Archive for Sunday, November 29, 2009

Suicide numbers climbing

Douglas County rate may outstrip national average again this year

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.

November 29, 2009


Where to find help

Thoughts of suicide are a way to cope with multiple stressors. And for people who commit suicide, it’s the only solution they can see for stopping the pain, said Marciana Vequist, a licensed psychologist at Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center.

But the majority of her patients never follow through on those thoughts.

Here are some tips on how to reach out to someone who might be considering suicide:

• Headquarters Counseling Center has a 24-hour hot line to help people considering suicide. The number is 841-2345.

• If you suspect someone might have suicidal thoughts, ask them about it.

• Feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness are warning signs for suicidal thoughts, Vequist said. When a family member or friend expresses a feeling that everyone would be better off without him or her or that there is nothing that can change his or her situation, there should be cause for concern.

• Take seriously any threat or acknowledgment of suicidal thoughts. Provide support to the person, and encourage him or her to seek help from a mental health practitioner or someone trained in suicide intervention.

• Patients are often fearful that a therapist will automatically hospitalize anyone with suicidal thoughts, something that happens rarely, Vequist said.

• Marcia Epstein, director of Headquarters Counseling Center, urges anyone who is considering suicide to find someone to talk to, even if it is the person answering phones at Headquarters’ hot line.

“It is important to get help from someone who is trained in suicide prevention,” Epstein said. “Most people need to be able to talk, need to be able to do some immediate planning with someone with training on how to stay safe right now and then kind of building in next steps.”

Two years ago, Rikki Kite drove over to her ex-husband’s house, worried because he hadn’t responded to a barrage of phone calls. Kite arrived about the same time as the emergency crews. She remembers thinking that the next few moments would be the worst she would ever have to live through.

But it turned out they weren’t. Far worse was having to tell her grade-school-aged daughter that her father had died by suicide.

“Not a day goes by that I don’t wish her father was still here to help me raise her,” Kite said.

Kite’s ex-husband was one of 14 Douglas County residents who committed suicide in 2007. It was a year, like the one before it, during which Douglas County’s suicide rate was above the national average.

From all indications, the suicide rate in 2009 in Douglas County will also outpace the national average of 11 suicides per 100,000 people.

For the first six months of 2009, 10 suicides were reported in Douglas County, according to Marcia Epstein, director of Headquarters Counseling Center. That compares with 11 suicide deaths during all of 2008, according to the Kansas Department of Health.

Douglas County Coroner Erik Mitchell said that so far in 2009 he has ruled suicide as the cause of death in 11 cases. He is investigating 11 additional deaths, several of which could be determined to be suicide.

A complex decision

Like many people who have had relatives or friends die by suicide, Kite said her ex-husband’s death left her with a feeling of guilt.

“When it’s somebody’s decision, whether it’s a rational decision or not, it makes it so much more painful. You feel like you should have prevented it,” she said. “That drives you crazy, if you allow it.”

Her ex-husband, who was depressed and bipolar, had suicidal thoughts dating back to high school. But Kite believed that once they had a daughter he would never consider taking his own life.

“There was nothing in the world that meant more to him than her,” she said. “But you can’t control mental illness.”

The reasoning that leads to a suicide is complex and doesn’t hinge on one event.

“They don’t just impulsively make a decision to die by suicide,” Epstein said. “For adult deaths, there is going to be a lot that has been going on for a long time.”

In the official rulings of death by suicide that Mitchell has made this year, almost all of them have been men. They ranged in age from 20 to 53, autopsy reports show.

In half of the cases, the victim had recently lost his job, was about to lose a job or was worried about his business. But the victims also had been struggling with relationship problems, car accidents and mental illness.

Mitchell’s company, Frontier Forensics, investigates more than 100 suicides in Kansas each year. From those cases, Mitchell said, he sees three main categories of victims:

• Young people who want to make a statement.

• People suffering from severe mental illness.

• Adults who no longer want to be a burden on their friends and families.

Rose Foster believes that her 40-year-old husband, Gordon Foster, fit into the third category.

“He thought: ‘It would be better for the kids and Rose if I wasn’t here any more,’” Foster said. “He thought he was doing us a favor. Of course, he wasn’t. But the pain was that intense.”

Gordon Foster died when he jumped off the parking garage in downtown Lawrence in 2004. He had attempted suicide several times before and had been dealing with depression for almost a decade. At the time of his death, his wife had cancer and the family had just filed for bankruptcy.

