by Rick Charmoli
Lynn Fuller won’t be afraid to speak up the next time she thinks someone is depressed or might be considering suicide.
Unfortunately, Fuller learned that lesson the hard way. Last October, Fuller’s brother died by suicide. Fuller said it was no secret that her brother was depressed, and he even was in therapy to help him deal with his depression. Despite knowing all of this, Fuller said when she got the phone call that her brother had died, it was unexpected.
“You don’t expect to get that phone call. That is the hard part for me,” she said. “It was a surprise. I never thought it could happen to our family. You see it out there, but you never think it will hit that close to home.”
Fuller said when she looks back at the situation, there are a lot of whys and what ifs. What if she had said something differently? What if she had done something?
Fuller said she remembered her last conversation with her brother, who lived in Saginaw, the day before he died. It was, in her words, “just another conversation,” and it would be her last with her brother.
“The grief is different than when you lose someone of natural causes or by an accident,” she said. “He was in a very deep, low, sad point.”
Even though she knew her brother was getting help for his depression, Fuller said she didn’t really know where he was at emotionally. With her brother, it took just one event to push him over the line.
“Nobody wants to talk about this. No one wants to say, “Are you thinking about this,’” she said. “Don’t let a day go by if you have that gut feeling. You have to ask. Act on it and help them.”
While it can be difficult, Fuller said the first part of her healing process was finding someone who had been through what she was experiencing and talking about it. When she talked with this person, Fuller said she asked if there would be a point where it would get better. “She said there would be a point where God will let you be alright with not knowing all the answers. I don’t know what he was thinking. I don’t know why he didn’t ask for help,” she said. “All of those things are unanswered questions that I will never know, but God has brought me to the point where that is OK.”
Less of a Taboo
Cadillac Area Public Schools’ Superintendent Paul Liabenow knows all too well the impact a death of a student has. While suicide can be a taboo subject, Liabenow said he believes there has been a change in the culture when it comes to suicide.
“Discussion of suicide used to be a taboo subject. It has come a long way,” he said. “I’m not sure in our community if the subject is taboo any longer, like it was 10 years ago.”
Liabenow said what the district knows about suicide and teen suicide is that it is not isolated to just Cadillac. The grief and devastation of a student suicide is difficult for all to imagine, and the ramifications are far-reaching and long-term, he said.
Prevention is not a simple task. Liabenow said counselors, teachers and principals work to stay aware of warning signs in students. CAPS has developed a focused program called Signs of Suicide that helps identify at-risk students and helps the entire student body understand their feelings of depression or hopelessness and recognize it in their peers, he said.
Liabenow also knows that suicide is a very touchy subject that has to be approached with care. That being said, Liabenow believes that education on the issue is not the problem. In fact, he believes it is a matter of applying what is already known.
“I don’t know that (education) has reduced the number of suicides, but it has provided education to be diligent in looking for signs of suicide,” he said. “What might have been if we didn’t provide the training?”
PREVENTION IS KEY
For the first time in 10 years, the rate of suicide in the United States is increasing, according to a report released in October 2008 by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Center for Injury Research and Policy.
The Johns Hopkins report showed an overall increase in the suicide rate between 1999 and 2005 by 0.7 percent. While the overall increase is small, there was a significant jump in the rates for both white middle-aged men and women.
During the time of the study, it showed that the rate had increased 2.7 percent for men and 3.9 percent for women ages 40-64.
Mary Hubbard, Northern Lakes Community Mental Health community treatment program director, said she believes the solution to the issue lies within suicide prevention. Whether it is the efforts of the Wexford-Missaukee Suicide Prevention Coalition, education within schools across the area, seeking help through a therapist or community mental health agency, or accepting suicide as a broad community issue, Hubbard believes prevention is the key.
“How do you help people who are not hopeful about their present situation and future? People become at-risk for suicide because they have lost hope,” she said. “That is a generalization, but that is one of the leading reasons. A lot of prevention is how to recognize and intervene but also how to have an environment that is nurturing for all our citizens.”
Although the Johns Hopkins study said middle-aged men and women were showing a significant jump in the rate of suicide, Hubbard said all of the population is at-risk. She also said suicide does not discriminate when it comes to socioeconomic status or race.
“I think all of our population is at-risk. There are certain areas that are more of a high risk, such as the adult male work force,” she said. “That is why the coalition has been working on broadening our focus by working with human resource departments in local businesses.”
Something to think about
• Suicides can be preventable with appropriate education, awareness and intervention methods.
• Each year 30,000 people in the United States die by suicide That can be compared to losing a commercial airliner full of people every other day
• These suicides leave behind a wake of loved ones and friends struggling to make sense out of a terrible tragedy
• In Wexford and Missaukee counties alone, there were at least 12 suicides in 2006
• Each year in Michigan, there are more deaths from suicides than homicides and HIV/AIDS combined.
• Suicide remains the No. 3 cause of death for 10-to 24-year-olds in Michigan.
• As a nation, the group most likely to commit suicide is elderly males
• Men complete suicide at a greater rate than women, but women make more attempts.
• For every suicide death, there are an estimated 25 attempts.
Source: Wexford-Missaukee Suicide Prevention Coalition
Community Gatekeeper Training
• When: 8 a.m. to noon April 17
• Where: Baker College Student Center
• Why: Community Suicide Gatekeeper Training is a half-day participatory learning experience for persons interested in obtaining basic suicide-prevention skills. This training will focus on the development of safe, sound, and tested skills in identifying and intervening with persons who may be suicidal. Resource materials will be provided for future reference.
• What: Training will be provided by members of the Wexford Missaukee Suicide Prevention Coalition. Presenters have completed an intensive two-day Gatekeepers Training taught by Gryphon Place of Kalamazoo. They are qualified and trained in their area of expertise and have had experience working with suicidal individuals.
• Who: It is open to anyone
• Cost: $10, and the registration deadline is April 8. For more information, please call 876-3280 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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