Posts tagged with Suicide

Survivors of suicide discuss prevention, how to cope

By Ian Cummings

Every year on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, people in Lawrence join thousands across the world in gathering to talk about their friends and family members who died by suicide.

They call it International Survivors of Suicide Day, and more join their ranks each year. Twenty-five Lawrence residents met Saturday at First United Methodist Church to share their stories of loss and help spread the word about the realities of suicide and mental illness. A panel of survivors, including City Commissioner Hugh Carter, who lost son Rees to suicide, led a discussion on how to cope with the unique grief that follows these deaths.

Marcia Epstein, director of Headquarters Counseling Center, organized the event and said Douglas County’s suicide rate was high for Kansas, which itself reports more suicides than the national average. The county saw its suicide rate double in 2010 and counted at least 29 deaths between 2010 and 2011. At least one person commits suicide in Kansas every day.

The survivors are often left with upsetting questions that can’t easily be answered. To help the bereaved cope with those and other difficulties, Headquarters hosts a support group that meets every other Tuesday. For many, these groups are the only places to share a common experience in a society where suicide is still widely misunderstood and difficult to discuss.

Shelly Hampton moved to Lawrence to find support after her 15-year-old son, Blake, suddenly killed himself in 2001. Hampton said he was a happy, healthy teenager who drank too much alcohol one night and made a mistake.

“It’s one of those things people don’t want to talk about,” she said. “But it’s such a long-lasting hurt that you need people to turn to for support.”

Troubled by grief, feelings of guilt and questions, Hampton said she didn’t find much support where she was living in Pratt, west of Wichita, and counseling was not available to her. But she found what she was looking for at Headquarters.

“I just felt like this was a place where I fit,” she said. “People never get answers to the ‘why’ question. When I quit asking that question, it really helped.”

Some at Saturday’s meeting, like Hampton, had lost young children to sudden, unexplained suicides. Others had seen spouses and family members go through years of mental illnesses before an untimely death. Whatever the cause, most agreed that anger, blame and wondering what they might have done differently rarely helped.

The message those participants wanted to spread was that suicide needs to be openly discussed before tragedy happens, as well as after. Mental illness, they said, should be treated just like physical illnesses, such as cancer or heart disease, and not stigmatized. Many regretted that their loved ones never found lasting treatments for the chronic depressions that ultimately ended their lives.

No one at the meeting had easy answers. Rose Foster, a panelist who has been involved in the Headquarters support group for seven years, became a therapist after her husband, Gordon, took his own life in 2004.

Foster said she had met few people who could make sense of these losses on their own.

“We don’t have a blueprint for that,” she said. “We need that extra support. It’s an outlet in life where you can be real with other people and be honest.”

For more information, visit headquarterscounselingcenter.org.

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Headquarters to honor two Lawrence residents Friday

Headquarters Counseling Center will honor two Lawrence residents at the group’s annual Life Support Refresher event, which runs from 6:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday at the Carnegie Building, 200 W. Ninth St.

Former Kansas University business professor Joe Reitz will receive the 2012 Life Saver Award for his role in founding the Lawrence branch of Family Promise, an organization that helps homeless families. And Karrey Britt, a former Journal-World health reporter, will receive the Life Friend Award for her reporting on mental health-related issues in the Lawrence area.

Jay Wachs from Great Plains Media will emcee the event, and the band “Floyd the Barber” will perform. Tickets — which can be purchased at the door — are $40 for one person or $75 for two. For more information, call Headquarters at 841-9900.

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Lawrence chamber announces recipients of Valor Public Safety Awards

The Lawrence Chamber of Commerce will honor 17 first responders with a Valor Public Safety Award on Oct. 16. Uploaded

The Lawrence Chamber of Commerce will honor 17 first responders with a Valor Public Safety Award on Oct. 16. Uploaded by Karrey Britt

Seventeen first responders will be honored Oct. 16 for their actions to protect and save the lives of Douglas County residents.

The Lawrence Chamber of Commerce announced Monday the recipients of its second annual Valor Public Safety Awards, which give the community an opportunity to acknowledge and thank first responders and their families for the sacrifices they make every day.

“There are some very compelling stories to be told at this year’s awards ceremony,” said Eileen Hawley, vice president of operations at the chamber.

She said several honorees will be recognized for saving the lives of individuals who suffered major cardiac events. Others intervened in two attempted suicides and were able to get the individuals the help they needed. Officers also responded to situations involving individuals who were armed and posed a threat to others.

“All too often we take for granted the sacrifices of our first responders,” said John Ross, chairman of the Chamber of Commerce board of directors. “These men and women contribute greatly to our quality of life in Douglas County. They routinely put their lives on the line to protect us.”

This year’s honorees are:

Douglas County Sheriff’s Office employees — Deputies Joey Frost, Kristen Dymacek and Bradley Bissey.

Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical — Engineer Nicholas Simon.

Lawrence Police Department — Sgts. Trent McKinley and Anthony Brixious, retired Sgt. Susan Hadl, and Officers Samuel Hiatt, Tina Shambaugh, Tracy Russell, Leo Souders, Charles Stewart, Steven Ramsdell, Steven Verbanic, Sutagee Anglin, Adam Welch and Shawn Gross.

They will be honored during a luncheon at 11:30 a.m. Oct. 16 at the Lied Center. The keynote speaker will be astronaut and honorary U.S. Marshal Jim Reilly. The event is open to the public and limited to the first 200 reservations. The cost is $35 for the public and $25 for first responders. To make a reservation, visit lawrencechamber.com or call 865-4411 by Oct. 9.

The children of the Valor Award honorees are eligible for a one-time $1,000 stipend to help with expenses of their post-secondary education at an accredited college or university. Fourteen people were recognized last year, and so far, five children have been awarded scholarships. To make a donation to the scholarship program, visit lawrencekansasvalorawards.org or contact Hawley at 865-4408.

A Valor Public Safety Award Scholarship is presented to Clark Rials Jr., center, whose father Sgt. Clark Rials of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, second from right, was a 2011 Valor Awards honoree. Presenting the scholarship are, from left, John Ross, chairman of the Lawrence Chamber board of directors; Harry Herington, CEO of NIC Inc., the signature sponsor and co-founder of the Valor Public Safety Awards Program; and Greg Williams, president and CEO of the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce. The Valor Awards honor the community’s first responders and the commitment of their families.

A Valor Public Safety Award Scholarship is presented to Clark Rials Jr., center, whose father Sgt. Clark Rials of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, second from right, was a 2011 Valor Awards honoree. Presenting the scholarship are, from left, John Ross, chairman of the Lawrence Chamber board of directors; Harry Herington, CEO of NIC Inc., the signature sponsor and co-founder of the Valor Public Safety Awards Program; and Greg Williams, president and CEO of the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce. The Valor Awards honor the community’s first responders and the commitment of their families.

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‘Everyone’ can help prevent suicide by knowing warning signs, how to help

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a two-part series to raise awareness about suicide as part of Suicide Prevention Week, Sept. 9-15. Yesterday: Suicide bereavement.

Sarah Pembrook, a counselor with Headquarters Counseling Center, 211 E. Eighth St., listens to a local caller who is expressing feelings of depression and being overwhelmed, Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2012. Headquarters, which has been in operation for 43 years, not only takes calls from distressed individuals who sometimes are feeling suicidal, but also offers support for family members who have lost loved ones to suicide.

Sarah Pembrook, a counselor with Headquarters Counseling Center, 211 E. Eighth St., listens to a local caller who is expressing feelings of depression and being overwhelmed, Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2012. Headquarters, which has been in operation for 43 years, not only takes calls from distressed individuals who sometimes are feeling suicidal, but also offers support for family members who have lost loved ones to suicide. by Nick Krug

Every day, someone dies by suicide in Kansas. Every month, one or two people die by suicide in Douglas County.

Marcia Epstein, director of Headquarters Counseling Center in Lawrence, believes suicide prevention is everyone’s business.

“We all have the opportunity to say a kind word or smile at somebody, and it can make a difference in that person’s day. Those are the kinds of things that we are not going to know the impact necessarily, but that’s a starting point,” she said.

