Suicide in Our Community — Part 2

Lorna Ward, who tried to commit suicide in April 2012, now finds an outlet in leading counseling sessions with NAMI Western Slope, the local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.



Ask The Question

Life after attempted death: talking helps

By Emily Shockley

Lorna Ward still has the email she planned to send her mother before she crushed and swallowed a pile of Ambien and muscle-relaxers.

That email is a reminder to the 36-year-old wife, daughter, sister and mother of how far she has come since that desperate day in April 2012.

She was living in Washington state with her husband, Curtis, and now 4-year-old son, Henry, far from her family in Grand Junction and a base of friends in Idaho. She was depressed, isolated and struggling to deal with a manic episode her husband had been experiencing for five months at that point. A call to her cousin the day before her suicide attempt ended in her relative telling her she couldn’t call her family to complain anymore.

Ward

Curtis left for the store while Henry was at day care. Within 10 minutes, the weight of her depression overcame her. She researched what to do with the pills she had. She drafted an email to her mom and texted her husband goodbye.

“It wasn’t that I wanted to die; it was more I couldn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel,” she said. “I wasn’t any good for Henry, I wasn’t any good for myself, I certainly wasn’t any good in our marriage. And it was more of a ‘I can’t do this anymore, no one’s listening to me, no one’s hearing me, I don’t know what else to do.’ “

Curtis called 911 and was home within five minutes. Lorna doesn’t remember what he said, just that he flushed the pills down the toilet before she could take them.

Police arrived soon after that and asked her point-blank if she was thinking about killing herself. Lorna said the directness of the question gave her an outlet to admit the truth and get help. She went to a crisis facility, where she received therapy and had a safe place to step out of her environment and cool down. She moved to Grand Junction to be with her mother and sister two weeks later.

“At first I felt guilty because I would have been taking away Henry’s mom,” Lorna said. “I learned to forgive myself. I’m not a bad person — anyone could be in that depression. They are OK feelings and they do go away.”

While the stigma and oftentimes shame associated with suicide and mental illness lead many people to bury their experiences with suicide, Lorna has no plans to be quiet about her past. She believes silence is one of the reasons Mesa County’s suicide rate continues to climb.

“The reason it happens so much is people aren’t talking about it,” she said. “It relieves the pressure.”

Lorna shares her story and the feelings she continues to tackle with depression as a volunteer support group facilitator and member with NAMI Western Slope, the local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. She also communicates often with her family and regularly posts about suicide and mental illness on Facebook. Her husband is being treated for bipolar disorder, which was diagnosed after her suicide attempt, and the pair will celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary this winter.

Lorna has not felt suicidal since that day last spring. She has good days and bad, but now she has a support system of family, friends and fellow volunteers at NAMI. She said it helps defuse a low day if she reads that draft email to her mom from last April, which reminds her that even when there seems to be no tomorrow, there is. It also helps when someone asks her if she’s OK and is willing to listen to the answer without judgment.

Not everyone understands suicide, depression or mental illness in general. Lorna said she understands some people think what she did was selfish or think she could just “get over it,” something she said was not possible without help.

“When you’re in that situation, you don’t see anything else. It’s like being a horse with blinders on and it’s dark. You can’t see anything but what’s right in front of your eyes and what’s right in front of your eyes is painful and it hurts and you just want to get away from that and you don’t see any other way away from it,” she said. “The only way I can deal with it is to talk about it. Some people will get it and some people won’t.”

Some people have told her they don’t know anyone who has considered suicide. Lorna believes many would find out that is not true if they asked people they are concerned about if they are contemplating suicide. About one in four adults in the U.S. struggles with a mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Although it’s not the only risk factor for suicide — relationship, financial, legal and health complications are prime factors as well — nine out of 10 people who complete suicide have a mental illness and/or substance abuse problem, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

“How can you not know someone who has attempted suicide?” Lorna asked. “It’s sad how many people have done it and completed it and they’re not here because people have not asked the question. They’re scared to ask the question.”

Not everyone understands suicide, depression or mental illness in general. Lorna said she understands some people think what she did was selfish or think she could just “get over it,” something she said was not possible without help.

“When you’re in that situation, you don’t see anything else. It’s like being a horse with blinders on and it’s dark. You can’t see anything but what’s right in front of your eyes and what’s right in front of your eyes is painful and it hurts and you just want to get away from that and you don’t see any other way away from it,” she said. “The only way I can deal with it is to talk about it. Some people will get it and some people won’t.”

Some people have told her they don’t know anyone who has considered suicide. Lorna believes many would find out that is not true if they asked people they are concerned about if they are contemplating suicide. About one in four adults in the U.S. struggles with a mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Although it’s not the only risk factor for suicide — relationship, financial, legal and health complications are prime factors as well — nine out of 10 people who complete suicide have a mental illness and/or substance abuse problem, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

“How can you not know someone who has attempted suicide?” Lorna asked. “It’s sad how many people have done it and completed it and they’re not here because people have not asked the question. They’re scared to ask the question.”

Suicide_facts


Warning signs: Victim’s family looks back at his final days

By Emily Shockley

warning_signs_pic.jpg

Days before he hanged himself upstairs in the hallway of his mother’s Clifton apartment, 14-year-old Christian Godina walked the halls of The Opportunity Center, where he attended school, announcing to friends he was a “dead man walking.”

He posted on MySpace that he was crushed by the end of a six-month relationship with his girlfriend and he wanted to die. He made two videos on his phone sharing similar sentiments.

His mother, brother and four sisters learned all of this after his death, the day before Thanksgiving 2010. They knew he was upset about the break-up and that he was getting into trouble in school. He also started group counseling at Colorado West Regional Mental Health a month before he died. But his family members say they didn’t realize how close Christian was to killing himself because he hid his feelings well.

Christian’s sister, Talia Anderson, 28, said she and her brother laughed through an episode of “Tosh.O” before she went to sleep, around three hours before she found him dead. She said she knew he was unhappy, but never saw any hints that she would never see him alive again.

“He knew if we knew” his family would stop him, Anderson said. “Probably the thought of us would have prevented him (from completing suicide) so we were blocked out at that point.”

The family wishes now his friends would have told them what Christian was saying and doing, but they don’t blame anyone for his death. Instead, they’ve focused their energy on keeping other families from going through the tragedy of suicide.

“Call us, we can talk to you. You don’t want to do this to your family,” said Anderson, who went through a psychotic episode after finding her brother and, like most of the family, sought counseling.

Sister Katie Anderson, 30, said some people are afraid to talk to people who may be suicidal because they don’t know what to say or who to tell if they learn the person is planning to kill themselves.

“It’s not so much about you even speaking, just be there to listen to what they have to say,” she said.

Nothing has cured the pain of losing Christian, but they have found ways to keep him alive in their lives. They edit family photos to include his face, refusing to leave him out. He will have a seat reserved when Anderson gets married. The family had T-shirts and bracelets made to commemorate their funny, loving brother and son, who loved to draw, write, listen to music and play video games.

Christian’s mother, 53-year-old Tori Godina, said she hopes people learn from Christian’s death to take all threats of suicide seriously. Three years later, she still can’t believe her baby boy is gone.

“I’m still waiting for him to come home,” she said.


Breaking the cycle of silence

By Emily Shockley

After Grand Junction resident Carrie Pell’s father died of suicide when she was 13, numerous people told her to keep his cause of death quiet.

“It was one of those things they didn’t want attached to him forever. They wanted the memory to be only good memories. But if someone dies by car wreck, you don’t hide that,” Pell said.

When Pell’s younger brother, 33-year-old Allen Nation of Grand Junction, died by suicide on March 25, she didn’t want the stigma so many people attached to her father’s death to be imposed on his six children.

“After my brother died, I got to thinking, I was never ashamed of him when he was alive, ever. He was a wonderful person. So why should I feel ashamed of how he died?” she said.

Pell, 37, believes hiding how her brother, her father, a school friend, a friend of her sister and a teenage friend of her son all died perpetuates the cycle of silence surrounding suicide and its frequent companions, mental illness and depression.

Feeling no shame about his cause of death is not an endorsement of suicide. It’s a way to call attention to its causes and, hopefully, raise awareness to help others prevent suicide. Pell’s aunt explained it this way — cancer is a disease and it’s socially acceptable for a person to have cancer or die from cancer. Depression and mental illness are diseases, too, Pell said, but some people think they are simply conditions “you should be able to get over on your own.” The result is people working hard to defeat depression by themselves.

“A lot of people don’t want to talk about mental illness or depression. They don’t want to be that ‘crazy’ person,” she said, so they don’t seek help.

