John Schuderer, whose son died by suicide 18 years ago, has become a leader in suicide education and prevention.
Chair of the Suicide Prevention Coalition of Yavapai County, he travels extensively to offer seminars and training to groups and organizations.
Reaching high risk groups
“Talking about suicide is a very taboo subject,” he said. “A big chunk of my presentations is on stigma. People who have attempted suicide often say they so dearly wanted to talk to someone, but they didn’t because they were afraid, and didn’t know what others would think.”
There are several high-risk groups including veterans, seniors, caregivers, first responders and others.
Veterans are high-risk as they can be exposed to “moral injury.”
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs describes it as “extreme and unprecedented life experiences including the harmful aftermath of exposure to such events.”
Events are considered morally injurious if they “transgress deeply held moral beliefs and expectations ... an act of transgression, which shatters moral and ethical expectations that are rooted in religious or spiritual beliefs, or culture-based, organizational, and group-based rules about fairness, the value of life, and so forth.”
Caregivers are hard to reach as they aren’t able to leave their responsibilities, he said.
“Without adequate support, caregivers can reach burnout and find themselves incapable of caring for anyone, much less themselves.”
“First responders are also a high-risk group,” he said. “They see so much trauma on a daily basis.”
“Since 2000, suicide rates have done nothing but go up,” he said. “It’s not that we’re inefficient, but there is still something missing. There are a whole lot of people in our society that are feeling lost, lonely. We need major significant societal and cultural changes before we see the suicide rates go down.”
Schuderer believes suicides are underreported.
“There is difficulty in ruling something a suicide, sometimes it’s hard to know,” he said. “For example, a single car rollover. Families don’t want their loved ones identified as ‘died by suicide’ due to the stigma. Sometimes it’s a tough call for the medical examiner.”
Asking the question
“I always tell people there are warning flags to be aware of. It doesn’t always mean the person is suicidal, or the signs may be misread, but don’t assume,” he said. “Sometimes you need to ask the question more than once in different ways.”
“Sometimes a family member may not be the best person to have the conversation because of the emotions involved,” he continued. “People say, ‘How can you do this to us?’ but the suicidal person may not be thinking about others, even those they love. They might have a chronic illness and think they are a burden. They might be convinced the world would be better off without them.”
In his education programs, Schuderer discusses issues often associated with suicidal ideation such as domestic violence, homelessness, addiction, mental illness, sexual assault, divorce, financial ruin and chronic pain.
When he asks the audience if any of them have lost a family member or friend to suicide, considered it themself or attempted it, usually about 95 percent of the audience puts a hand up.
“Then why aren’t we talking about suicide?”
One thing is certain, he says. “We cannot do it alone — we need each other. The more eyes and ears we have on each other, the safer our communities will be ... It’s up to us to open the door to having a conversation so that help can be provided.”