I was expecting this week's editorial to serve as a ray of hope or beacon of sunshine to help people get into the holiday spirit -- a time of giving and helping others. After all, I tend to be someone who enjoys smiling and laughing in hopes my joy spreads to others and makes their lives better, even if it's just for a little while.
But after the tragic events I had to deal with last week, it just didn't seem appropriate. I was too physically and emotionally shaken.
Instead, I wanted to share with all of you something I don't normally like to talk about -- a dark day that nearly claimed the life of one of my dear friends.
I don't think I had ever been so scared in my entire life. I wasn't even 18 years old, and that evening I was facing something I never dreamed imaginable.
It seemed like a fairly routine evening. My friend and I had just finished an evening that included dinner and a movie, but there was something wrong in how she acted.
That night, she seemed very quiet -- much quieter than normal -- and not willing to say anything even at my prodding. Granted, I'm one of those individuals that has a considerable amount of natural curiosity, so I kept asking what was wrong.
The answer slammed into my gut like the proverbial mountain of bricks. She confided in me that she felt her life no longer had any value and she was considering that it was time to let it go -- to take her own life.
If memory serves, her mother and father had recently divorced, and somehow my friend was now blaming herself for the two of them going their separate ways. In her state of chronic depression, she felt the only way out was to kill herself.
My gut clenched even worse when she showed me the scars she had inflicted on her arms. It told me that this was something she had contemplated for days if not weeks.
I left her home that evening a total wreck. At no time during my years of high school had I ever faced something so serious, and I was at a complete loss at what to do.
The only thing that made sense at that moment was stopping at my church and speaking to the priest. In addition to giving me some considerable amount of solid advice, he told me that he was willing to speak to her if she was willing. After all, forcing someone contemplating suicide to talk about it can often make the situation worse.
I found that out when I called her the next day to tell her what I had done. She repeatedly criticized me for telling anyone on what she told me in private and that somehow everything was now my fault.
Somehow, I remained persistent and kept talking to her. Deep in the darkest recesses of my mind, the thing that terrified me the most was ending that call and never hearing from her again.
Then I had a breakthrough. She was willing to talk to my priest -- as long as I wasn't in the room that is.
She didn't say one word to me as we drove to the church the following day. In what could only be described as an eternity, I sat and prayed hoping my friend could get the help she needed.
In time, she finally did get that help. By then, we had gone our separate ways, but I had others back home who told me that she not only was doing great but had gone on to marry one of my best friends.
The depression that hit my friend and pushed her to the brink of suicide is something that happens every day in the United States. It affects people from all walks of life, regardless of gender, ethnic background or financial status.
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States and claims twice as many lives each year as homicides, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, which is one of many national organizations that keeps track of these statistics. On average each year, suicide takes the lives of 33,000 Americans -- about one person every 15 minutes.
Among those individuals are the men and women of the U.S. armed forces, many of whom are dealing with the horrors and nightmares they brought back with them from the battlefields of places like Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Every day, this nation loses 20 veterans to suicide.
It's these tragic losses that prompted the U.S. military to step up efforts to identify veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder in addition to other forms of severe depression.
As an Air Force supervisor, I was required to complete a suicide intervention and prevention course a number of years ago. Taught by the base chapel, the program not only discussed the topic in depth but required each of us to respond to fictitious scenarios with trained professionals acting out the role of suicidal individuals.
The level of realism built into these training sessions was nothing short of scary. For a brief moment, I forgot that I was in a training environment and everything I did was taken extremely serious.
While I was thankful that I never had to put that training to actual use, I never forgot that I learned. It ensures that I know how to respond should I ever end up dealing with someone who is contemplating taking their own life.
People like my own friend.
As the holiday season approaches, there's one thing I hope you will remember -- a phone number -- 1-800-273-8255.
That toll free number is the direct line to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Every day, that one call connects people to a certified crisis center near where they live.
It's a resource that I hope people never need, but I'm thankful that it's there just in case.
If you believe someone is considering suicide, the experts all say the exact same thing -- get involved. The worst thing to do is to think they'll just "snap out of it."
Some of the things they recommend are as follows:
* Ask them if they are thinking about killing themselves. Note: This will *not* put the idea into their heads or make it more likely that they will attempt suicide.
* Take them to an emergency room or seek help from a medical or mental health professional.
* Remove any objects that could be used in a suicide attempt.
* If possible, never leave the person alone.
Whatever you do, never hesitate to help those that are suffering and contemplating suicide. Take action. Make the call.
-- Brian S. Orban