BYU Women’s Conference: Alleviating the heartache of suicide

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Elliott Miller
Psychologist Marja Reynolds and BYU social work professor David Wood offered comfort and counsel to those affected by suicide at BYU Women’s Conference on May 4. (Elliott Miller)

Psychologist Marja Reynolds and BYU social work professor David Wood offered comfort and counsel to those affected by suicide at Women’s Conference on May 4.

Reynolds said she found out about her sister’s suicide through a phone call from a family member in 2015.

Reynolds spoke of the heartache and feelings of guilt and hopelessness that followed the passing of her sister. She said in order to remove the bad thoughts, she had to think of the good things she could find in the gospel. It took consistent work for months to silence the doubts.

“In the moment, I was thinking that if you think something, it’s from you, but that’s simply not true,” Reynolds said. “Just because you think something, it doesn’t mean you need to hold onto it like it came from you.”

Reynolds said everyone’s experience coping with suicide is unique. Whether a person struggles to get out of bed or feels angry, the feelings are normal and Heavenly Father understands, according to Reynolds.

“He feels your hurt and he knows your needs, and he is actively working to comfort you, even now,” Reynolds said.

Wood said suicide prevention and suicide intervention are different.

He said intervention is for those who have metaphorically fallen into a river and need help getting out. He said these are people having suicidal thoughts or feelings or exhibiting suicidal behaviors.

Prevention is meant to stop people from falling into the river, he said. Prevention is necessary when people feel a lack of belonging, perceive themselves as a burden or have reduced aversion to pain or fear of dying.

Wood said it is vital to learn how to ask the question, “Are you thinking about suicide?”

He said it’s a myth that this question will have a negative impact by placing the thought in the person’s head because in reality, it makes them feel cared for and can get them needed help. Wood said those seeking help can call the suicide prevention lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit suicidepreventionlifeline.org and preventingsuicide.lds.org.

Wood researched Utah records of suicide deaths and analyzed the correlation between age groups and their last points of contact.

“Each piece of data represents a son or daughter of God. Each piece of data represents a family or community that has had to cope with the loss,” Wood said. “It’s very sobering work.”

Wood found suicide victims ages 18 and under were more likely to have had last contact with friends and almost twice as likely to have had last contact with their family. Suicide victims ages 18 to 30 contacted an ex-spouse or ex-romantic partner more frequently than any other group. Suicide victims ages 45 to 64 were the most likely to contact a bystander, neighbor or service professional.

“We all fill these roles to some degree,” Wood said. “We are in positions to help and to be alert.”

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