  • Family history of mental disorder or substance abuse

  • Family violence, including physical or sexual abuse

  • Firearms in the home

  • Family history of suicide

  • Exposure to suicide of family members, peers or celebrities

  • Gender — occurs in almost four times as many males as females

  • Race — more common in American Indians and whites, but the number is increasing among blacks

  • Age — more common in people under the age of 24 and 65 and older

  • Incarceration

  • Previous attempts

Suicide is not a normal response to these risks and can often be prevented by appropriate treatment for the mental or substance abuse disorder.

What puts a person at risk for suicide?

Don’t keep it to yourself!
If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide,
make a call instead.
Telephone Number Organization Hours of Availability
800-273-TALK (8255) Nat’l Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24 hours a day
800-981-HELP (4357) Boston Emergency Service Team 24 hours a day
800-784-2433 Nat’l Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24 hours a day
617-247-0220 Samaritans 24 hours a day
877-870-HOPE (4673) Samaritans 24 hours a day
800-252-TEEN (8336) Samaritans – for teens 24 hours a day
866-508-HELP (4357) Massachusetts Suicide Prevention Lifeline 8 AM to 11 PM

Pay attention to the warning signs!
  • Threatening to hurt or kill oneself or talking about wanting to hurt or kill oneself

  • Looking for ways to kill oneself by seeking access to firearms, available pills or other means

  • Talking or writing about death, dying or suicide

  • Feeling hopeless

  • Feeling rage or uncontrolled anger or seeking revenge

  • Acting reckless or engaging in risky activities — seemingly without thinking

  • Feeling trapped — like there’s no way out

  • Increasing alcohol or drug use

  • Withdrawing from friends, family and society

  • Feeling anxious, agitated or unable to sleep or sleeping all the time

  • Experiencing dramatic mood changes

  • Giving away belongings or getting affairs in order

  • Seeing no reason for living or having no sense of purpose in life

Source: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

Pay attention to the warning signs!

Don’t keep it to yourself!

What should you do if you think
someone is thinking of suicide?
  • Take the threat seriously

  • Let the person know you care

  • Ask questions

    Are you thinking about killing yourself?
    Do you think you might hurt yourself today?
    Have you thought of ways that you might hurt yourself?
    Do you have pills or weapons in the house?

  • Do not leave him or her alone

  • Remove potential tools for suicide

  • Tell him or her that you will get help

  • Call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room

  • Call 800-273-TALK — the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

What should you do if you think
someone is thinking of suicide?

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Need more information?

It’s a call or click away …

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention • 888-333-AFSP (2377)

National Organization for People of
Color against Suicide • 202-549-6039

American Association of Suicidology • 202-237-2280

Suicide Prevention Action Network
(SPAN) USA • 202-449-3600

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
800-232-4636 (CDC-INFO)

Suicide: Out of the darkness

It was seven years ago, David Threatt recalls, on July 19, 2003 to be exact.

David Threatt (left) says that if he had succeeded in his suicide attempt, he would not be here for his children, Genesis (middle), now 8 and Isaiah, now 12. (Photo courtesy of David Threatt)
His marriage was falling apart, bills were mounting, and the feeling of failure was overwhelming.

“I had just turned 30,” Threatt remembered. “That’s the end of the world at 30.”

He said he was disappointed in himself and had higher expectations than he had achieved. He began to pull away from friends.

Looking back, Threatt, now 37, recognizes that he was depressed and had been for a while, but did not realize the seriousness of his problem.

He admits he did not plan on dying that day. “It wasn’t anything I thought about,” he said. “Even then I didn’t think that was how the day would end. “I just wanted to go to sleep.”

As is the case with many African Americans, Threatt never received treatment for his depression.

Sean Joe, Ph.D., LMSW, an associate professor of social work at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor, focuses his research on suicide among blacks.

Joe cautions that growing up in America is different now. “There is more acceptance of suicide if life is bad,” he said. “Attitudes are different. We are becoming one America.”

This is a change in the once highly held theory that blacks were able to cope even under the most dire situations. “Resilience has been part of the black experience,” Joe said.

The role of faith was prominent. Suicide was taboo.

But younger blacks might not have that sense of belonging and strength. “Young blacks blame themselves when things go wrong,” said Joe. “They think things happen because of them.”

Experts have offered a range of theories on the increased risk of suicide among black males ages 15 to 24. Increased access to guns and prescription drugs are two of them, as is the higher incidence of psychiatric disorders.

Dr. Alvin F. Pouissaint, a child psychiatrist and director of the Media Center of the Judge Baker Children’s Center, co-authored a book on black suicide with journalist Amy Alexander.

Sean Joe, Ph.D., L.M.S.W.
Associate Professor of Social Work
Director, Emerging Scholars Interdisciplinary Network
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Both had experienced a suicide in their family — one quick and direct, the other drawn out. Pouissaint talks about “slow suicide” — self-destructive behavior that can accompany depression, substance abuse and other high-risk behaviors, including gang activity.

For Threatt, things fell apart after one night of drinking and smoking marijuana. “I got into a paranoid state,” he said. “I was anxious and confused. I couldn’t figure out what was going on.”

His unintelligible telephone calls to friends prompted them to check on him and eventually call his mother. She came and never left his side. She even accompanied him to work the next day, which only escalated his paranoia.

“Why is she here?” he wondered aloud, giving voice to some grand conspiracy against him.

That is when his mother insisted that he return to her house.

And that’s where it started.

Threatt could not sit still and paced back and forth despite his mother’s pleas for him to sleep. Instead of helping, those words — and in particular the use of the word “sleep” — triggered his self-destruction.

His thoughts turned to his grandfather who had recently died in his sleep. “It seemed so peaceful,” Threatt thought. “No pain, no suffering. You just don’t wake up.”

Panicked, he took a bottle of over-the-counter drugs. His mother — unaware of his overdose — offered him some sleeping pills. He took them. Thirty minutes later, he was still walking around.

He found a bottle of prescription drugs that he downed. “I have no idea what they were,” he said.

And then, according to Threatt, two miracles happened that saved his life.

The first was the voice of his uncle, a minister he greatly admired. His uncle had come by, at the request of his mother, to offer counsel and support.

Threatt admitted that, in spite of his self-destructive behavior, he is a religious man. He instinctively dropped the bottle at the sound of his uncle’s voice.

After the talk, Threatt finally slept, but when his mother could not rouse him, she found the empty bottle on the floor and called 911.

Unknown to Threatt at the time, another miracle was in the works. According to Threatt, the prescription drugs he took countered the impact of the over-the-counter drugs. “Those pills saved my life,” he said. “It was like I took an antidote.”

He spent three days in the intensive care unit and two weeks in a psychiatric hospital.

Threatt has never looked back. He counts each day as a blessing. “Everyday I find something that I would have missed if I hadn’t been here,” he said. “Every new person I meet, every new experience is a blessing.”

His business has taken off. His beauty shop, The Hair Cafe, has doubled in size. He is about to expand to a second location.

Thinking back, Threatt says he realizes suicide is not the answer — no matter how bad it gets. “You cannot give up,” he said. “You really do not know what the next day holds.”

He recognizes that the new day might be even worse, but you never know he said. “You need to stay strong and get self-discipline.”

Threatt is actively involved in the New York-based American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the leading national not-for-profit organization exclusively dedicated to understanding and preventing suicide.

He participates in the group’s Out of the Darkness Overnight, a walk to create awareness about suicide and raise funds to help save lives through research and education.

Threatt still marvels that he is here to tell his story.

“It’s a miracle and a blessing,” he said.