• Another female real estate agent disappeared this week, but police don't suspect foul play.
  • Often, people don't know what to say to colleagues or loved ones who they suspect might be considering suicide.
  • Don't tell someone who's depressed "it gets better." Do ask them specific questions about their emotions and their potential plans.

Earlier this week, my Facebook news feed exploded with a story about a missing real estate agent in Connecticut.

Her name was Christine McGugan. She was 48 years old, married, a mother of three girls.

It’s absolutely not surprising that most people concluded McGugan was kidnapped — especially this week, with news feeds also showcasing pretrial hearings for the man suspected of murdering Arkansas real estate agent Beverly Carter.

Those pretrial hearings included secret police recordings made of the suspect, Arron Michael Lewis, wherein he told police officers he would cooperate only if they would guarantee that he was charged in federal court and not state court. (Lewis apparently wanted to avoid Arkansas prisons.)

McGugan’s story has an unhappy ending, too, but for different reasons.

When the danger lies within

McGugan left a counseling session at a hospital without signing out about a week ago. Her car was found unattended on Tuesday night in a parking lot at a health and rehabilitation center.

On Wednesday, her body was found. Yesterday, it was identified.

Police don’t suspect foul play.

It’s easy to talk about external dangers. We all know there are people on this planet who would harm someone else without a second thought. Women especially are told to never meet with strangers, to vet all potential clients thoroughly before arranging a meeting, and sometimes even told that the way they dress might invite an unwelcome situation.

We build apps and software and initiatives to protect ourselves from the danger without, the psycho who just wants to cause harm and considers real estate agents an easy target because of the nature of their job.

No one wants to talk about what happens when the workload becomes too much — or when work stops mattering entirely.

We’re happy to give women advice about covering up at work, but we also invite our colleagues to cover up their emotions by not responding to their cues and clues.

Did McGugan exhibit any signs of depression or potentially suicidal behavior? I don’t know; I didn’t work with her.

The fact that she had just left a counseling appointment of some kind, though, indicates to me that all was not well in her world.

Here’s the dangerous truth about business today: We are overworked. We are stressed out. We might have financial troubles, we might have family troubles.

And we don’t know how to talk about depression or suicide with one another. It’s too uncomfortable, it’s not appropriate for the workplace — the reasons abound. Whatever they are, they contribute to the problem.

What to do when you don’t know what to do

This is not a problem unique to real estate. According to an article on Mental Health Daily, based on National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health data, physicians, dentists and police officers all have unusually high suicide rates.

But real estate agents do rank on the list, at No. 6.

“While becoming a real estate agent may not take as much of a financial toll on a person, establishing themselves in the industry is often highly stressful,” states the article.

This isn’t exactly a “bust” economy, which the article notes can affect stress levels, and I don’t have any idea what was happening in McGugan’s personal or professional life.

I do know, though, that there are some things you can do to help support your loved ones, at home and at work, to gauge how bad things are and to intervene before they reach the point of fatality.

We aren’t taught these things in school. And oftentimes, we hesitate to say something to someone who’s struggling because we don’t know what to say.

Well, here is what you should say.

1. Don’t tell someone who’s depressed “it gets better.”

They might feel like you aren’t truly understanding them, and you might not be. Try to empathize with feelings instead of downplaying them. If the best you can do is, “It must be awful to feel like that,” it’s much better than, “You’ll feel better sooner or later.”

2. If you’re really concerned, ask “the questions.”

There’s a theory about how some suicide attempts are a “cry for help” — I don’t really like that phrase. In my experience, people who are considering suicide think about it for a long time before they try it. They might drop hints about it — they might not be able to help themselves — and those hints aren’t to be brushed off.

Here are the questions that many suicide prevention groups suggest you ask someone who might be considering suicide:

Have you ever thought about hurting yourself? Do you ever feel so badly that you think about suicide? Some people don’t want to ask this because they’re afraid of “putting ideas” into someone else’s head. You might be surprised, though, how relieved your loved one is to talk about it. If someone says “yes,” move on to the next questions.

How would you do it? This will help you gauge how “serious” the person is. If they’ve thought about suicide but haven’t gotten as far as considering the “how” component of the question, they are typically not an immediate danger to themselves.

Do you have the tools you need? If someone tells you they have considered how they’d do it — but hasn’t yet gathered the necessary items — then you still have time to help. Make sure their other loved ones are aware of the situation and can keep an eye on it.

Have you set a date? When is it? If the person you’re asking has responded affirmatively to all of these questions, the danger that they could hurt themselves is very high. This would be the appropriate time to ask them if they’d come with you to the emergency room. If you tell hospital attendants that you are concerned that your loved one will hurt himself or herself — or others — if there is no intervention, the emergency room will hold your loved one for up to 72 hours, until a trained physician can analyze him or her and determine what further action should be taken.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is also a wonderful resource.

Take care of each other, and stay safe out there — this holiday season and all year round.

Editor’s note: A reader just informed me that tomorrow, Saturday, November 21, is International Survivor of Suicide Loss Day. If you have lost a loved one to suicide, you are not alone.

Email Amber Taufen.

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