(Crystal A. Proxmire, Sept. 28, 2013)
As over 100 people gathered at the Royal Oak Middle School for a discussion on suicide prevention, there were many sad personal stories and tears. There was also the expected cadre of organizations that provide help for those struggling with suicidal thoughts and other mental illness. But what was most surprising to many in the audience were the statistics given out by Royal Oak Police Chief Corrigan O’Donohue.
“Over the last ten years we’ve had 7 homicides and 17 fatal car accidents,” O’Donohue said. “And that compares to 119 suicides and 362 reported attempts over that same time period.” In 2012 the Royal Oak Police Department responded to 11 suicides and 28 attempted suicides, compared to one fatal traffic accident and zero homicides. In addition to the suicides and attempts, the department also responded to 194 mental health commitments, placing people in professional care who are at risk of hurting themselves or possibly others.
“On any given day we’re more likely to respond to someone who is having a mental health crisis or is at risk of suicide,” he said. “My point here is that we’re not alone. this is an epidemic and it affects more people than most believe.”
A fifteen-year-old Royal Oak resident, Emily Harris, bravely shared her story of loss. “I’ve lived in Royal Oak all my life. Same house. Same friends. I was a normal teenager, up until 17 months ago. I have a half bother named Anthony. I never thought of him as a half-brother. He was family. I saw him every day so he was just a part of my everyday life.
“On April 10, 2012 my brother came home from seeing a movie. He and my mother had gotten into a little argument earlier, which was nothing new, and they worked it out as usual. They were laughing together upstairs and I was just watching TV. I had stayed up late that night. My mom went to bed and my brother was messing around in the house. At about 11:00 that night he came up to me and told me ‘Emily if any of my friends come over, don’t answer the door.’ And I thought ‘that’s strange, but alright’ and before he went to bed he said ‘Emily, I love you, I’m sorry and goodbye.’ That’s the last time I talked to him. I had no idea what he meant by that at first the guilt was almost overpowering. The next morning I was getting up for school and I heard my mom. She screamed and then she was on the phone talking to 911, saying ‘help, help, my son has hung himself.’ I couldn’t believe it. I thought I was still sleeping…I got up and went into his room and he was hanging there in the closet.”
Harris cried as she talked about the after-effects of Anthony’s death. “It took me a couple months to get help,” she said. “I wasn’t being a teenage. I just kind of stopped living.” She eventually started going to therapy because she knew she wanted to enjoy her teenage years, even though she wasn’t. “The strongest people can admit their weakness,” she said. Through therapy she was able to see meaning in her stepbrother’s death. “He taught me how precious of a life I have, and I strive for happiness.”
Other suicide survivors shared their stories too, including Royal Oak City Commissioner Peggy Goodwin who helped to create the Royal Oak SAFE group (Suicide Awareness for Everyone). Goodwin’s father Hector had killed himself when she was just six years old. “As a survivor myself, I really didn’t understand there were this many people until I really started digging,” Goodwin said. “It’s never going to be in an obituary. So you don’t know how common it is.”
Dr. William S. Miles, Director of Psychiatric at Beaumont Hospital shared the national statistics, stating that in the United States each year there are 40,000 suicides. This compares with 16,000 homicides. “Suicide needs to be approached as a public health issue,” Miles said.
Royal Oak SAFE is a group of experts, survivors, civic leaders and volunteers who are working to make suicide prevention and awareness a year-round issue. The Sept. 25 discussion panel also featured a resource fair with many mental health and suicide prevention agencies. On Nov. 16 they will host a Safe Talk training which is for laypeople to get educated about how to recognize people in crisis, how to guide them towards help, and how to make others aware that suicide is a common problem in the community.
The keynote speaker for the presentation was Jeff Edwards, president of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Detroit Chapter. Edwards and his wife lobbied for the passage of a law encouraging schools to talk about suicide prevention with parents and students. The law, known as the Chase Edward’s Law, is named after Edwards’ son who killed himself in 2003. Chase was just 12 years old.
Edwards goes around to schools and community groups giving presentations teaching people to look for the warning signs of depression or potential suicide. Warning signs include:
~Talking about wanting to kill themselves, or saying they wish they were dead
~Talking about a specific suicide plan
~Feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
~Feeling trapped, desperate, or needing to escape from an intolerable situation
~Having the feeling of being a burden to others
~Having intense anxiety and/or panic attacks
~Losing interest in things, or losing the ability to experience pleasure
~Becoming socially isolated and withdrawn from friends, family, and others
~Acting irritable or agitated
~Showing rage, or talking about seeking revenge for being victimized or rejected, whether or not the situations the person describes seem real
Individuals who show such behaviors should be evaluated for possible suicide risk by a medical doctor or mental health professional.
According to American Foundation for Suicide, in 2010, the highest suicide rate (18.6) was among people 45 to 64 years old. The second highest rate occurred in those 85 years and older. Younger groups have had consistently lower suicide rates than middle-aged and older adults. In 2010, adolescents and young adults aged 15 to 24 had a suicide rate of 10.5. For many years, the suicide rate has been about 4 times higher among men than among women. In 2010, men had a suicide rate of 19.9, and women had a rate of 5.2. Of those who died by suicide in 2010, 78.9% were male and 21.1% were female.
To keep up with Royal Oak SAFE efforts and information, like them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Royaloaksafe.
For more resources on suicide prevention, mental health support and coping with loss, visit Common Ground’s website at http://www.suicideprevention.commongroundhelps.org/postvention/.
Learn more about American Foundation for Suicide Prevention at http://www.afsp.org/.