Headquarters has counselors who answer the state’s 24-hour National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and it offers bereavement support for those who have lost a loved one to suicide. Epstein estimated the center gets between 10 and 15 calls a day related to suicide. The center recently received a $480,000 federal grant to help reduce suicide attempts and deaths statewide.

According to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, there were 385 suicides last year in Kansas, 408 in 2010, and 376 in 2009. In Douglas County, there were seven last year, 21 in 2010, and 12 in 2009.

“We need to be able to talk openly about suicide, and that means if we are the one who is struggling or if we are the one who notices someone who is struggling,” Epstein said.

The warning signs that someone may be suicidal include:

• threatening to hurt or kill oneself.

• looking for ways to kill oneself such as seeking access to pills, weapons or other means.

• talking or writing about death, dying or suicide.

• talking about hopelessness.

• showing rage, anger or seeking revenge.

• acting recklessly or engaging in risky activities such as drinking and driving.

• withdrawing from friends, family or society.

•••

Eunice Ruttinger, director of adult services at Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center, said if you think someone is at risk for suicide, you should ask him or her matter-of-factly: Are you thinking about killing yourself? Are you having thoughts of suicide? Ruttinger said while some people may think talking about suicide can plant the idea in the person’s mind, it’s not true.

Ruttinger said it’s important to listen and tell that person you want to help them. “We can’t assume that it’s just talk and not action,” she said.

If they have a specific plan on how they are going to kill themselves and the means to do it, seek help immediately by taking them to a community mental health center or hospital emergency room; don’t leave them alone. If the person refuses to get help, you may need to call law enforcement. You also can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

Ruttinger said it’s common for someone to refuse treatment.

“One of the symptoms of depression is you don’t want to do anything. So you are so depressed, you don’t want to engage and you don’t necessarily think anything is going to happen and you feel really helpless,” she said.

If someone has been depressed and then suddenly seems to be doing real well or seems to have turned the corner, think again. That corner may be a commitment to death.

Eunice Ruttinger, adult services director, talks about some of the various forms of therapy used to treat anxiety, depression and psychotic disorders at Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center, 200 Maine, during an interview in 2010. Ruttinger is among the Bert Nash staff members who teach people how to respond to suicidal thoughts and behavior in the center's Mental Health First Aid classes, which are open to anyone.

Eunice Ruttinger, adult services director, talks about some of the various forms of therapy used to treat anxiety, depression and psychotic disorders at Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center, 200 Maine, during an interview in 2010. Ruttinger is among the Bert Nash staff members who teach people how to respond to suicidal thoughts and behavior in the center's Mental Health First Aid classes, which are open to anyone. by Nick Krug

•••

Bert Nash staff members, including Ruttinger, teach people how to respond to suicidal thoughts and behavior in its Mental Health First Aid classes. It also provides counseling and treatment for those at risk.

“They absolutely can get better and that’s the key in talking to people who are having suicidal thoughts. That it is a symptom of a mental health diagnosis and they can get help and recover,” Ruttinger said.

The center performs about 100 screenings per month for suicide. Health Care Access, a clinic that serves uninsured Douglas County residents, sees at least one patient per day who is contemplating suicide or has attempted it.

Across the street, at Lawrence Memorial Hospital, the emergency room had 621 visits last year for suicide, suicidal ideation or self-inflicted injury. In 2010, it had 461 visits and in 2009, there were 655.

Epstein said sometimes there is a need for medical or mental health treatment, but a lot of times when people are thinking about suicide, those thoughts will change once they are reconnected with the people in their lives. She encourages people to call Headquarters Counseling Center at 841-2345 so its trained volunteers and staff can make recommendations for help.

“We get calls every day,” Epstein said. “People say they are worried about my employee, cousin, friend, son, daughter, husband and they let us know what they know and we help in terms of giving some recommendations and we always offer to talk to the person who they believe is at risk.”

Epstein said they are going to help that person move towards the help they need and they are going to use the least invasive methods possible.

“One of our core values is being honest with people. We are not going to do anything without telling you,” Epstein said. “We’ve had people from other communities where the police were immediately dispatched and that can be humiliating and scary and often makes people not want to get help later.”

She said people are more likely to seek help when they’ve been included in the decisions. With someone who is at high risk of suicide, Epstein said, it’s not about doing something against their will, it’s about getting them into agreement to get the help they need.

Headquarters Counseling Center director Marcia Epstein closes her eyes as she listens to a Wichita caller routed through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on Thursday, Nov. 12, 2009, at Headquarters. The center recently received a $1.4 million federal grant for statewide suicide prevention efforts.

Headquarters Counseling Center director Marcia Epstein closes her eyes as she listens to a Wichita caller routed through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on Thursday, Nov. 12, 2009, at Headquarters. The center recently received a $1.4 million federal grant for statewide suicide prevention efforts. by Nick Krug

•••

Besides knowing the warning signs and how to get a friend or family member help, there are other ways to promote suicide prevention, Epstein said. One way is to advocate for people who can’t afford to get the physical and mental health care they need. Also, if you see someone being mistreated, do something about it.

“The more we grow up feeling good about ourselves and confident and cared about, the less risk we are going to have getting to the point of life where we are going to feel like suicide,” she said.


SUICIDE PREVENTION

Marcia Epstein, director of Headquarters Counseling Center in Lawrence, says you can make a difference when someone shows signs of feeling suicidal.

Here’s how:

• Listen and show you care.

• Ask the question, “Are you thinking about suicide?”

• For teens, find a trusted adult to help.

• For adults, find someone to be with the person and someone trained in suicide prevention to help.

• Eliminate access to firearms, large amounts of medications and other potential dangers.

• Never keep a secret about suicide.

• Know that suicide is never someone else’s fault.

Where to get help:

• Headquarters Counseling Center’s 24-hour service — 785-841-2345.

• National Suicide Prevention Life-Line — 800-273-8255.

• Bert Nash’s 24-hour service — 785-843-9192.

• Lawrence Memorial Hospital emergency room — 785-505-6100.

• Christian Psychological Services — 843-2429.


SUICIDE PREVENTION WEEK EVENTS

National Suicide Prevention Week is Sept. 9-15. Area events include:

• Life Support Ride. The fifth annual motorcycle Poker Run on Sept. 9 will benefit suicide prevention and suicide bereavement support at Headquarters Counseling Center in Lawrence. Registration starts at 11 a.m. at Johnny’s Tavern, Second and Locust streets, and the ride starts at noon. Cost is $20 per hand. The event includes three stops and ends at Set ’Em Up Jacks in Lawrence. For more information or to register in advance, visit headquarterscounselingcenter.org.

Remembrance Walk. Suicide Awareness Survivor Support will have its ninth annual walk Sept. 9 at Loose Park in Kansas City, Mo. Registration begins at 8 a.m. and the walk starts at 9 a.m. Cost is $25. Proceeds help with suicide awareness, education, prevention and survivor support. For more information or to register, visit sass-mokan.com/sass-walk.

Feathers for Cass. Mary Moore, a hair stylist who lost her son to suicide, will be doing feather hair extensions for a $10 donation during the month of September along with hair stylist Emily Willis. The proceeds will benefit Headquarters Counseling Center. To purchase a feather, contact Mary’s Hair and Nail Salon in Baldwin City at 979-7822 or Salon Hawk in Lawrence at 864-1990.

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Lawrence couple hope son is remembered for 19 years of life — not death by suicide

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a two-part series to raise awareness about suicide as part of Suicide Prevention Week, Sept. 9-15. Tomorrow: Suicide prevention.

Lisa Zwiener and her husband, Raymond Zwiener, sit on a bench next to their son's gravesite in Rock Creek cemetery, west of Clinton Lake, on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. Their son, Ryan, died by suicide on Dec. 3, 2011, after a battle with depression. The Zweiners said they find some peace in visiting the burial site.

Lisa Zwiener and her husband, Raymond Zwiener, sit on a bench next to their son's gravesite in Rock Creek cemetery, west of Clinton Lake, on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. Their son, Ryan, died by suicide on Dec. 3, 2011, after a battle with depression. The Zweiners said they find some peace in visiting the burial site. by Richard Gwin

Ryan Lee Zwiener was creative and a hard worker — and he liked to make others laugh.

His parents, Lisa and Raymond, said they would be watching television, and Ryan would enter the room and just start dancing around.

“He liked having fun and being spontaneous — we really miss him,” Lisa said, dabbing her eyes with a tissue.

