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Talk on suicide concludes BYU Education Week

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PROVO — The pain of losing a loved one to suicide will probably never go away, and the anger and guilt felt in the aftermath is normal, a mental-health professional said during Brigham Young University's Campus Education Week.

Family members of someone who commits suicide will often feel responsible, as if the suicide were their fault, said Rick D. Hawks, chief psychologist at Weber Human Services and co-founder of Hidden Treasures Inc.

Hawks spoke Friday on the final day of Campus Education Week classes.

Also, family members may have guilt because they believe they should have seen it coming. However, Hawks said, sometimes there are no warning signs; a person may appear fine on the outside while secretly deciding to kill himself. He told a story about a man who had been dealing with depression for years. Despite having physicians, counselors and church leaders helping him with his problems, he still committed suicide.

Hawks said he and other professionals who had worked with the man tried to reason out why it had happened. Even with all their professional expertise, "We couldn't figure it out," he said. "And some of you are still trying to figure it out."

The decision to commit suicide often goes back to how a person chooses to cope with his or her situation. Hawks said he has seen people who have been through divorce, abuse and other horrible situations who have not taken their own life. "We know that every circumstance in life has been survived by someone," he said. Those who commit suicide see it as a way to solve their problems.

The general rule of thumb is: Normal, happy people don't kill themselves, Hawks said.

There are some common warning signs that may point to thoughts of suicide, he said. These include trouble eating or sleeping, drastic changes in behavior, loss of interest in work or hobbies and taking unnecessary risks.

Other indications are giving away prized possessions and preparing by making a will and final arrangements.

To help those contemplating suicide, Hawks said a person should talk openly about the issue without lecturing. He warned against being sworn to secrecy and suggested people get help from agencies specializing in crisis intervention.

He applauded those in the audience who have gone on despite experiencing the great pain of losing a loved one through suicide. Surviving is success when it comes to suicide. Just the fact that you're able to go on is wonderful, he said.

When a person commits suicide, those remaining wrestle with various emotions, including depression, guilt, loneliness and the feeling that they are going crazy. These are all common, normal and healthy reactions that are expected to occur, Hawks said.

In the end, there can be acceptance and hope, although recovery can take months or years.

"God knows the battle is not between you and the person who killed themselves," Hawks said. "The test is between you and how you deal with it — between you and God."

E-mail: cbabbitt@inet-1.com