The holidays are supposed to be a time of joy and celebration, but for many people they are anything but joyful.  I had another happy holiday blog set to publish but decided that this should take precedence.

Today, I received a phone call that my very close friend and former coworker, John Thomas, had taken his life over the weekend.

I do not know many details, but I do know that many of us in his life are asking the question, why?

Many are in disbelief; some of us are stunned, but not completely surprised.  This is where I begin to think, "What if I would have ....?" or "I should have ...." or "Why didn't I?

I am in no way condoning what he has done.

Quite the opposite. I am very angry at my friend for taking this route. I can try to understand it, but it doesn't make my disappointment any less.

I am also not unfeeling in anyway about what he was feeling and going through.  My heart breaks for all of us -- and especially for his family.

I am a true believer that there is always hope. Sometimes when we are so down and feel like we are drowning, we tend to not look in the right places for that help.

Many people assume that suicide and depression increase around the holidays, I wanted to provided you with some myths and facts about suicide as well as some key things to look for if you think or feel someone may be thinking of taking his or her own life, according to Health.com.

Whites attempt suicide more often than other races

Fact:  Suicide is more common among whites in the U.S. than blacks, Asians, or Hispanics.  No one is quite sure why whites are at a higher risk, It might have to do with differences in social support.

The only group at higher risk is American Indian/Alaskan Natives, who have a suicide rate of 14.3 per 100,000 compared to 13.5 per 100,000 for whites and about 5 to 6 per 100,000 for other groups.

Most suicide attempts fail

Fact:   Fortunately, only 1 in every 10 to 25 attempts actually results in death.

Treatment cuts suicide risk

Fact:   There are not a lot of ways to prevent suicide at this point, but successful treatment of any disorder is very important and can reduce suicidal thoughts.

Suicides can trigger "copy cat" attempts

Fact:  Exposure to others who have committed suicide may reduce the number of some of those thinking of doing it.

Men are at greater risk

Fact:  While three times more women attempt suicide, four times more men actually kill themselves.

More than half of suicides in the U.S. are completed with guns. This violent and usually irreversible route is the choice of most men.

Your family affects risk

Fact:  A family history of depression increases the chances that a child will suffer the same by a factor of 11.

1: Suicides peak during holidays

Myth:  Contrary to popular belief, December actually has the fewest suicide attempts of any month of the year.  Most people think the winter holidays are a risky time, but suicides are lowest in December and peak in the spring.

2:  Teens are at greatest risk

Myth:  Teenage suicides make headlines, but the elderly are more likely to take their own life than any other age group.  At particularly high risk are white men over the age of 85, who have a suicide rate of 49.8 deaths per 100,000, compared with about 14 per 100,000 in people over 65, and 11 per 100,000 in the general population.  Still, teenagers remain a high-risk group. One in five high school students says he or she has considered suicide in the past year and 1 in 12 attempts to take his own life. (The suicide rate for 15- to 19-year-olds is 6.9 per 100,000.)

3:  Depression is always the cause of suicide

Myth:  Two of every three people who commit suicide are depressed at the time they take their life. However, alcoholism plays a role in 1 in 3 completed suicides.

Major depression is the psychiatric diagnosis most commonly associated with suicide, with about 20 times the risk found in the general population.

At particularly high risk are white men over the age of 85, who have a suicide rate of 49.8 deaths per 100,000, compared with about 14 per 100,000 in people over 65, and 11 per 100,000 in the general population.

Still, teenagers remain a high-risk group. One in five high school students says he or she has considered suicide in the past year and 1 in 12 attempts to take his own life. (The suicide rate for 15- to 19-year-olds is 6.9 per 100,000.)

4:  Suicide is more common now than in the past

Myth:  Suicide rates in the U.S. have remained relatively constant over the past several decades, and may even have slightly decreased.  Still, youth between the ages of 15 and 24 are more than twice as likely to commit suicide today compared to 50 years ago. And, worldwide, suicide rates have increased by about 60% in the last 45 years.

5:  Fewer people are calling hotlines

Myth:  One way to reach out for help is to call a suicide hotline. Use of this support has been on the rise among veterans in recent years in response.  Anyone can call the hotline for advice, even if they are worried about someone else.

6:  Suicides are more common on weekends

Myth:  While Wednesdays are notorious for being "bumpy," Tuesdays, in some studies, have been found to be the deadliest for suicides.  In an unpublished study that they recently completed, they found that the most suicides fall on Mondays.

Suicide and suicidal thinking are more widespread than you might think. According to the results of a government survey released in September 2009, roughly 8.3 million adults—or about 3.7% of the population age 18 and older—had "serious thoughts of suicide" in 2008.  It can be hard to identify suicidal thinking in a loved one; there is no foolproof checklist to follow.

Here are some signs or behaviors to watch for

1:  A diagnosis of depression or bipolar disorder:   The symptoms of mental health conditions such as depression and bipolar disorder are the main factors that drive people to consider harming themselves, also watch for signs of anxiety or agitation:  Suicide is associated not just with depressive symptoms, but more so with the anxiety and agitation that often accompany depression.  People who are agitated are more at risk for suicide because anxiety is so uncomfortable.
2:  Feelings of guilt:    When you start to feel guilty about things, like letting people down, even though you are not, you can still have very unrealistic guilt.”

3:   Drug use or drinking:   Some agitated and anxious people turn drug use and excessive alcohol for relief.  This is a huge warning sign for suicide.

You might not be an alcoholic or a drug abuser, but many will  take these things to make themselves feel better or be numb,this makes you more vulnerable because it impairs your judgment and makes your thinking not as clear.  Studies have shown that up to 80% of all suicide attempts are done on the spur of the moment, with very little planning.

4:  Purchasing a gun:  One of the loudest and clearest warning signs is buying a gun. Access to a firearm in the home significantly increases the risk of a suicide by up to 10 times. Guns account for less than 10% of all suicide attempts, but those involving guns are far more likely to be fatal.  Statistically 2 to1 men complete suicide more often than women.  Men tend to use firearms; women tend to take overdoses.”

5: Suicide-related Internet searches:  Signs that someone is considering suicide may also show up on a computer. For instance, a Web-browser history may show that a person has been researching suicide and ways to kill him or herself.

Here is the bottom line folks: If you know someone that that is experiencing feelings of sadness during the holidays and they have made references to ending it all, I implore you to reach out.  Call 911, get them to a hospital emergency room, or contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).

I will miss my friend John Thomas more than he will ever know.  I will try to find comfort in knowing he will not be in the dark any more and that he has found peace.

Here's to your arrival at the big production room and open mic night in the sky, my friend.