Ryan, a Kansas University student, died by suicide on Dec. 3, 2011, two weeks before his 20th birthday, after a battle with depression.

His parents and sister, Mandy, openly talk about the suicide in hopes of preventing other deaths, but they also don’t want Ryan to be remembered for how he died.

“He taught us so much in those 19 years of life,” Lisa said.

She recalled many stories about Ryan during a two-hour interview in her Lawrence home. He liked to make dandelion tea and he enjoyed building things. Lisa said she had mentioned wanting something besides a carrier to put their three small dogs in when nobody was home, so one day Ryan surprised her with a unique, two-story, indoor doghouse he had built.

“He truly was an amazing man,” she said, as tears rolled down her cheeks.

Although it has been nine months, the death is still very painful for the Zwieners, but they said it helps to talk and share memories.

“There are some people who try to avoid it or don’t want to say anything because they don’t want to upset you or whatever, and it’s almost more upsetting when they don’t bring it up because you do want so desperately for them to be remembered,” Lisa said.

A photo of Ryan Zwiener is displayed in his parent's home. Ryan died by suicide on Dec. 3, 2011, after a battle with depression. His parents, Lisa and Raymond, said they don't want Ryan to remembered for his death, but for his 19 years of life.

A photo of Ryan Zwiener is displayed in his parent's home. Ryan died by suicide on Dec. 3, 2011, after a battle with depression. His parents, Lisa and Raymond, said they don't want Ryan to remembered for his death, but for his 19 years of life. by Richard Gwin

•••

Last year, 385 Kansans died by suicide, including seven in Douglas County. Those suicides caused a lot of grief for their loved ones — spouses, children, grandchildren, grandparents, friends and colleagues.

Marcia Epstein is director of Headquarters Counseling Center in Lawrence, which provides a support group for people who have lost someone to suicide. She said suicide is never someone else’s fault, but it’s common for those left behind to feel guilty and blamed by others. That’s why it is important for others to reach out and offer support.

“They need to know that they are loved, accepted and have support. What they fear is that people are blaming them or that people are looking badly at the person they lost to suicide. Acceptance is so, so important,” Epstein said. “So often, what happens is people will avoid you. They literally will turn to another aisle in the grocery store because they don’t want to say something hurtful or the wrong thing.”

Her advice is to say, “I am so sorry for your loss,” and then listen.

Lisa Zwiener’s colleague and friend Marcia Stetler admitted she didn’t know what to say or do to help Lisa when Ryan died. She was grateful that Headquarters Counseling Center provided group counseling at their workplace a day or two after Ryan died.

“That was good because we were all experiencing different things and we all have children and it really hit hard. I think that helped a lot,” Stetler said.

Lisa said Stetler has been one of her rocks. She takes walks with her and they reminisce. If Lisa has a breakdown at work, Stetler gives her a hug and listens. “She’s great. She doesn’t really tell me what to do,” Lisa said.

Epstein said nobody can truly understand what someone is going through because the grief process is complicated with suicide. There can be a variety of feelings: anger, shame, fear, sadness. These could stem from:

• dealing with secrets that come out after the death.

• watching someone struggle for so long and then suddenly not having to worry and be on guard for that person’s behavior anymore.

• feeling like maybe they didn’t really know the person.

“It’s really, really complicated, and so all of these things relate to what the healing process is going to look like,” Epstein said. “There’s going to be a lot of ups and downs.”

Lisa and Raymond Zwiener, of Lawrence, display a tribute to their son, Ryan, in the rear window of the family car. Ryan died by suicide at age 19 in December 2011 after a battle with depression. They openly talk about the suicide in hopes of preventing other deaths, but they also don’t want Ryan to be remembered for how he died.

Lisa and Raymond Zwiener, of Lawrence, display a tribute to their son, Ryan, in the rear window of the family car. Ryan died by suicide at age 19 in December 2011 after a battle with depression. They openly talk about the suicide in hopes of preventing other deaths, but they also don’t want Ryan to be remembered for how he died. by Richard Gwin

•••

The Zweiners — Lisa, Raymond and Mandy — are suffering from depression and have sought counseling to deal with Ryan’s death, but it hasn’t gotten any easier. Lisa said they haven’t gone through Ryan’s things that are stored in their garage or touched anything in his bedroom in their house.

Sometimes, Lisa said she will just sit in Ryan’s truck or lie on the sheets on his bed. She said there are days when she can’t get out of bed and she’s overwhelmed by sadness. She’s also sad for her daughter who has nightmares from finding her brother, with whom she lived at the time in a townhouse.

“Mandy said something the other day that kind of threw me off because she got mad at me and said, ‘I am tired of coming home and seeing you lying in bed and crying. She said, ‘I’ve lost my brother and I don’t want to lose my mother too.”

Susan Reynolds, of Topeka, said her daughter, Becky, died by suicide 10 years ago at age 23. As a teen, she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and had an eating disorder. Later, she developed an addiction to drugs and alcohol and stopped taking her medications.

“The first two years were unbearably painful, but it’s better if friends try to reach out and involve you in anything because the tendency is to isolate,” she said.

Reynolds said she has continued to teach a 12-week program for caregivers of individuals with severe mental illnesses through the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Topeka. It was something she started a couple of years before her daughter’s death.

“I think it was probably about as therapeutic as anything I could have done,” she said. “It felt good to educate people and hopefully prevent a tragedy for them.”

She also finds it healthy to talk about her daughter.

“Suicide wasn’t the only thing that happened in her life, and there’s a lot to talk about; yet, people are afraid to bring up her name, but, boy, that’s the best thing they can do. It’s sharing the good memories,” Reynolds said.


SUPPORT GROUP

Headquarters Counseling Center’s “Healing After Suicide” support group is free and open to anyone who has lost someone to suicide. It meets every other Tuesday from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. For more information, contact the center at 841-2345 or email Marcia Epstein, director, at Marcia@HeadquartersCounselingCenter.org.


HOW TO REACH OUT

Eunice Ruttinger, director of adult services at Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center, offered the following advice when it comes to supporting a friend or loved one who has lost someone by suicide.

Do:

• Say you are sorry for their loss.

• Listen.

• Stay in touch and offer help whether it be to watch children, mow the yard or take a walk.

Do not:

• Offer advice and share personal experiences.

• Say things like: “They are in a better place,” “Be happy with the time you had,” “You seem to be handling it well,” or “You are doing better than I could.”

Karen Dillon, of Vinland, lights a candle to remember her son, Dakota Dillon Pite, who died by suicide. Her daughter, Annabel, 5, also lights a candle to remember her older brother. They were among about 30 people who participated in a National Survivors of Suicide event Saturday, Nov. 20, 2010, at First United Methodist Church in downtown Lawrence.

Karen Dillon, of Vinland, lights a candle to remember her son, Dakota Dillon Pite, who died by suicide. Her daughter, Annabel, 5, also lights a candle to remember her older brother. They were among about 30 people who participated in a National Survivors of Suicide event Saturday, Nov. 20, 2010, at First United Methodist Church in downtown Lawrence. by Richard Gwin

Karen Smart, Lawrence, talks about her late son Jacob Wessel after attending a National Survivors of Suicide Day event Saturday, Nov. 20, 2010, in downtown Lawrence. Her son died by suicide on April 19, 2010, at age 15. She made a mini-collage of Jacob's pictures, at left.

Karen Smart, Lawrence, talks about her late son Jacob Wessel after attending a National Survivors of Suicide Day event Saturday, Nov. 20, 2010, in downtown Lawrence. Her son died by suicide on April 19, 2010, at age 15. She made a mini-collage of Jacob's pictures, at left. by Richard Gwin

Anita Burkhalter, of Lawrence, takes a moment to collect her thoughts as she talks about her late husband, Phillip. She attended the National Survivors of Suicide Day event Saturday, Nov. 20, 2010, in downtown Lawrence.

Anita Burkhalter, of Lawrence, takes a moment to collect her thoughts as she talks about her late husband, Phillip. She attended the National Survivors of Suicide Day event Saturday, Nov. 20, 2010, in downtown Lawrence. by Richard Gwin

Rose Foster, of Lawrence, cradles a portrait of her late husband, Gordon Foster, who committed suicide at age 40. He had attempted suicide several times before and had been dealing with depression for years. At the time of his death, Rose had cancer and the family had just filed for bankruptcy.

