(c) 2010 Sherman Lambert

This week in Denver it seems it’s been the week to talk about suicide—which is not something our society likes to talk about until forced to do so. I’ll consider myself forced to jump on the bandwagon—or at least compelled to do so.

Last Sunday Sherman and I walked with a group from Bethany Lutheran Church in the Second Wind Run. As I mentioned before the event, the Second Wind organization seeks to prevent teenage suicides by providing mental health resources for students who may not have access to the care they need. And as much as it might have seemed that I was just enjoying a warm day exercising and connecting with people I know, trust me, the tears came later.

That the event was followed by the suicide of a young Denver Bronco, Kenny McKinley, kept those tears fresh as the topic continued to be discussed throughout the week.

One of the bravest pieces I read was not informational as much as confessional. Long-time Denver Post columnist Woody Paige shared his brush with the suicide dance—and gave just another example of a person considering taking his life when the world would say that he should have had plenty to live for.

That’s the thing, it’s just not that easy to look around and know who is harboring those feelings. We’ve got to do a better job of really hearing what people are saying—and making it OK for people to express those feelings so we can do our best to help them before it’s too late.

And when it comes to young people, it’s even trickier to figure out who is in trouble and who isn’t—even for the professionals.

First of all, what doesn’t always get presented in informational checklists about depression or suicide risk in youths is that the young don’t always look the same as more mature people do when depressed or suicidal. Life in adolescence is lived in the moment—and the swings from high to low can be immense.

A student can keep up the grades, activities, appearance, and achievement levels, in general believing that life is worth living, but one or two bad events can turn his/her life view upside down. They don’t always have the life experience to know that the good events will come again.

And their peers, who are also still growing, may range from less than helpful to outright harmful. My own kids talked about how during Suicide Prevention Week some people roamed the school halls who felt nothing of making jokes about people who felt suicidal—as if there’s something funny about someone feeling hopeless.

The other thing I truly believe is that we have to be the advocates for our loved ones, even if the professionals think we are somehow too jumpy to see the good changes. But when you live around the depression, you see a whole lot more than a professional can see in one hour once a week. You have to trust your own gut, too. You might agree that 90% of the time your loved one is OK, but you know that for 10% of the time, it’s anybody’s guess what will happen. You see what happens when the mask comes off . . . and often what you see frightens you.

I wish there were more answers for how to help people before it’s too late. The good news is that we are finally talking about this word that used to be whispered and hidden in shame. More of us are paying attention—which is good because we just can’t stand losing them—any of them.

P.S. I should add something more than talking about suicide as something we can do to help those in need. We can also direct them to call the national suicide hotline, 1-800-273-TALK, which is available 24 hours a day.