The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released data that show suicide rates have increased in almost every state from 1999 to 2016. Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in the U.S.
The CDC found that about 45,000 people died from suicide in 2016.
Discussions about the subject recently have been in the news because of the high-profile suicide deaths of fashion designer Kate Spade and chef, TV personality, author and travel documentarian Anthony Bourdain.
For Kayla Dousias of Beecher and Anne King of Kankakee, the issue is deeply personal. Dousias lost her son, Niketa, to suicide in 2011. King lost her sister, Erin Melvin, in 1996.
Dousias is an advocate for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and has taken her cause around the area and to Springfield to raise awareness. King has helped run her local Out of the Darkness Walk for American Foundation for Suicide Prevention for the past five years to raise money for research and is a mental health first aid instructor.
They both said before their loved ones died, they were not educated on the subject of mental health or suicide.
“We were completely blindsided by our son’s death,” Dousias said.
“We did not see the signs, but in hindsight, they were there,” King said. “To me, as I became an adult and then a mother, I felt it was very important to start teaching the signs to the community and other parents. That way they could save a life.”
Now they both are fighting to help strike up conversations, hand out informational literature and reduce the stigma they say has made talking about suicide so difficult for those with whom they interact.
“I think it’s changed in the past,” Dousias said. “Because after our son’s death, people weren’t wanting to talk about it so much, and they’d more shy away from the conversations.”
They describe interactions they had early in their activism, in which some people would be worried talking about suicide would “give the kids ideas.” Some would be downright offended they would bring up the subject.
Joseph Troiani, director of behavioral health programs for the Will County Health Department, said having those conversations is key to reducing that stigma.
“I encourage discussions regarding suicide,” Troiani said. “For many, suicide attempts are not really an intention to kill themselves, but an intention to cry out for help.”
Troiani has a background in clinical psychology and is a retired commander in the U.S. Navy.
Beside stigma, he said the way insurance companies treat mental health has been a key factor in ensuring patients get the care they need. Troiani said historically, a lack of parity in health care has led to barriers for those who need treatment for mental illness or substance use disorders. He said recent legislation, which disallows insurance companies from discriminating against covering mental health, is key to knocking down those barriers.
If you or someone you know needs help, call 800-273-TALK for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You also can text HOME to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line.
The Will County Health Department’s Behavioral Health Division can be reached at 815-727-8521 for anyone having suicidal thoughts. The health department also contracts with the Will and Grundy County Crisis Line for after-hours service. It can be reached at 815-722-3344. Visit crisisline247.org for information.