Rose Foster, of Lawrence, cradles a portrait of her late husband, Gordon Foster, who committed suicide at age 40. He had attempted suicide several times before and had been dealing with depression for years. At the time of his death, Rose had cancer and the family had just filed for bankruptcy. by kevin-anderson

Zachary Chipps, left, and Thomas Brown, both of Scottsdale, Ariz., are bicycling across the country to raise awareness about suicide prevention. They both lost an older brother to suicide. Their journey began March 1, 2012, at the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge and will end Sept. 30, 2012, in Wappengers Falls, N.Y. They are pictured during a stop in Colorado. Chipps and Brown stopped in Lawrence in May.

Zachary Chipps, left, and Thomas Brown, both of Scottsdale, Ariz., are bicycling across the country to raise awareness about suicide prevention. They both lost an older brother to suicide. Their journey began March 1, 2012, at the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge and will end Sept. 30, 2012, in Wappengers Falls, N.Y. They are pictured during a stop in Colorado. Chipps and Brown stopped in Lawrence in May.


SUICIDE PREVENTION

Marcia Epstein, director of Headquarters Counseling Center in Lawrence, says you can make a difference when someone shows signs of feeling suicidal.

Here’s how:

• Listen and show you care.

• Ask the question, “Are you thinking about suicide?”

• For teens, find a trusted adult to help.

• For adults, find someone to be with the person and someone trained in suicide prevention to help.

• Eliminate access to firearms, large amounts of medications and other potential dangers.

• Never keep a secret about suicide.

• Know that suicide is never someone else’s fault.

Where to get help:

Headquarters Counseling Center’s 24-hour service — 785-841-2345.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline — 800-273-8255.

Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center's 24-hour service — 785-843-9192.

Lawrence Memorial Hospital emergency room — 785-505-6100.

Christian Psychological Services — 785-843-2429.

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Douglas County agencies launch new grief support program for children, teens

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Three Douglas County agencies have teamed up to start a new bereavement support program for children and teens who are grieving the death of a family member or friend from illness, accident or suicide.

“If they don’t know someone who can kind of walk along their side, then they can feel very, very isolated and lonely,” said Linda Upstill, aftercare coordinator at Rumsey-Yost Funeral Home. “I think oftentimes people don’t realize children do grieve, so I am hoping we will raise some awareness that way.”

She said children often grieve differently from adults. It can be difficult for some children to put their feelings into words. Children’s grief can be sporadic; they may cry and then turn around and play. Sometimes, children regress in their behaviors and may act younger than their age.

For those under 9, Upstill said, the permanency of death can be a tough concept to grasp.

“There is no timeline to grieve, and it’s different for every single individual, and it is different for every single kid, so hopefully what we will do is normalize it a little more so they don’t feel so alone,” Upstill said.

The free, six-week program called Keepsake Place will begin Oct. 10. The weekly classes will be from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesdays at Midland Care’s Adult Day Care Center in North Lawrence. The children will be divided into appropriate-age groups. The program is for children who have been grieving for at least three months because they will be better able to concentrate and won’t be as stressed.

“They will get more out of it,” Upstill said.

She will meet separately with the children’s parents or guardians to help educate them about their children’s grief and what they can do to help.

The program is being provided through Rumsey-Yost, Midland Care and Visiting Nurses. They received a $2,500 grant from the Hospice Education Institute to start the program.

Sarah Rooney, hospice volunteer coordinator at Visiting Nurses, is looking forward to working with the children. She said the classes will include sharing photos and making mementos.

“There’s no grief support for kids around here. There’s nothing,” she said. “My greatest hope is that they don’t feel alone, that they meet other kids like themselves and, in the best case scenario, the parents and children become friends so they have an ongoing support group.”

Rooney said they will have resources available for children who may need intense therapy or support beyond the program.


HOW TO SIGN UP

Keepsake Place is a new six-week support program for children and teens in Douglas County and surrounding areas who are grieving the death of a family member or friends.

The program will be on Wednesdays, Oct. 10-Nov. 14, from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m., at Midland Care’s Adult Day Care Center, 319 Perry St., in North Lawrence. There is no cost to attend.

For more information or to register, contact Sarah Rooney, of Visiting Nurses, at 843-3738 or sarahro@kansasvna.org.

The program is provided by Midland Care, Visiting Nurses and Rumsey-Yost Funeral Home, and they plan to offer it twice a year.

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Crisis center lauds Facebook move

Facebook's User Operations Safety Team workers look at reviews at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2011. Facebook is making it easier for Facebook users who express suicidal thoughts to get help. A program launching on Tuesday enables Facebook users to instantly connect with a crisis counselor through Facebook's "chat" messaging system.

Facebook's User Operations Safety Team workers look at reviews at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2011. Facebook is making it easier for Facebook users who express suicidal thoughts to get help. A program launching on Tuesday enables Facebook users to instantly connect with a crisis counselor through Facebook's "chat" messaging system.

Every week, Headquarters Counseling Center receives calls from someone who is concerned that one of their Facebook friends could be suicidal based on a comment made on the social networking site.

Sometimes it turns out that friend was only posting song lyrics, but in some instances the person was at serious risk for suicide.

Whether posted or spoken, expressions of suicidal thoughts need to be taken seriously, director of Headquarters Counseling Marcia Epstein said.

This week, Facebook launched a new feature that would make it easier for friends to report comments that they believe could indicate a risk of suicide. After a friend reports a distressing comment, the tool would allow a person at risk of suicide to connect with a counselor through a confidential chat session.

While the Facebook feature is helpful, Epstein said the best alternative is to always call the local suicide hotline. For Lawrence, that number is 841-2345.

“We can tell so much more by hearing a person’s tone of voice and can clarify things quickly if needed,” she said.

When Headquarters receives a call from someone who is concerned that a Facebook friend is having suicidal thoughts, Epstein said questions need to be asked. They need to know how well the caller knows the person, how old the person is and whether she or he has any contact information for the person.

Sometimes, the caller barely knows the person. “You can be friends with people that you don’t really know,” Epstein said of the dynamics of Facebook.

If there is a threat of suicide, Facebook will help Headquarters track down someone at risk. From her experience, Epstein said younger Facebook users tend to post intense comments that at times are a plea for help and at other times are just expressions of dramatic feelings.

“Adolescent and teens are likely to use that kind of language more readily and not be as close to acting on it,” Epstein said.

While Facebook has offered ways to provide suicide prevention before, the new feature will make it easier to do so.

According to The Associated Press, here’s how the Facebook reporting will work:

A user spots a suicidal comment on a friend’s page. He then clicks on a “report” button next to the posting that leads to a series of questions about the nature of the post, including whether it is violent, harassing, hate speech or harmful behavior.

If harmful behavior is clicked, then self-harm, Facebook’s user safety team reviews it and sends it to Lifeline. Once the comment is determined to be legitimate, Facebook sends an email to the user who originally posted the thoughts perceived as suicidal. The email includes Lifeline’s phone number and a link to start a confidential chat session.

The recipient decides whether to respond. Facebook also sends an email to the person who reported the content to let the person know that the site responded. If a suicide or other threats appear imminent, Facebook encourages friends to call law enforcement.

While calling the local hotline number is preferred, Epstein acknowledges that suicide prevention centers have to be able to reach people through the avenues in which they communicate. The widespread use of telephones resulted in hotline crisis centers taking root in the 1950s.

Today, nearly everyone uses computers and smartphones. Headquarters doesn’t have the capability to chat online with people at risk of suicide.

They also don’t have a dedicated phone for answering text messages. However, at times, counselors have used their personal cellphones to reach out to someone who was at risk of suicide but wasn’t answering a phone call.

“It’s something we are seeing happen more and more,” Epstein said.

Headquarters also responds by email, although they don’t receive the immediate attention that a phone call to the hotline does.

The agency is looking at software that would allow for new forms of communication. The barrier isn’t so much the technology as the staffing.

“It takes a lot of extra staff time. The back and forth in a chat conversation takes much longer than a voice conversation. And, you can’t be doing multiple things. You’ve got to be focused on the counseling,” Epstein said.

Epstein reminds people that whether it is online or in person, the suggestions for responding to someone who is showing suicidal signs are the same:

  • Listen and show you care.
  • Ask the question “Are you thinking about suicide?”
  • For teens, find a trusted adult to help you both.
  • For adults, find someone to be with the person and someone trained in suicide prevention, such as Headquarters Counseling Center staff, to help.
  • Always eliminate access to firearms, large amounts of medications and other dangers.
  • Never keep a secret about suicide.
  • Know that suicide is never someone else’s fault.

And Epstein said when in doubt seek help.

“It is better for someone to call us worried about a person than later to find out they died by suicide and say, ‘Oh man, we should have done something different,’” Epstein said.

- Th Associated Press contributed to this story

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Survivors of suicide discuss grief, healing process

Survivors_of_Suicide006.JPG

Survivors_of_Suicide006.JPG

By Alex Garrison

Every day, at least one Kansan dies by suicide.

It’s a staggering, tragic statistic, and behind it lies a community of parents, spouses, educators and friends — the survivors of suicide who are left to work through the grief of an often violent, shocking and mystifying loss.

About 20 such survivors gathered together at First United Methodist Church, 946 Vt., Saturday to discuss not just their trials in that process, but also their triumphs. It was National Survivors of Suicide Day, an event sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and hosted locally by Headquarters Counseling Center, a nonprofit charity that provides 24/7 access to emergency mental health counseling over the phone, as well as other services.

The event featured a national panel broadcast throughout the country to groups like the one here in Lawrence, followed by a discussion between Headquarters staff, survivors and members of the center’s biweekly support group.

Marcia Epstein, Headquarters director, talked about the importance of working through grief in helping to prevent further loss to suicide.

“We want people to know they don’t have to fall apart,” she said.

Survivors face unique challenges in processing their grief, including societal stigmas surrounding talking about suicide and a tendency to feel a great amount of responsibility for not being able to “save” the person. But one resounding theme throughout Saturday’s event was healing through moving beyond feelings of guilt.

“It’s natural to wonder why and common to feel guilty,” she said. “But you have to allow yourself also to remember what you did right — to remember and honor the life of the person you lost.”

Rose Foster, who has been active in supporting Headquarters since her husband died in 2004, said events like Saturday’s gave the opportunity to build a community of people who understand those difficulties.

“Being able to speak freely and openly about your loss is a healing experience,” said.

Epstein also talked of finding the “gift” in the grief — whether it’s a greater appreciation for life or an opportunity to help others. Survivors all grieve in their own ways, of course, but many find comfort in activism and finding ways to “do something” to help mental health services.

Mary Moore of Baldwin City is one such survivor. After she lost her son, Cassidy, to suicide in April, she and her niece, Emily Willis, began to sell feather hair extensions in their salons as a way to raise money for Headquarters. Moore said that the “community has been very loving” and that they’ve raised more than $1,600 since September. The pain is still raw as she talks about how supporting Headquarters’ service has helped her begin to work through what’s undoubtedly a lifelong process.

“I just don’t want anybody else to go through this,” she said.

But Willis chimes in with how the “Feathers for Cass” project has helped: “We wanted to do something that would be fun and spunky, like he was,” she said. “And I think it’s helped in the healing process for Mary. She’s had a lot of friends of his come in, and while they get the feather put in, they tell all these good stories about his life.”

Where to find help

If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide, please get help immediately. Crisis counseling is available from Headquarters 24/7 at 841-2345. You can also call toll-free from anywhere in Kansas, 888-899-2345.

Headquarters offers a free support group for adults who have experienced grief after losing someone by suicide. They meet at the center every other Tuesday; for more information, you can call the administration line at 841-9900.

Salon Hawk, in the Kansas Union on Kansas University’s campus, is still offering Feathers for Cass hair extensions for $10. Proceeds go directly to Headquarters.

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Theater production part of youth coalition’s initiative to address sex ed, suicide, pregnancy

Free State juniors Leslie Cunningham, foreground left, and Alexandra Hoopes, right, rehearse a scene from  "Spring Awakening," a production of the Frank Wedekind play by the Lawrence Arts Center City Youth Theater's Wake Up Coalition.

Free State juniors Leslie Cunningham, foreground left, and Alexandra Hoopes, right, rehearse a scene from "Spring Awakening," a production of the Frank Wedekind play by the Lawrence Arts Center City Youth Theater's Wake Up Coalition. by Mike Yoder

During the past year, Lawrence High School junior Jordan Gaches has learned that he’s not alone when it comes to dealing with teenage issues.

He said he can get stressed and overwhelmed about grades and school work. Sometimes, he worries about life after graduation and what he’s going to do.

“I previously thought I was the only one having these sorts of thoughts and going through these experiences, but, I’m not,” he said.

Gaches is a member of the Wake Up Coalition, which is made up of about 30 students from Southwest Junior High School, Lawrence High School and Free State High School.

They are working to address the issues of teen suicide, teen pregnancy and sex education.

The coalition was started last fall through the Lawrence Arts Center, which received a one-year $10,000 grant from the Kansas Volunteer Commission. The arts center decided to partner with GaDuGi SafeCenter.

The students have been working on a production of the 1890s play “Spring Awakening,” which is about teen sexuality. The play will be shown this weekend.

“It’s about that awkward age where you just start waking up to the real world,” Gaches said. “You really start to realize that I am a sexual being. Not everything happens for the best it seems. There sometimes are sad endings.”

Students also have helped create public service announcements for GaDuGi about sex education and awareness about sexual violence. They will be shown after the play and posted on the safe center’s website.

The coalition is working on a 30-minute documentary about teen pregnancy and sex education, where they interviewed their peers.

Christie Dobson, arts outreach coordinator for GaDuGi, said, “Kids have really great insights into the issues, and so their creativity is really, really important for us and our outreach and prevention measures.”

The students are blogging about teen issues at http://springawakeningatlac.blogspot.com and encouraging others to join the conversation. One student writes:

“The counselors at my high school should be renamed ‘schedulers.’ In no way is their occupation to counsel, except about college and classes. I have never once considered walking into my counselor’s office and expressing my troubles or asking him for advice.”

Gaches said he can talk about anything with his parents, but has learned that’s not always the case for his peers.

He said many students feel like they can’t go to their parents or school counselors. He said there is a stigma associated with the WRAP (Working to Recognize Alternative Possibilities) specialist provided by Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center.

“It’s like you must be getting beaten at home or pregnant or something really bad is going on if you see the WRAP worker,” he said.

That’s why the coalition is working with GaDuGi Safe Center to start a teen mentoring program.

Alexandra Hoopes, a junior at FSHS, has made new friends through the Wake Up Coalition, and has become a confidante for many. She said she has been surprised by how many of her peers have had thoughts of suicide.

“It’s a very real problem and it’s present in our community,” she said.

She said the coalition serves as a wake-up call to the community that teens are having sex, drinking alcohol, taking drugs, feeling bullied, having suicidal thoughts, among other issues.

“We are not here to push our beliefs on anybody or even to take a certain stance on these things. We are just acknowledging that they do happen in our community and we are here to listen and talk about it,” she said.

Just as the coalition is gaining momentum, it has lost its funding.

Two weeks ago, Shannon Draper, education outreach coordinator at the arts center and director of “Spring Awakening,” said she learned that the Kansas Volunteer Commission had been disbanded.

“Now, the issue is how do we keep something going,” she said. “We’ve got invested, committed kids and concerned kids who feel it’s important to talk openly and honestly with each other and with adults.”

The students are determined to keep the coalition going. They say too much is at stake.

Shannon Draper, education outreach coordinator and teacher at Lawrence High School, directs The Lawrence Arts Center City Youth Theater's Wake Up Coalition production of the play "Spring Awakening." She is pictured during a rehearsal Wednesday, May 11, 2011, at the Lawrence Arts Center.

Shannon Draper, education outreach coordinator and teacher at Lawrence High School, directs The Lawrence Arts Center City Youth Theater's Wake Up Coalition production of the play "Spring Awakening." She is pictured during a rehearsal Wednesday, May 11, 2011, at the Lawrence Arts Center. by Mike Yoder


SPRING AWAKENING

The Lawrence Arts Center City Youth Theater’s Wake Up Coalition is presenting “Spring Awakening,” a play about teenagers who are discovering their sexuality. The play covers topics like teen pregnancy, suicide and sex education.

