On Monday at the Student Center, Eastern Michigan University welcomed depression and suicide prevention speaker Jeff Edwards to talk about warning signs of depression and how to seek help for those who need it or might know someone who is in peril.
Edwards is Board Chair of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Metro Detroit/Ann Arbor Chapter. He was invited by the Student Chapter of the Society for Human Resource Management of EMU.
Every year, the group decides on a huge project to take on and a theme to go with it. SHRM decided it was time for people to get informed about depression and suicide prevention.
Mayela Dieck, a graduate student obtaining her masters of science in human resource and organizational development and co-president of SHRM, said that suicide is usually a hard topic to talk about.
“It’s a hard theme,” she said. “But the goal is to save a life.”
Rachel Morrissey, also co-president of SHRM said, “We really wanted to make an effort toward suicide awareness.”
Edwards began the presentation by stating the fact that depression is a pretty uncomfortable thing to discuss for most people and he wanted it known that sometimes, parents seem to “freak out” if they know that their son or daughter is hearing lectures about the issue.
“They think it puts ideas in their heads,” Edwards said. “That is a myth.”
He provided a slideshow presentation, with the first few slides focusing on idea of the word scotoma.
Scotoma is a term that basically means one’s diminished vision within a visual field, or “blind spot.”
In the psychological sense of the term, it refers to an individual’s inability to perceive personality traits in themselves that are obvious to others – hence, recognizing depression symptoms.
Edwards began to show pictures to the audience and said that he was going to give the attendees “virtual Lasix surgery.”
The first picture was that of the drawing “Young Woman or Old Woman.” In this famous ambiguous figure it is possible to see either a young woman or an old woman.
Half of the audience saw the older woman, while the other half only saw the younger version. Even when Edwards outlined both ages, some people still couldn’t see the form.
“We’re looking at the same thing,” Edwards said. “But we’re all looking at something different.”
The next photo showed a connect the dots brain teaser, also known as “thinking outside the box” or the “nine dots” puzzle. The goal of the puzzle is to link all 9 dots using four straight lines or fewer, without lifting the pen and without tracing the same line more than once.
“Most people miss one of the dots,” Edwards said, especially younger children in the middle school grade.
Even though some people in a few audiences have said they know how to solve the puzzle, people don’t just turn around and ask for help.
“People tend to stay within the dots,” Edwards said. “It’s a habit and a compelling need to have rules. We limit ourselves and put blinders on. This is why possibilities and opportunities pass us by.”
He said most people don’t ask for help because they do not want to be viewed as “dopes, losers or failures.”
“But there’s a bunch of stuff we don’t know,” Edwards reminded the audience. “We’re just human beings.”
Edwards said that there seems to be this unspoken rule that people follow and they just don’t ask for help.
“Who made this rule up?” Edwards queried. “Asking for help doesn’t make you less of a person. We need to ask for help. You’re far more valuable, far more loved than you can ever comprehend.
We’re all diamonds here.”
He said there are counselors, doctors, teachers, friends and family who are willing to listen and lend help.
“Find one of those people and ask for help,” Edwards said. “If the first one doesn’t help, move on and on until you find the right person.”
The next slide showed a collage of photos of a 12-year-old boy named Chase. The pictures showed a mixture of smiles and funny faces. Again, Edwards asked the audience what they saw.
Obviously, people agreed that these were photos of a happy, handsome youth.
“We can’t see the inside stuff,” an audience member quipped when Edwards asked what cannot be shown in the collage.
Edwards then floored the audience when the slide presented the rest of the story.
Chase Michael Edwards was Jeff’s son – and he killed himself on March 3, 2003.
“There are stereotypical thoughts about what suicidal people look like,” Edwards said.
He referred to people like Adam Lanza, the shooter at Sandy Hook, or Eric Harris and Dylan
Kleibold, the shooters at Colombine High School.
“What is everyone in here’s scotoma?” Edwards asked. “What don’t people see when they look at you?”
Edwards said that people everywhere are dealing with something, some tragic backstory or incredible circumstances have happened to them – or continue to happen – and no one can see their trials. Edwards’ son didn’t leave a note and Chase took his life while his parents were home, and only steps away from them. He had no warning signs that were noticeable, nor did he ask for help.
Edwards also said that people use derogatory terms every day when they talk to friends or family, which are not meant to hurt, but they might.
Terms like “you’re crazy,” “you’re insane” or “retard,” are just a few from the list. He said that people might be going through some incredible circumstances and those are very discouraging words to hear, even if the terms are not meant to be hurtful.
Edwards also said that his son didn’t want to die, but Chase couldn’t see the long-term consequences of his actions. Chase just didn’t want to hurt anymore.
“How do we prevent it?” Edwards asked. “We didn’t come with instructions at birth. Depression is not a mood – it’s a malady, a medical condition.”
Edwards said that people stay quiet about this topic, but shouldn’t because it’s important for people to know they’re not alone. Edwards said that 29 percent of Michigan high school students admitted to feeling depressed, 10 percent have contemplated suicide and 2 percent have already attempted.
“Just start the conversation,” he said. “Let’s make it OK to talk about it.”
For more information and to learn the warning signs please visit cdc.gov/violenceprevention/suicide/riskprotectivefactors.html or dosomething.org.
Hotlines to call if you or someone you know might be suffering from depression or suicidal:
EMU Counseling and Psychological Services: 734-487-1111
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK