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ON THE SCENE: Walkers fight suicide with annual event

October 3, 2019
By NAJ WIKOFF , Lake Placid News

Suicide is a growing national epidemic, currently the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.

It's the second-leading cause of death among people ages 10 to 34 and the fourth-leading cause among people ages 35 to 54. According to the Center for Disease Control, suicide rates are now 33% higher than they were in 1999. The data reveals that suicide rates of girls and women have risen significantly across nearly all ethnic or racial groups with an average rate of increase at 50 percent.

Nationally, the suicide rate for those 15 to 19 rose from 8 per 100,000 people in 2000 to 11.8 per 100,000 in 2017, and for those 20 to 24, the rate rose from 12.5 per 100,000 in 2000 to 17 per 100,000 in 2018. Our region's rate of 13.4 per 100,000 is the highest in the state (7.9 average) and exceeds the national average of 10.3 as well.

Article Photos

Pam and Rich Drollette pose with son Robby and daughter Aliceson Sunday, Sept. 29 during the North Country Walk to Fight Suicide (Out of the Darkness Community Walk) at the Olympic Speedskating Oval in Lake Placid.
(Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

People in high-stress positions, such as doctors and nurses, first responders such as EMTs, fire, police and those serving in the military have high suicide rates. Doctors die by suicide at rates twice the general public. From 300 to 400 doctors kill themselves each year. Police and fire personal die at a rate of 17 to 18 per 100,000 and those in the military on average 24 per 100,000. For them, exposure to trauma and the stress of their jobs takes a toll. According to the Ruderman White Paper on Mental Health and Suicide of First Responders, police on overage experience 188 critical incidents in their career, incidents that range from responding to horrific car accident or family violence to gunshot wounds and death.

The cause of suicide and its increase are not clear, though research is pointing to several factors such as an increased sense of isolation exasperated by the growing use of social media which results in a reduction in interpersonal activities and dialogue. Consider the times you've been in a restaurant and seen people on their cellphones instead of engaging in conversations with others at their table, or the length of time people spend communicating with their "friends" via Facebook instead in face-to-face conversations with their family or members of their community.

Another factor is the growing economic disparity coupled with the rising cost of living. An increasing number of people work two and three jobs if not more in an attempt to stay barely solvent. The amount of time they give to work takes away from their time to relax, get exercise and participate in other aspects of a healthy lifestyle.

Suicides outnumber homicides two to one in the United States. One out of every 45 attempts result in suicide. A study by the Harvard School of Public Health that was conducted across all 50 states revealed that there is a strong link between suicides and the growing accessibility of guns. The study showed that in states with higher gun ownership, the rate of suicide rate was correspondingly higher, and similarly lower in states with lower gun ownership.

Studies show that most suicides are the result of an impulsive act. As a consequence, if gun owners just kept their firearms and ammunition locked away or stored outside their home, they could help reduce suicide to a significant degree.

Research also has shown that people educated to identify language and behavior of those considering suicide, and then reaching out, can often avert that tragedy.

To that end, the North Country Walk to Fight Suicide - also known as the Out of Darkness Community Walk - was organized to raise awareness about suicide's terrible toll, to let people considering suicide know that there is no shame in seeking help, and to provide access to training and other actions that can help prevent suicide.

This year's walk was held Sunday afternoon, Sept. 29 at the Olympic Speedskating Oval in Lake Placid.

"Suicide is not only one of the leading causes of death in the United States, but has affected me personally," said Shelby Davis, North Country Walk chairperson and an AFSP Board member. "That is why I am participating in this local community walk - to bring the subject of mental health and suicide out from the darkness and into the public's consciousness."

Davis, like many of the people attending, has lost loved ones to suicide. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention had a display of colored Mardi Gras beads. People could choose from any of nine different colors, such as red that represented a loss of a spouse or significant partner, white, loss of a child, purple, loss of a friend or relative, or green, indicating a personal struggle or attempt. Few people wore just a single string.

"I try to come to as many events like the Out of Darkness Walk as possible to help build awareness of mental health and suicide prevention," said Kathryn Beagle, Miss Adirondack, a sixth-grade teacher in Watertown. "I've worked with the Jefferson and Lewis County Prevention coalitions, started a mental health support group in Watertown, and I try to incorporate mindfulness and awareness of emotions in my classroom."

Several agencies that provide crisis support and other assistance were on hand, including Megan Luckey of Essex County Mental Health representing the Essex County Suicide Prevention Coalition along with Lindsay Hendricks and Fritz Wenzler of Citizen Advocates.

"This walk is important because I don't believe the community realizes how prominent thoughts of suicide are for a lot of people and how many people in the North Country are affected by it," said Lindsay Hendricks.

"There is so much stigma in the world against depression, mental health conditions and depression in general that having everybody get together for an event like this shows that we have to get past the stigma and help people get the help they need," said her colleague, Fritz Wenzler. "The first step is to acknowledge that there is a suicide epidemic."

Courtney Collette and Amy Quinn of the Depressed Cake Shop were using cupcakes that were gray on the outside and colorful on the inside to illustrate the hope and potential that's in people going through emotionally dark times.

"This is experiential PR," said Quinn. "Its purpose is to get people talking about depression in a different way, that it's not taboo, you can talk about depression the same way you can talk about cancer, diabetes or any other ailment. It's important to recognize that when you have an issue, don't keep it hidden; instead, reach out and get help."

The Out of Darkness Community Walk was started by Debbie and Doug Jerdo, of Saranac Lake, who lost their son Joshua, then 24, to suicide.

"My sister Debbie started the walk 11 years ago," said Pam Drollette. "She's always been such a proponent, but to find her healing, she needed to help others. She also started a bereaved parents' group. She continues to make a difference. We personally know two other people who died this year by suicide."

"Nobody ever thinks it's going to hit you, but at the end of the day it affects everybody," said Pam's husband, Rich.

Information on how to contribute or help can be found online at afsp.donordrive.com and then by clicking on Walks, then Community Walks and Find a Walk.

 
 
 

 

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