The play will be from 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Friday, May 20, and Saturday, May 21, at the Lawrence Arts Center, 940 N.H. Cost is $8.50 for adults and $6.50 for seniors.

There will be a post-show discussion, and Public Service Announcements created by members of the coalition for the GaDuGi SafeCenter will be shown.

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Suicide rate in Douglas County doubles in 2010; Headquarters counseling center offers suicide resources, warning signs

http://www2.ljworld.com/photos/2009/nov/21/181197/

At the end of a year when suicides increased in Douglas County, local prevention and counseling experts encouraged people to remain keyed in to warning signs and encouraged those affected by suicide to seek help.

It’s available in a wide variety of places in Douglas County. Marcia Epstein, director of Headquarters counseling center, said if anyone calls Headquarters, 24 hours a day, counselors can help direct the caller to assistance.

Douglas County has a higher rate of suicide deaths than the national average, and Kansas ranks 19th among the 50 states.

“Kansas is high, and Douglas County is high,” Epstein said.

This year, through Dec. 17, 22 people had died by suicide in the county, according to records from the county coroner’s office. That’s up from 11 suicide deaths each in 2008 and 2009.

Dating back to 2006, more men than women died from suicide, and the ages ran the gamut from 13 to 88.

But numbers don’t often tell the whole story, Epstein said. Behind the numbers lie many other people whose lives are deeply affected, including mothers, children and friends.

National statistics, however, show that suicide can affect everyone, Epstein said.

“You can’t just know that kind of demographic information about someone and say that person is safe,” she said.

Epstein provided some tips for people who are concerned about someone who may be contemplating suicide.

One suggestion: Don’t be afraid to ask “Are you thinking about suicide?” if someone appears to be in a bad spot. And show concern by actively listening, she said.

Everyone’s heard of suicide, Epstein said, so it’s very unlikely that a concerned person would plant the idea in someone’s head.

“We have the chance of helping by getting it out in the open,” she said.

If the person says yes, then don’t ignore it and seek help, Epstein said.

Co-workers and friends can watch for other indicators. Look for signs of loss, she said. In older people, that can mean the death of family members or friends, and in younger people, it can mean not making the sports team, or suffering the loss of a relationship.

Other potential signs someone may be in a deep depression or contemplating suicide include:

• Not showering or shaving for days on end.

• Suddenly acting more aggressive than usual.

• Sleeping all the time.

• Being unable or unwilling to eat.

• Long-lasting painful emotions.

• Thoughts about not being capable of handling one’s own emotions or feelings.

Those signs may not always lead to suicide, but are good indications that other issues may be present, including depression or anxiety, Epstein said.

And it’s a good idea to limit access to lethal means like firearms, razors or large amounts of medication, too, she said.

Though it’s a myth that more suicides occur during the holidays — summer typically sees more suicides, she said — it’s an issue that the city and the community face all the time.

“Unfortunately, we deal with the issue of suicide every single day,” Epstein said.


Resources

If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, please call the free service at 841-2345, or the national suicide prevention hot lines at 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433) or 1-800-273-TALK (8255).


Statistics

Number of suicide deaths in Douglas County per year.

• 2006: 21
• 2007: 18
• 2008: 11
• 2009: 11
• 2010*: 22

*Through Dec. 17.

Source: County coroner’s office

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Lawrence mother talks about her 15-year-old son’s suicide

Karen Smart, Lawrence, talks about her late son Jacob Wessel after attending a National Survivors of Suicide Day event Saturday, Nov. 20, 2010, in downtown Lawrence. Her son died by suicide on April 19, 2010, at age 15. She made a mini-collage of Jacob's pictures, at left.

Karen Smart, Lawrence, talks about her late son Jacob Wessel after attending a National Survivors of Suicide Day event Saturday, Nov. 20, 2010, in downtown Lawrence. Her son died by suicide on April 19, 2010, at age 15. She made a mini-collage of Jacob's pictures, at left. by Richard Gwin

Fifteen-year-old Jacob Wessel was smart, athletic and popular.

He was a freshman at Nemaha Valley High School in Seneca, a small town northwest of Topeka.

On April 19, 2010, just after midnight, Jacob shot himself with a rifle in his bedroom.

“I ask myself all of the time, ‘Why?’” his mother Karen Smart, 43, of Lawrence, said. “And, we don’t know why. We will never know why.”

Smart and her sister, Linda Kiernan, attended the National Survivors of Suicide Day event Saturday in Lawrence. Smart brought a mini-collage of Jacob’s pictures. There were photos of him as a baby, in a football uniform, visiting a pumpkin patch, and at a winter formal.

“The thing that’s most shocking is that we had been living with him and spending all of this time with him, and we had no idea that he was in any kind of pain whatsoever,” she said.

Jacob was close to his older brother, Austin. They drove to school and played football together.

The night before Jacob died, the brothers were scheming to pull a prank on their father and stepmother. They were going to take a bunch of condoms and stuff them in the couch cushions.

“That was the last conversation Jacob and his brother had, and they were laughing and joking about what they were going to do,” Smart said.

•••

After his death, his family learned that he had been planning to commit suicide.

“He apparently had told a lot of his friends that he hated his life and didn’t want to live anymore,” Smart said. “But, we would have never known this from the image he projected when he was home.”

They found a school notebook. Inside, he had drawn a picture of how he was going to kill himself.

He had left subtle messages on his Facebook page.

Smart reached down into her purse and pulled out a handful of Jacob’s things. They were items that he had carried in his school backpack. Among them: a toy car that he had glued together, a first-place medal in long jump, and a little yellow pad of sticky notes.

She flipped through the pages. He had drawn pictures on every page. It was his story of suicide. It showed a person being shot with a gun and a happy face that disappeared.

“We feel helpless because we didn’t know anything,” Smart said. “I think it’s just a delicate time for a lot of teenagers. There’s just so many things going on in their lives that we don’t even know about as parents.”

•••

Smart said her son’s death has caused a lot of pain.

“The school was totally devastated,” she said. “The kids continue to go out to his grave. It’s just covered with stuff.”

They leave messages on his Facebook page every day.

“It’s just unbelievable how much pain he caused everybody by doing that,” she said. “It doesn’t seem that a day goes by that you don’t cry.”

Smart said the 15th annual family trip to Schaake’s pumpkin patch near Lawrence was particularly difficult.

“It was really hard because I just felt like Jacob was there walking around helping us pick out pumpkins,” she said, as tears rolled down her cheeks.

Thanksgiving was Jacob’s favorite holiday. He liked spending it with his brother, his mother and her husband, Dean, in Lawrence. Smart hasn’t decided whether she will set a place for Jacob or not.

She has attended the “Healing After Suicide” support group in Lawrence for about four months.

“I think it is my new therapy. It is nice to be around people who understand the pain that you go through,” she said.

She has good and bad days.

“It’s funny how you kind of drift in and out of ‘Gosh, I feel good today and you know, I was a good parent’ to ‘What could I have done?’”


SUPPORT AVAILABLE

The “Healing After Suicide” support group meets every other Tuesday evening. It is free. For information, contact Marcia Epstein, director of Headquarters Counseling Center, at 841-2345 or me@hqcc.lawrence.ks.us.

She also meets with teens and adults seeking support or information. She can suggest or loan books about suicide bereavement for children, teens and adults.


HELPFUL RESOURCES

• Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center’s 24-hour service — 843-9192.

• National Suicide Prevention Life-Line — 800-273-8255.

• Headquarters Counseling Center’s 24-hour service — 841-2345.

• Lawrence Memorial Hospital emergency room — 505-6100.

• KU Child and Family Services Clinic — 864-4416.

• DCCCA (outpatient drug and alcohol treatment center) — 841-4138.

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Lawrence resident talks about her husband’s suicide after 23 years of marriage

Anita Burkhalter, of Lawrence, takes a moment to collect her thoughts as she talks about her late husband, Phillip. She attended the National Survivors of Suicide Day event Saturday, Nov. 20, 2010, in downtown Lawrence.

