Youth Suicide Awareness and Running as a Stress Reliever

Many of you are familiar with the topic of suicide, and maybe even heard about some you know who attempted suicide. However, many of us take the idea of suicide for granted, and are not fully aware that someone we know may very well be hiding their feelings and silently contemplating suicide. Many communities have already stepped forward by organizing community runs and walks designed to raise awareness about suicide. For the second year in a row, Barbara Bigalke of Appleton, WI has organized the Walk for Suicide Awareness 5K in the nearby town of Kaukauna, WI because she believed this type of event would be a success as it has been for other types of awareness; for example, Race for the Cure as an event for breast cancer awareness. Margaret Tornia, who also partook in last year's Walk for Suicide Awareness 5K, wrote about her tragic experiences when her best friend took her life unexpectedly. She described how it saddened [her] to think that this beautiful, loving, intelligent woman was hiding behind so much pain that she thought the rest of us would be better off without her burdening our lives. She also wrote about the guilt of not seeing the signs and the mysteries behind her best friends suicide that will forever be unanswered.

The truth is that suicide can affect anyone, young or old, regardless of their current life situations. It is a common myth that people from a low-income household or those suffering from low self-esteem are much more susceptible to suicide, but often people of higher status can actually be at the highest risks because of the standards they hold themselves to and the pressure they ultimately put on themselves to lead a successful life. Suicide is currently the fourth leading cause of death for 10-14 year-olds and third for 15-24 year-olds. These statistics are shocking to many people and prove just how important suicide awareness is especially for those of us in the youth to young adult age range. Margaret's story was a prime example of how suicides can happen when we least expect them. Many people are very reluctant to sharing their true feelings with others, so look for these common signs of potential suicide planning, especially in your youth-age siblings and close friends (courtesy of teensuicidestatistics.com):

-Talking about death and/or suicide often (may even be in a joking matter) -Talking about how no one cares about them -Sudden changes in personality and behavior -Withdrawal from interaction -Signs of depression -Alcohol or drug abuse -Increase in risk-taking behaviors -Giving away sentimental and/or valuable possessions -Interaction with others advocating suicide and/or forming suicide pacts.

Additional Warning signs (courtesy of Barb Bigalke)

-Perfectionism - people either see themselves as perfect or a loser and it rises the risk for suicide -Also many people don't show any signs of suicide - a good reminder is listen to people and be clued into not only what they are saying, how they are saying it and if they are hopeless in their comments. Life gets better - and suicide is a permanent solution for a temporary situation.

Bigalke also commented, But one of the things about stress is if you have any existing depression, anxiety - stress adds to that and that is when you start to see a change in chemical balance and the rise is suicide risk. We have found that lowing your stress level by exercise is a great way to reduce some of the chemicals and release the positive chemicals! So walking and running are great ways to lower that stress level as you can do some wonderful self- talk while doing it. Self - talk is thinking positive affirmations about yourself while doing the exercise - it is a great body and mind workout!

If you notice any of these signs in a close family member or friend, consult with them immediately to try and find out more about their feelings while offering your support. If you feel even a small amount of concern that this person may be contemplating suicide and they are reluctant to share their feelings, consult with others close to them about your concern (for a friend, this could be their parents, while for a sibling, it might be your own parents). A counselor may also be a more comfortable option for them, especially if they are holding in feelings they are too embarrassed to discuss with friends or family.

More importantly, if you have shown any of these signs or have hidden feelings you have been reluctant to share, it is crucial to get these feelings out before they build up inside and potentially become unbearable. Start a conversation with a close friend or family member (or maybe even a group) and try to find the most comfortable way to get these feelings out. If this doesn't help, counseling is the smartest option. Keep in mind that counselors are legally obligated to keep any information you mention to them confidential.

You may find yourself not to be necessarily suicidal but living under a high level of stress that is negatively affecting your quality of everyday life, whether it is caused by school, family issues, relationship issues or any other life burdens. A great proven way to relieve stress (while also contributing toward your track and cross country conditioning) is by running. Whenever you are feeling especially stressed out, take a break and enjoy a relaxing outdoor jog or hit the gym and run on the treadmill if the weather doesn't permit. Running has the power to take your mind off life's stressors and focus it simply on the goal of finishing your workout. After finishing your run, the stressors are often overtaken by the feelings of accomplishment and relief, as if the running actually burned off some stress as well as calories. During my later days in high school through the beginning of college, my brother was experiencing some anxiety issues, so I invited him to come out running with me one day. After only a few runs, running became a reliable part of his arsenal against stress and anxiety. At first I was skeptical about the idea of running as a stress reliever, but I learned through my experience as a track and cross country athlete just how powerful and relieving a runner's high can be.

Go out and try it for yourself! And remember to stay aware of the signs of suicide in your close loved ones. Early detection may very well save a life.