A Depressed Teen Who Saw No Other Way to Cope

HYANNIS – When 16-year-old Jeremy Walters died by suicide last October, everyone who knew him was devastated. It was hard to comprehend how a young man who was so loved had suffered from such a deep depression. His friends at Nauset Regional High School in Eastham wanted to find a way to process their grief and to remember their dear friend.

“What they encountered pretty quickly was that there is a societal stigma around suicide,” said Lisa Goodrich, whose daughter, Kate, was a close friend of Jeremy’s. “Death by suicide is something that adults don’t know how to talk about.”

One of the reasons people are afraid to talk about suicide, especially when it involves a young person, is the fear of “contagion” or copy-cat incidences with other kids. That is an invalid fear according to Stephanie Kelly, executive director of the suicide prevention organization The Samaritans of Cape Cod and the Islands.

“We know that’s a myth,” she said. “Talking about it, acknowledging it and providing resources and other options actually reduces the risks for friends and family that are left behind.”

To deal with their grief and help others, Jeremy’s family and friends contacted the Boston chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) and began organizing an Out of the Darkness Campus Walk in Jeremy’s honor. The walk will take place at 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 13, beginning at the track behind the Nauset Regional Middle School in Orleans.

It is the first Cape Cod Campus Walk according to AFSP eastern Massachusetts associate area director Michelle Lee, who oversees the walks.

“We are so grateful to Kim-Mead Walters and Davis Walters for their commitment to our mission of saving lives and bring hope to those affected by suicide, while also honoring their son’s memory,” she said. “We’re hoping for a beautiful spring morning that is filled with hope and inspiration.”

Team Jeremy hopes to improve education, increase awareness and reduce the stigma of mental illness and suicide. More than 100 people have already signed up and the team hopes that anyone whose life has been touched by suicide will join them.

“As each of us talks to other people, we are just astonished at how far and deep the wounds of suicide go,” Goodrich said. “There are students who have lost parents. There are students who have lost siblings. There are parents and other community members who have lost people in their past like co-workers, aunts and uncles.”

Sobering Statistics

In fact, suicide is on the rise nationwide, Kelly said. The statistics, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, are sobering:

  • Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the U.S.
  • Each year 44,193 Americans die by suicide.
  • For every suicide, there are 25 additional attempts.
  • Females attempt suicide three times more often than males, but males die of suicide 3.5 times more often than females.
  • Suicide costs the U.S. $44 billion annually.

“There is good news,” Kelly said. “Massachusetts has one of the lowest rates in the United States. I think we are number 47 or 48, and the reason is that we have a legislature that is very, very good about putting money into suicide prevention, awareness and education. That’s what makes a difference.”

Sadly, there is still plenty of room for improvement. The latest statistics for the state recorded 608 deaths by suicide in 2014, she said. That is 1.9 times higher than vehicle traffic-related deaths and four times higher than homicide. It is the second leading cause of death for those between the ages of 15 and 34.

There is never one particular thing that causes someone to actively attempt suicide, Kelly said. Usually it is a combination of a couple of different things that push a person past their ability to cope.

Warning Signs

But there are warning signs and most of them involve changes in behavior:

  • Sleeping more or sleeping less
  • Eating more or eating less
  • Gaining or losing a noticeable amount of weight
  • Changes in hygiene or appearance
  • A loss of interest in activities that used to bring pleasure
  • Isolation from family and friends
  • Excessive mood swings
  • Talk of feeling worthless or expressing a desire to die

Kelly advises people who notice any of these changes in loved ones or friends to come right out and ask the person if they are contemplating suicide. Most people are uncomfortable being that direct because they are afraid the person will be angry, but Kelly has asked that question countless times and no one has ever responded negatively, she said.

“Most of the time, it’s almost like a pressure relief valve and a sigh of relief that someone has noticed how much pain you are in,” she said. “People, particularly when they are in that much pain, are always glad to know that someone cares about them.”

Anyone who is contemplating suicide is urged to call The Samaritans on Cape Cod and the Islands at 800-893-9900 between the hours of 8 a.m. and 10:30 p.m. After hours, you can call the Samaritan’s statewide line at 877-870-4673. It is staffed 24 hours a day.

In addition to helping those who are contemplating suicide, The Samaritans also help family members with their Safe Place support groups. There is currently a group that meets from 7 to 8:30 p.m. the first and third Thursdays of the month at Eldredge Public Library in Chatham.

On the upper Cape, a group meets from 7 to 8:30 p.m. on the second and fourth Wednesdays in the maternity conference room at Falmouth Hospital. A new group will also begin on Nantucket this month. Call 508-548-7999 for more information.

“Families of the person who has either attempted or completed suicide feel very isolated,” Kelly said. “We do our Safe Place groups because they need to be with a peer group who knows what they are going through.”

By LAURIE HIGGINS, Cape Cod Health News

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