Since opening up about suicide, Pell said she has been surprised how many of her colleagues have approached her and said they are or were suicidal or know someone who is.

“It doesn’t mean you’re crazy or any less normal. It’s actually pretty common. Other people are going through it,” she said.

Pell said her brother didn’t often act depressed, but she knows it runs in her family. He also was experiencing marital trouble and was away from his family and friends for three weeks at a time for his oil and gas industry job. He came home from work a week and a half early and sent his kids to visit family. Pell found out later he contacted old friends before his death to check in on them, something she said can be a sign someone is considering suicide.

His death came as a shock to her because he talked about going on a family vacation the day before his suicide. Plus, he had been the positive sibling, always trying to hold the family together.

Pell organized a suicide awareness walk earlier this month in hopes of encouraging people who are contemplating suicide to talk to someone and get help. She also wanted to give survivors like her an outlet to talk about their loss.

“It doesn’t ever go away,” she said of the pain of losing a loved one. “You learn to cope. People are willing to listen.”


Suicide as the cause of death, county and state

Top 10 Causes of Death in Mesa County, 2012

Source: Colorado Department of Public Health and Enviroment

*Total 2012 deaths = 1,383
1.  Heart disease (299 deaths)
2.  Malignant tumors/cancer (283 deaths)
3.  Chronic lower respiratory diseases (110 deaths)
4.  Cerebrovascular diseases (79 deaths)
5.  Unintentional injuries (62 deaths)
6.  Alzheimer’s disease (57 deaths)
7.  SUICIDE (51 deaths)
8.  Diabetes (24 deaths)
9.  Chronic liver disease and cirrhosis (24 deaths)
10. Other Respiratory diseases (20 deaths)

Top 10 Causes of Death in Colorado, 2012

*Total 2012 deaths = 33,127

1.  Malignant tumors/cancer (7,314 deaths)
2.  Heart disease (6,306 deaths)
3.  Unintentional injuries (2,404 deaths)
4.  Chronic lower respiratory diseases (2,237 deaths)
5.  Cerebrovascular diseases (1,565 deaths)
6.  Alzheimer’s disease (1,319 deaths)
7.  SUICIDE (1,053 deaths)
8.  Diabetes (798 deaths)
9.  Chronic liver disease and cirrhosis (661 deaths)
10. Influenza and pneumonia (534 deaths)

*Deaths include those that occurred outside the county or state among residents of the county or state.


‘Everybody Loves You’

By Emily Shockley

Maggie La Hue and her mother had a pact.

If one of them felt suicidal, that person would call the other for encouragement and to help change her mind.

The call never came in October 1993. Instead, La Hue’s 45-year-old mother, surrounded by the studies she began three months earlier to become a hospital administrator, killed herself. La Hue was 21.

La Hue, who grew up with her family in Boulder and now lives on East Orchard Mesa, said she knows now the pact was fruitless. There were times when she felt depressed and didn’t call her mother. La Hue assumes, based on her own experiences with depression, her mother probably felt talking to others about her problems would be a burden.

“(Suicide) is a selfish act. I know that now. When you’re in that place you don’t see it as a selfish act, you see it as a selfless act. I think she believed she was removing herself from a situation and she would make everyone’s lives better because she didn’t feel like she was contributing to people’s lives,” La Hue said.

She couldn’t have been more wrong. La Hue’s mom loved being around people. She started a preschool in their small mountain area and constantly invited people to her home or to join her in some activity. To anyone outside the immediate family, she was the ever-smiling, frequently dancing aunt, neighbor and friend who helped them enjoy life and make tough decisions. But she didn’t believe others saw her that way.

“A week before she died, she made a comment to my dad, ‘I don’t know why nobody likes me.’ He said, ‘Are you kidding me? Everybody loves you.’ So many people really did love her and she impacted their lives but she didn’t see it,” La Hue said.

It may take many tries, but La Hue said she encourages others to assure their friends and family they are loved as often as possible. It may take a while for them to believe it, but the payoff will be worth it if they do, she said.

After her mother died, La Hue stopped considering suicide as an option for herself. She discovered what it was like to be left behind and she had no desire to do that to anyone else. She still feels depressed sometimes but copes with it by taking a breather, gaining strength from her connection with God and pushing herself not to seek isolation.

La Hue is working on a book about her mom. She said it helps her cope with losing her mother, even two decades later.

“I miss her,” she said. “I love her. She made a mistake and I hate that she made that mistake.”


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