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9 risk factors for suicide and 1 important question you can ask to hopefully know for sure.

There's something you should know about people with severe depression.

9 risk factors for suicide and 1 important question you can ask to hopefully know for sure.

Many of us feel inept when it comes to acknowledging suicide.

"It's so tragic."

"What a waste of a beautiful life."


"Why didn't he just talk to us about it?"

We are often at a loss for how to deal with the profoundly devastating topic of suicide. We can talk about it in a removed, social-ill, this-world-is-so-messed-up, throw-our-hands-up-in-helplessness kind of way when it comes up in passing — like when people are talking about how much they miss Robin Williams.

But we are poorly equipped to discuss it in any substantial way. Which is understandable. Most of us aren't trained in psychiatric services and are doing our best to muddle through our own difficulties in life. Figuring out how to solve America's suicide problem seems above our pay grade.

It's important for each of us to commit to getting better at talking about it.

When you have that one friend you can just sit and talk with about anything. Image by Garry Knight/Flickr.

The truth is that each of us could have a friend who's suicidal right now — today — and isn't telling us about it. They're not telling us about it because they know very well that they live in a world ill-equipped to help them without judging them.

The main thing that kept me from speaking up long ago when I toyed with the thought of ending my own life was: "If I admit I'm barely able to take each next breath right now, will I always be labeled as fragile or troubled forever for the rest of time?" Saying something is a decision to commit to someone else's memory that this messed-up mental stumble is happening. It takes bravery to talk about it, especially when you're in the thick of it.

Everyone and anyone could be at risk for suicide. Suicide doesn't have a "look." Moms, dads, 11-year-olds, pastors — the thought of ending it all can take root in anybody's mind. But there are some groups who are more prone to suicide than others. According to the CDC, lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide than straight peers. And 25% of transgender young people surveyed report having made an attempt to take their own life. The thing that some well-meaning people don't know is that snapping out of it or learning how to enjoy life isn't an option for those who are truly depressed — it's not a mind-over-matter thing. At that particular moment in their lives, the afflicted person just can't.

The little things that can spark our spirit during normal times don't do the same thing for someone who's depressed. Image by Rick/Flickr.

Why does suicide start looking like a viable option?

John Gibson, a pastor whose name was recently released as part of the Ashley Madison hack (where people were outed for starting accounts with the intent to cheat on their spouses), committed suicide in August.

"He talked about depression. He talked about having his name on there, and he said he was just very, very sorry. What we know about him is that he poured his life into other people, and he offered grace and mercy and forgiveness to everyone else, but somehow he couldn't extend that to himself."
Christi Gibson, on her husband John's suicide letter

Jody Nelson, a clinical social worker in Lansing, Michigan, explains part of why a person can be drawn to suicide in the first place:

"A suicidal person will often see suicide as a neat, tidy, and self-contained solution to their emotional state of desperation. Suicide is never neat. Never tidy. And never truly self-contained. Suicidal people are not capable of seeing or predicting the ripples and waves their act will cause in lives around them. Yet their suicide will impact lives they aren't even aware they are touching via connections their own illness makes impossible for them to see."

He advises us to know the risk factors:

"Not all of these are going to mean impending suicide attempts, but the risk increases as they pile on each other."

1. Depression. Isolation. Losses.

2. Big life changes (and sometimes, just some small ones like going on or off certain meds).

3. Prior attempts. Substance abuse.

4. Irrational or erratic behaviors.

5. Financial difficulties.

6. Access to means.

7. Suicidal intention.

8. A family history of suicide.

9. Connections to others who have died by suicide.

Nelson says that if we see those signs, we should ask straight-up something like this question:

"Hey I've noticed you've been particularly down lately. Are you thinking about hurting yourself?"

It won't make someone who's not suicidal suddenly consider it. And it won't make someone who is thinking suicidal thoughts go through with it. What it will do, if they have been thinking about it, is break through a wall that's keeping the person isolated and suddenly alleviate some of that buildup they've been sitting alone with. A person struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts is often very grateful to find someone they can talk frankly with about their thoughts.

And if they say yes, listen and talk, but also get them to an emergency room. Go with them. Get them there. They will be connected to the right resources once they get there. Then follow up and keep an eye. Keep talking with them. But don't let them put it off — they will try to downplay it as not that serious. Who wouldn't?

Here's why it's important for us to talk about this right now, and publicly.

There's no shame in needing your friends. These guys know. Image by SmellyAvocado.

When we learn how to talk about suicide more productively and demonstrate publicly that we're trying to understand it a little better than we used to, we open doors in case someone in our circle is thinking about opening up.

We signal that we aren't going to judge our friends and loved ones — just love them. Sharing an article like this is one way to start sending that signal.

And when more people get the message that there's someone around they can talk to, maybe we'll see the suicide numbers drop significantly.

In the big picture, that would be amazing. But as anyone who's lost a loved one to suicide can tell you, saving one person and stopping those devastating ripple effects from starting is immeasurably valuable.

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

When "bobcat" trended on Twitter this week, no one anticipated the unreal series of events they were about to witness. The bizarre bobcat encounter was captured on a security cam video and...well...you just have to see it. (Read the following description if you want to be prepared, or skip down to the video if you want to be surprised. I promise, it's a wild ride either way.)

In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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