Anita Burkhalter, of Lawrence, takes a moment to collect her thoughts as she talks about her late husband, Phillip. She attended the National Survivors of Suicide Day event Saturday, Nov. 20, 2010, in downtown Lawrence. by Richard Gwin

Anita Burkhalter found her husband of 23 years on the house deck that he had built years earlier.

He had used a .22-caliber revolver to shoot himself.

“Even now, that image is in my head,” she said, crying.

“I remember my first thought was, ‘How could you do this to us?’” she said. “We were extremely close. He was a wonderful, wonderful husband.”

He died March 2, 2008, at age 67.

Burkhalter, 62, shared her story after a National Survivors of Suicide Day event in downtown Lawrence. She feels it is important to be open and honest about her husband’s death.

“Maybe this will prevent somebody else from going through this, and make his death have something positive come out of it,” she said.

•••

Her husband, Phillip David Burkhalter, was a cowboy and taught agriculture science. During his career, he worked at an alternative school in Oklahoma, where they lived at the time of his death.

“He was very gifted with young people with problems,” Anita said.

Nine years before his death, he was injured by a student. The injury caused major damage to Phillip’s back that left him in chronic pain.

Anita believes he suffered depression because of the pain.

“Phillip was a very macho cowboy type. He always took charge of everything, and saw it as a sign of weakness to admit that he was in any pain,” she said. “He had the attitude that there wasn’t nothing he couldn’t do if he wanted to do it.”

She said he worked full-time even though he was in pain. Two months before he died, she said, he did something to make his injury worse. It became difficult for him to drive and do the things that he liked to do.

“I had seen him with the sweat rolling off of his head from the pain,” she said.

They decided to try surgery. It was unsuccessful.

On Valentine’s Day — just weeks before he died — Phillip had given Anita a card that talked about how they could do anything together as long as they were together.

“So, I never suspected that he might commit suicide,” she said.

•••

On the day he died, Anita said he had asked her to quit working on the computer, so he could lay down on the hospital bed that was in the den.

She said, “Just a minute,” and kept working.

“He said he was going to go for a walk, and when he didn’t return after an hour or so, I went looking for him,” she said.

For the next two years, she lived in what she calls a fog. She went through the what ifs: What if she had hidden the revolver? What if she had quit working on the computer?

“It was like I was outside of myself. It was like watching it from a distance,” she said.

During the first year, she focused on her job. She said it allowed her to put the grieving aside.

“About a year into it, I fell apart — totally emotionally fell apart. My health suffered dramatically,” she said.

She gained weight, her blood pressure was high and she was sick a lot.

Today, Anita said she realizes it was not about her.

“It was about him and his pain. But, I will never make sense of it,” she said. “But, it truly doesn’t matter if I make sense of it anymore. The reality is: It is what it is.”

On April 1, she retired and moved to Lawrence to be closer to relatives who live in eastern Nebraska. Anita and Phillip, who have no children, had lived in Lawrence for one year in the early 1990s. Anita said she liked the culture and diversity of Lawrence.

“I am very glad I moved to Lawrence,” she said.

She initially thought it would be a new life and fresh start. She would no longer need to attend survivor support group meetings because she was “moving on.”

But, it’s wasn’t that easy.

She found the “Healing After Suicide” support group in Lawrence. She said the members help her and she is able to help them.

•••

Anita said the most important thing to her is that Phillip is remembered for who he was — not for his chronic pain or how he died.

She described him as tender-hearted, passionate and a doer. He supported her decision to go back to college later in life.

She remembers asking him to dig up a rose bush with deep roots. So he put a rope around it and tied it to his truck, she said, laughing. The rose bush went flying and hit the truck and caused hundreds of dollars in damage. The incident became a family joke.

He loved jalapeño peppers. So, the family eats them in his honor whether the peppers go with the meal or not.

Every time Anita hears a George Strait song, she thinks of her husband. She joked about how crazy she feels driving down the highway and just bawling because a George Strait song is on the radio.

“Even though it ended the way it ended, I wouldn’t have changed a moment of my life with him,” she said, with tears streaming down her cheeks. “I feel richly blessed that he was in my life.”


SUPPORT AVAILABLE

The “Healing After Suicide” support group meets every other Tuesday evening. It is free. For information, contact Marcia Epstein, director of Headquarters Counseling Center, at 841-2345 or me@hqcc.lawrence.ks.us.

She also meets with teens and adults seeking support or information. She can suggest or loan books about suicide bereavement for children, teens and adults.


HELPFUL RESOURCES

• Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center’s 24-hour service — 843-9192.

• National Suicide Prevention Life-Line — 800-273-8255.

• Headquarters Counseling Center’s 24-hour service — 841-2345.

• Lawrence Memorial Hospital emergency room — 505-6100.

• KU Child and Family Services Clinic — 864-4416.

• DCCCA (outpatient drug and alcohol treatment center) — 841-4138.

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Survivors of suicide share stories, laughs, tears during Lawrence event

Karen Dillon, of Vinland, lights a candle to remember her son, Dakota Dillon Pite, who died by suicide. Her daughter, Annabel, 5, also lights a candle to remember her older brother. They were among about 30 people who participated in a National Survivors of Suicide event Saturday, Nov. 20, 2010, at First United Methodist Church in downtown Lawrence.

Karen Dillon, of Vinland, lights a candle to remember her son, Dakota Dillon Pite, who died by suicide. Her daughter, Annabel, 5, also lights a candle to remember her older brother. They were among about 30 people who participated in a National Survivors of Suicide event Saturday, Nov. 20, 2010, at First United Methodist Church in downtown Lawrence. by Richard Gwin

About 30 survivors of suicide gathered today at First United Methodist Church in downtown Lawrence.

They shared stories, a few laughs and many tears. They found comfort in knowing they were not alone.

During the three-hour National Survivors of Suicide Day event, they were invited to light a votive candle in remembrance of their loved ones. Among them:

• A woman lit one for her husband and two more for his siblings.

• A father lit two candles for two sons.

• A pastor lit three candles. One each for his dad, uncle, and “too many university students.”

• A woman lit a candle for her brother.

• A woman lit a candle for her grandson and another for her nephew.

After the ceremony, Marcia Epstein, director of Headquarters Counseling Center, said, “Look at the light and feel the love.”

She began the ceremony by lighting a candle for her mother.

Headquarters Counseling Center’s “Healing After Suicide” group and the church hosted the event.

During the first 90 minutes, participants watched a national panel of survivors discuss their experiences. It was viewed simultaneously by other groups throughout the country, including five other sites in Kansas.

The facilitator Eric Marcus, New York City, lost his 44-year-old father to suicide when he was 12. His sister-in-law also died by suicide.

The panelists included:

• Peggy Marshall, Dallas, whose husband of 18 years died by suicide.

• Gregg Keesling, Indianapolis, whose 25-year-old son died while serving in Iraq.

• Lucia Skinner, of Mountain View, Calif., whose son died at age 17 by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge.

• Lee-Ann Foster, of Portland, Ore., whose sister died at age 21.

They talked about their loved ones, how they learned about their deaths, what life was like in the days after their deaths, and how they are coping today.

While watching the video, Lawrence participants shed tears. Many said they could relate to what they heard. Indeed, they were not alone.

Every 16 minutes someone in the United States dies by suicide. Every 17 minutes someone is left to make sense of it.

Every day, a Kansan dies by suicide.

Every month, one or two people die by suicide in Douglas County.

After a short break, the local group of survivors lit candles and had their own panel discussion.

Those on the panel were:

• Rose Eiesland Foster, who lost her husband.

• Fred Eiesland, who lost his son.

• The Rev. Thad Holcombe, who lost his father and uncle.

• Anita Burkhalter, who lost her husband.

The panel and those in the audience had a dialogue about what it’s like to lose a loved one. Like the national panel, they talked about the "what ifs" and NEVER knowing why. In hindsight, some said there were signs and others said there were not.

Holcombe encouraged the group to talk about their experiences and to celebrate their loved ones lives.

The survivors shared their coping strategies. Among them:

• Be honest with feelings.

• Faith.

• Laugh.

• Talk about it.

• Think about positives.

Eiesland Foster said she had breast cancer when her husband had a mental illness. She said she received visits, flowers and support. Her husband received "nothing."

Now, she is pursuing a degree in social work to help people who suffer from depression and other mental illnesses.

"I want to treat them with the dignity and respect that they deserve," she said.

