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Tacoma walk aims to end the silence of suicide

Lori White (left), Leilani Walker, Heather Miles and Jesse Pasquan, shown Oct. 1, are some of the organizers of an event planned for Wright Park in support of suicide prevention.
Lori White (left), Leilani Walker, Heather Miles and Jesse Pasquan, shown Oct. 1, are some of the organizers of an event planned for Wright Park in support of suicide prevention. Staff photographer

Suicide is the invisible death.

Those who take their lives usually do so in private, laying down a course of shame, secrecy and denial for those left behind.

Suicide is rarely mentioned in obituaries, discussed at funerals or given the same compassion other deaths receive.

Jesse Pasquan is one of those willing to talk about his struggles with suicidal thoughts. He’s also willing to do something about it.

To fight the stigma and raise awareness about suicide, Pasquan and others have organized a fundraising walk Saturdayat Wright Park in Tacoma.

The Out of the Darkness Walk will benefit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, which funds research, runs educational programs, advocates for public policy and supports survivors of suicide loss.

Though suicide is the 10th-leading cause of death in the United States, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, its stigma keeps families, survivors and others from even speaking the word.

Pasquan again faced that problem when he recently manned a booth for the foundation at a community health fair.

“People would walk by and read, ‘American Foundation for Sui …’ and then keep walking,” he said. “I just wanted to shout, ‘Prevention! Keep reading. Prevention!’

“People just see the word and they don’t want to talk about it.”

And that compounds the problem for people struggling with it, Pasquan and others say.

In 2012, the year for which the most recent statistics exist, 142 people died by suicide in Pierce County, according to the Medical Examiner’s Office.

Suicide accounted for 7.7 percent of all deaths in the county, leading all other categories other than natural deaths. Nationally, 40,000 Americans a year take their own lives.

Suicide is often seen as a selfish act, Pasquan said. In actuality, it’s often the end result of a mental health condition.

About 90 percent of people who die by suicide have mental health conditions, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Those include major depression, mood disorders, substance use disorders, schizophrenia and personality disorders.

Compounding the stigma is the fact that, generally, only public suicides are reported in the media, including The News Tribune.

Celebrity deaths such as actor Robin Williams and Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain make front pages, as do suicides that are in conjunction with homicides.

Marysville-Pilchuck High School student Jaylen Fryberg took his life after shooting five of his friends in 2014. One survived. In May, 13-year-old Izabel Laxamana died after jumping off a Tacoma overpass.

Both events made national news, the first because of the number of victims and the second because of the reason Laxamana was presumed to have jumped.

It’s usually a mistake to pin a particular suicide to a sole factor, said Doreen Marshall, senior director of education and prevention for the AFSP.

“There is a tendency for people to attribute a single cause,” she said. “It’s a natural to want a simple explanation. In reality there are multiple factors.”

While most people who attempt suicide have underlying mental health conditions, stressful events can create “a perfect storm,” Marshall said.

“A loss, a shameful event that made them feel humiliated,” she said.

Suicidal thoughts can come and go, Marshall said.

“Just as people struggle with diabetes, they can struggle with depression,” she said.

Mental health conditions need to be seen in the same light as other health conditions, Marshall said.

If someone indicates, no matter how obliquely, that he or she is considering suicide, it’s important to take those comments seriously, she said.

“Society’s natural reaction is to shy away or provide glib reassurance and tell them, ‘You have everything to live for,’ ” Marshall said. “But they don’t feel that way.

“The individual believes that the only thing they can do to end the pain is to take their own life. They don’t see the pain getting any better.”

Leilani Walker, who survived a suicide attempt, said she was told by family and professionals to change her way of thinking.

“You want to scream at them and tell them, ‘If I could just not think about it and be happy and live life the way it’s meant to be lived, I would,’ said the Spanaway resident and Air Force veteran.

“I would love to do that. But, I can’t. It’s just not a reality for me.”

Walker eventually got the help she needed with her family’s support.

“They were persistent and they stayed with me,” she said. “They talked to me about my therapy sessions and how my day was going. It really was an hour-by-hour thing the first few months.”

Walker still struggles with PTSD incurred on repeated tours in Afghanistan.

And she fights the stigma that surrounds suicide.

“People are so willing to talk about any other illness,” she said. “But mental health, suicide … we’re just going to keep quiet about those.”

The main message to impart to someone contemplating suicide is that help is available, Marshall said.

“Provide a compassionate ear,” she said. “But also help them to understand that this is connected to depression. The goal is to connect them to someone who can help them. Call a hot line. Or go to an emergency room.

“But help that person get help.”

Craig Sailor: 253-597-8541

craig.sailor@thenewstribune.com

@crsailor

WALK TO FIGHT SUICIDE

What: Fundraiser for American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

When: 10 a.m. Saturday.

Where: Wright Park, South I Street and Division Avenue, Tacoma.

Information: 253-212-8122, tinyurl.com/tacomawalk

SUICIDE FACTS

▪ Males make up 75 percent of suicide deaths.

▪ Whites have the highest suicide rates.

▪ Western states have the highest suicide rates.

▪ Firearms account for half of suicide deaths.

▪ Almost 500,000 hospital visits are made annually because of self-harm.

(Figures based on 2013 information.)

Source: Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

RESOURCES

▪ afsp.org

▪ The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255): The free, 24/7 service can provide suicidal persons or those around them with support, information and local resources.

▪ Pierce County Crisis Line: 253-396-5180.

▪ Comprehensive Life Resources: comprehensiveliferesources.org.

▪ Oasis Youth Center: oasisyouthcenter.org.

▪ Rainbow Center: rainbowcntr.org.

▪ Trevor Project: www.thetrevorproject.org.

▪ Trans LifeLine: translifeline.org, 877-565-8860.

WARNING SIGNS OF SUICIDE

▪ If a person talks about killing themselves, having no reason to live, being a burden to others, feeling trapped or unbearable pain.

▪ A person’s suicide risk is higher if a behavior is new or has increased, especially if it’s related to a painful event, loss or change.

▪ Increased use of alcohol or drugs.

▪ Looking for a way to kill themselves, such as searching online for materials or means.

▪ Acting recklessly.

▪ Withdrawing from activities.

▪ Isolating from family and friends.

▪ Sleeping too much or too little.

▪ Visiting or calling people to say goodbye.

▪ Giving away prized possessions.

▪ Aggression.

▪ People considering suicide often display one or more of the following moods — depression, loss of interest, rage, irritability, humiliation or anxiety.

Source: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

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