Worried That Someone You Love May Be Suicidal?

HYANNIS – When 16-year-old Jeremy Walters died by suicide in October of 2016, his parents Kim Mead-Walters, MD, and Davis Walters decided to take action so other families would not have to feel the same pain they were experiencing. They founded the non-profit Sharing Kindness to increase awareness of suicide risk, especially among young people.

Their mission is to promote social emotional learning and suicide awareness. They want to reduce the stigma of mental illness to allow those who are struggling to be able to reach out without fear of judgment or misunderstanding.

The first thing they did to raise awareness was to partner with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) to plan a Cape & Islands Suicide Awareness Walk, which was held in May of 2017. More than 425 people showed up and the walk raised $40,000, said Lisa Goodrich, a member of Sharing Kindness who works closely with Mead-Walters.

It was such a successful and meaningful day that Sharing Kindness will hold the second annual Cape & Islands Suicide Awareness Walk at 10 a.m. on Saturday, April 28. All funds raised will be kept locally to support Sharing Kindness as well as The Samaritans on Cape Cod and the Islands and the Cape and Islands Suicide Prevention Coalition. All proceeds will be split between the three groups who all work together on issues of awareness, education and prevention.

“It was really wonderful to see how many age groups participated last year,” Mead-Walters said. “We were focused on awareness – awareness of the risk, awareness of the loss and awareness of the steps we can take to help. We were astounded at the number of people that showed up at the walk. We were amazed by the stories that were shared, the impact of those who have been lost to suicide and those who continue to struggle. I think there was such a big turnout because doing a walk gave people a reason to gather and to be able to recognize what we all have in common.”

To participate, register, donate or become a sponsor, go online, or walkers can simply show up early for onsite registration. The walk follows a three-mile loop beginning at the track at Nauset Regional Middle School. It’s family-friendly, dog-friendly and stroller-friendly.

A kick-off event will be held at 5 p.m. on Friday, April 27 at the Hog Island Beer Company at the Jailhouse Tavern.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death in young people ages 15 to 24, according to Mead-Walters.

“Risk is increasing across the board in all age groups. We lose more than 22 vets every day to suicide.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the numbers of suicides in girls ages 15 to 19 doubled from 2007 to 2015. The numbers for boys in the same age group increased by 30 percent during that time. Overall, suicides are up 28 percent since the year 2000.

Massachusetts is faring even worse. According to a report from the state Department of Public Health, suicides have increased by 40 percent from 2004 to 2014, reaching a 30-year high. More people die by suicide than car accidents and homicides combined.

Our area has been hit especially hard. Cape Cod and the Islands has twice the number of suicides as the rest of the state, Mead-Walters said. She attributes it to factors like isolation, drugs and an economy that makes it hard for people to survive and thrive.

“If somebody is struggling, it is easy to feel hopeless and overwhelmed,” she said. “When you are in that dark place and you get caught, it’s like being in a riptide. I’ve thought about this a lot since Jeremy died and one of the things I wish I could change is the perception that this is a selfish act. It is not. It is an illness. My son died of an illness; depression. He died by suicide.”

Signs To Watch For

Stephanie Kelly, executive director of the suicide prevention organization The Samaritans on Cape Cod and the Islands offers the following warning signs that someone might be contemplating suicide:

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
The money from last year’s walk has already been put to good use. In December, the group sponsored an afterschool suicide awareness event for LGBTQ students, a group that is at high risk for suicide. A facilitator from AFSP was on hand to lead the discussion after the group watched a video. In January they held their first QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer) training in Orleans to educate people about how to talk to friends, family members, co-workers or people in the community who are suicidal.

“In QPR, they teach you that first you have to ask the questions and they give you the verbiage so you know how to do that,” Mead-Walters said. “At this point, Lisa and I would probably come right out and ask, ‘Are you suicidal?’ Other people might be more comfortable saying, ‘I noticed that you are more withdrawn and isolating yourself. I’m worried about you. Are you thinking about hurting yourself?’”

Asking the question is an important first step, but afterwards it’s important to stay with the person and be an empathetic listener, she said. She advises thanking the person for sharing their feelings and telling him or her how much you value them.

The next step is to encourage the person to get help. A good first call is to the Samaritans, but if someone is in immediate danger, call 911, she said.

Sharing Kindness also bought 500 licenses for curriculum for a two-hour, on-line suicide awareness training for educators in the Nauset school system, called Signs Matter. On March 14, 10th graders at the high school viewed the movie More than Sad. The film teaches students how to communicate with parents or a trusted teacher or coach when they are struggling with their emotions and issues in their lives. On April 4, Nauset 12th graders will view It’s Real, which focuses on issues faced by college-age kids who are away from home for the first time. Facilitators from AFSP will be on hand to lead discussions and answer questions.

“The point to all the videos I’ve seen is you have to break the silence,” Goodrich said.

According to Goodrich, the two main things the videos emphasize for teens who are in despair are:

Tell someone you are in crisis.
Find a trusted friend or teacher or coach to talk to.
“The stigma is so profound so it’s about breaking that stigma and being brave enough to say, ‘Hey, I’m struggling here,’” she said.

Going forward, Sharing Kindness hopes to get programing in Monomoy High School and Cape Cod Regional Technical High School, because both schools have lost a student to suicide in recent years. Mead-Walters has already begun discussions with the schools and with a group at Truro Central School. The eventual goal is to ensure that every school on the Cape and Islands has a suicide prevention policy and access to any programing and resources needed.

By LAURIE  HIGGINS, Cape Cod Health News

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