Years ago, people didn't talk about cancer. Now, they do. The hope is that people will start talking about mental illness and suicide.


SUPPORT AVAILABLE

The “Healing After Suicide” support group meets every other Tuesday evening. It is free. For information, contact Epstein at 841-2345 or me@hqcc.lawrence.ks.us.

She also meets with teens and adults seeking support or information. She can suggest or loan books about suicide bereavement for children, teens and adults.


PERSONAL STORIES

• 62-year-old Anita Burkhalter, of Lawrence, talks about the loss of her husband after 23 years of marriage.

• 43-year-old Karen Smart, of Lawrence, talks about the loss of her 15-year-old son.


HELPFUL RESOURCES

• Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center’s 24-hour service — 843-9192.

• National Suicide Prevention Life-Line — 800-273-8255.

• Headquarters Counseling Center’s 24-hour service — 841-2345.

• Lawrence Memorial Hospital emergency room — 505-6100.

• KU Child and Family Services Clinic — 864-4416.

• DCCCA (outpatient drug and alcohol treatment center) — 841-4138.

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Lawrence community invited to National Survivors of Suicide Day event

Every day, a Kansan dies by suicide.

Every month, one or two people in Douglas County die by suicide.

“The people left behind to sort through those traumatic deaths — family, friends, co-workers and others — are changed forever,” said Marcia Epstein, director of Headquarters Counseling Center in Lawrence.

On Nov. 20, National Survivors of Suicide Day, the community is invited to attend a national and local discussion about suicide prevention and suicide bereavement support.

Participants will have the opportunity to watch the broadcast of a national panel of survivors and mental health professionals, followed by discussion with a local panel of survivors, including the Rev. Thad Holcombe of Ecumenical Christian Ministries.

“Attendees will leave with a better understanding of the impact of suicide loss, and how to be helpful to those who are bereaved,” Epstein said.

The event will be:

• from 11:45 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 20.

• at First United Methodist Church, 946 Vt., in the Brady Fellowship Hall.

• Reservations are encouraged but not required, and can be done by e-mailing Epstein at me@hqcc.lawrence.ks.us.

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Can a computer program predict suicide?

According to an article -- 2 Potent New Predictors Of Suicide Risk Developed By Psychologists -- in Medical News Today, a couple of tests developed by psychologists at Harvard University and administered to a total of 284 people identified those who are likely to commit suicide, but hide their feelings.

Both new tests are easily administered within minutes on a computer, giving quick insight into how patients are thinking about suicide, as well as their propensity to attempt suicide in the near future.

This is interesting, because this shifts the conversation from the difficult, expensive and time-consuming efforts to find biological markers to identifying behavioral markers. One test was administered to 124 people, and the other to 157 people. If other researchers using the test find the same results on tens of thousands of people, then this may be a test that could be used widely.

The research was published in two journals: the Journal of Abnormal Psychology and Psychological Science. I can't provide a link to the article in Psychological Science, because you have to be a member of the Association for Psychological Science to even see a list of issues, much less a list of articles. If I'm misreading this, somebody let me know.

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Mental Health First Aid course starts by covering depression, suicide prevention

Mental Health First Aid

Mental Health First Aid

I am taking Mental Health First Aid.

It’s a 12-hour course provided by Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center over four weeks for $25.

My first three-hour session was Tuesday (Sept. 7) and it was taught by Bert Nash CEO David Johnson and Tracy Kihm, finance director.

Ten people are in my class, and some members shared the reasons they decided to take the class; among them were to help friends, family, co-workers and themselves. For me, it’s for all of those reasons and to help me become a better health reporter.

The first session was an overall introduction to mental health, and then it focused on depression. We learned the symptoms and what causes depression and then, of course, how to help.

The class included a game, role play, a video and discussion. Time flew by.

DEPRESSION

What’s the difference between feeling blue and a major depressive disorder? A major depressive disorder lasts for at least two weeks and affects a person’s ability to work, to carry out daily activities, and to have satisfying personal relationships. About 7 percent of U.S. adults will experience major depression in any given year.

(Data and statistics are from the class instructors and a manual that we were given, “Mental Health First Aid USA” by Betty Kitchener, Anthony Jorm and Claire Kelly.)

Causes include: job loss, breakup of a relationship, death of loved one, childbirth, poverty, bullying, and/or being a victim of a crime.

Symptoms include: lack of energy, sleeping too much or not being able to sleep, change in eating habits, and/or unusually sad mood.

The main crises associated with major depression:

• The person has suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

• The person is engaging in nonsuicidal self-injury. (We will learn about this in session four).

First, we learned about suicide, and it just happened to be National Suicide Prevention Week.

SUICIDE

Here are some eye-opening statistics:

• About 35,000 Americans die by suicide each year, or one person every 15 minutes.

• Males take their own lives at nearly four times the rate of females, but women attempt suicide about two to three times as often as men.

• Among males, adults 85 and older have the highest rate of suicide.

• Among females, those in their 40s and 50s have the highest rate of suicide.

• About 87 percent of people who complete suicide have a mental health disorder.

HOW TO HELP

Like other first aid classes, there is a mnemonic — or memory device — for the action plan. For example, many people know ABC (Airway, Breathing and Circulation) to help someone who is injured or ill. For Mental Health First Aid, it is ALGEE:

A — Assess for risk of suicide or harm.

L — Listen nonjudgmentally.

G — Give reassurance and information.

E — Encourage appropriate professional help.

E — Encourage self-help and other support strategies.

We learned that if we suspect someone may be at risk of suicide, it is important to directly ask about suicidal thoughts. For example, “Are you having thoughts of suicide?” or “Are you thinking about killing yourself?”

The instructors emphasized to ask the question without dread or without expressing negative judgment. For example, never say, “You aren’t thinking of suicide, are you?”

Asking the question is never easy, they said, but very important. We did some role play with a partner, and that was difficult.

WHERE TO GET HELP

Here are some resources that Bert Nash provided:

• Bert Nash’s 24-hour service — 843-9192.

• National Suicide Prevention Life-Line — 800-273-8255.

Headquarters Counseling Center’s 24-hour service — 841-2345.

Lawrence Memorial Hospital emergency room — 505-6100.

• KU Child and Family Services Clinic — 864-4416.

DCCCA (outpatient drug and alcohol treatment center) — 841-4138.

WEEKLONG LESSON

On Wednesday night, I covered a national expert’s presentation on suicide prevention. About 30 people were in the audience. Several revealed that they were there to help family and friends. One woman said she had attempted suicide and was there to help herself and family.

David Litts, director of Science and Policy at the national Suicide Prevention Resource Center, gives a presentation "Preventing the Suicide of Someone You Know, Someone You Love," Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2010, at Lawrence Memorial Hospital.

David Litts, director of Science and Policy at the national Suicide Prevention Resource Center, gives a presentation "Preventing the Suicide of Someone You Know, Someone You Love," Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2010, at Lawrence Memorial Hospital. by Nick Krug

After the presentation, I interviewed Marcia Epstein, executive director of Headquarters Counseling Center in Lawrence, who said 10 people had died by suicide in Douglas County during the first five months of this year. She said one Kansan dies every day.

Hearing the local stories and statistics brought this cause much closer to home. On Friday, I lit two candles in recognition of International Suicide Prevention Day. I thought about those who had died by suicide that I knew (all men, but one):

• Two high school students while I was in junior high school.

• Two middle-aged Kansas farmers/ranchers.

• A college student who lived in an apartment complex next to my boyfriend (now husband).

• A friend of my husband’s grandfather.

• A friend’s brother.

I also thought about Mental Health First Aid, and how grateful I am for the class.

Tomorrow: Session 2 is about anxiety disorders.

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Suicide prevention topic of community presentation on Wednesday

Every year, 32,000 people in our country die by suicide.

As part of National Suicide Prevention Week, Headquarters Counseling Center and Lawrence Memorial Hospital are sponsoring a free presentation “Preventing the Suicide of Someone You Know, Someone You Love” for the community.

It will be from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 8, at Lawrence Memorial Hospital’s auditorium, 325 Maine.

The presenter will be David Litts, of the National Suicide Prevention Resource Center.

For more information or to reserve a space, call LMH’s Connect Care at 749-5800 or click on LMH's website.

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