Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

September 13, 2013

Time to speak out about suicide

— — I still sometimes shake my head in disbelief that Jocelyn is gone — by her hand, her choice. It’s been 18 months and I’m stumbling toward some vague and illusive stage of acceptance, stumbling forward in some fashion to a new normal. But moments still come where my eyes grow wide and I shake my head, unbelieving of the undeniable facts.

Just like you, I never imagined that National Suicide Prevention Week would one day mean so much to me. Frankly, I don’t think two years ago I even knew it existed.

It’s not that I turned a blind eye to the issue of suicide. Over the dozen-plus years I’ve been writing columns, I wrote one or two that focused on it and mentioned it in several others. Long before Jocelyn’s death, suicide was a topic I was unafraid to bring out into the open.

But never did I think this annual week in September, designed to bring awareness to suicide, would have such personal significance.

I don’t want suicide to define my life or the lives of my family. But this week isn’t one I can let slip by quietly. In fact, I don’t want anyone to stay quiet this week. I hope this week encourages others to think about how they feel, be real about any potential mental or emotional issues — whether those issues simply cause stress or become severe enough to cause suicidal thoughts. I want to encourage acceptance so those who are truly, deeply and painfully struggling with serious depression or suicidal ideation will feel free to speak out.

The town of Davidson, N.C. — where we lived when my daughter died — is putting this issue out in the open, literally. It’s sponsoring its second Gathering on the Green, an event held on the town green where folks usually find concerts, juggling contests and art fairs. But where this week there’ll be a public discussion about mental health issues and suicide prevention.

In 2012, this pretty, quiet, bucolic little college town had 12 suicide attempts and five completed suicides. That is five times more than the national average.

When the second teen died, six months after my daughter, tearful mothers gathered over coffee while town officials and staff gathered next door in town hall. Both groups were determined to do something, find some solution. They combined efforts, recruited mental health professionals and others, and the Davidson LifeLine committee was formed.

One of the integral parts of the initiative is the suicide prevention course offered by townspeople called QPR, which stands for Question, Persuade, Refer. It parallels CPR — training lay people how to offer help in a crisis and get someone in need to a professional. A national program developed by clinical psychologist Paul Quinett, QPR has been endorsed by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations as a “best practices” model and selected by the American Psychiatric Association’s Task Force on Patient Safety as an “exemplary suicide risk reduction approach.”  Throughout the country, more than 1.3 million people have been trained in QPR. Dozens of folks have been trained to teach the course in both West Virginia and Virginia.

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, someone died by suicide every 13.7 minutes in 2010. More than 38,000 suicides were reported that year, making suicide the 10th leading cause of death for Americans.

Nationally, suicide is the third leading cause of death for young people ages 15-24. Some sources say it is the second leading cause of death for that age group in West Virginia and the third leading cause in Virginia. 

Since the town of Davidson began this effort a year ago, we’ve seen a change. People are talking about anxiety, depression, bullying and other related issues in church parking lots after Sunday services, at tables during school meetings and on bar stools at local watering holes. After 12 attempts and five completed suicides in 2012, the Davidson police chief recently reported to me that there have been three attempts and no completed suicides year-to-date in 2013. I don’t know if there is a connection between the town’s efforts and the notable drop in numbers, but at least we are giving our community permission to talk aloud about issues usually discussed in a whisper.

I’m grateful people are talking because we dealt quietly with my daughter’s depression. We didn’t discuss openly the struggles she, and we, faced. I’m grateful for renewed prevention efforts in the Four Seasons region, where they suffered the loss of two young people in 2012.

The only way to find solutions is to speak openly and candidly about the problem. We have to drop our masks and be willing to share our burdens. It is my hope that National Suicide Prevention Week encourages everyone to do that. That’s what my daughter lost, hope, and that’s why I’m left shaking my head in disbelief. But National Suicide Prevention week allows me to believe — believe there will be a better day — because we are speaking openly about losing and then finding hope.

Need help? National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Jaletta Albright Desmond is a columnist who writes about faith, family and the fascinatingly mundane aspects of daily life. She lives in Cornelius with her family. Contact her at jdesmond@bdtonline.com.

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