“I think it was like a glass of water that started to overflow,” Foster said. “He was worried about my health, worried about finances and struggling with his own issues. And I think it became too much for him.”

Financial stress

Recently, media outlets across the country have linked an increase in suicide rates with the economic recession.

Lanny Berman, executive director of the American Association of Suicidology, said those accounts have been mostly anecdotal.

Because of a lag in when the federal government receives suicide data, it will be several years before public health officials will know with certainty whether suicides have increased during the recession.

With one notable exception, there has been no correlation between the country’s economic downturns and the rate of suicide, Berman said. In 1933 — one year after the United States hit 25 percent unemployment, the highest in the country’s history — the suicide rate soared. Suicide-related deaths peaked at 17.4 per 100,000 people.

Obviously, major life events can contribute to suicide, the association notes. And the current recession is providing its share of those events: job loss, financial strain, home foreclosures.

The suicide rate among people who are unemployed is two to four times higher than those with jobs.

“Other than the Great Depression, no increase has been seen over a dozen or so recessions since the ’30s simply because no recession has been long and deep enough to produce an increase,” Berman said. “That doesn’t mean you won’t see an increase.”

Dealing with aftermath

For Foster, financial stressors contributed to her husband’s mental strain.

“He wanted to be a better provider for our family, and he felt like he was not capable of doing that,” she said.

Gordon Foster’s death was emotionally, financially and spiritually devastating for his family. Ironically, that’s something Foster is sure her husband never intended.

“What it does to the people they care about lasts a lifetime. You don’t want to leave that legacy to the people that you love,” she said.

Kite has similar thoughts about her ex-husband, whose death was a shock for most of his friends and family. The 44-year-old man was private about his mental illness and hadn’t asked anyone for help in the days leading up to his death.

“I would like to think if he would have known what kind of impact it would have had, he would not have done it,” Kite said.


Confrontation 8 years, 6 months ago

Lawrence is a very depressing town. Overpriced homes, crappy jobs, and ignorant attitudes.

doc1 8 years, 6 months ago

Sadly Confrontation is exactly right. Overpriced homes and no jobs. I'd like to add a city that scares away business doesn't help any either.

KSManimal 8 years, 6 months ago

If there is a heaven, you know they got a helluva band!

yankeevet 8 years, 6 months ago

I agee with confrontation for sure..........

nbnozzy 8 years, 6 months ago

Confrontation and doc1 are wrong. It's not a drepressing town. I could live somewhere else cheaper. That wouldn't make me happy. It's the diversity of the people of Lawrence that has kept me here since 1971. So many different points of view makes for interesting conversations. 14 people may have committed suicide, but over 100,00 chose to stay alive and at least be content.

I wish to see the world, but Lawrence will always be my home.

Mike Blur 8 years, 6 months ago

As someone who has lost a few friends to suicide--including my friend Rikki's ex-husband--I will say that this article, and the previous commentors do a great job of oversimplifying, and therefore, dismissing, the root causes of suicide.

The media and most people will ascribe suicide to exogenous factors. There's where the oversimplification starts. In fact, much like the dissolution of a friendship or marriage, there is not one factor that can easily "explain away" why anyone chooses to end their life.

I was on my way to a KU basketball game once when a friend called and wanted to talk to me. I was running late for the game, and told him I'd talk to him later. He killed himself that night. Was it my fault I wasn't there for him? I've spent years beating myself up over that, but I realized that there were times I was there for him, and prolonged his life. In effect, whatever I did and did not do played no role in his decision--which was his right.

All my friends who have passed on in this manner still hold a dear place in my heart.

feeble 8 years, 6 months ago

"In half of the cases, the victim had recently lost his job, was about to lose a job or was worried about his business. But the victims also had been struggling with relationship problems, car accidents and mental illness."

Way to bury the key finding in the 15th paragraph, Stellar reporting.

For those of you reading at home, if someone you know fits the quotation above, please consider spending a little extra time with them this holiday season.

Liberty275 8 years, 6 months ago

As an atheist and later a nihilist I went through a period during which I believed it was irrational to continue living since each and every day brought some sort of pain and nothing any of us will do will matter in a million years. Today, I'm mostly over that and a happy little Nietzschen bridge to the next level of humanity.

On the other hand, "the soul is dead before the body hits the ground" is a hard concept to deal with, regardless. Religious folks don't know how easy they have it. 72 virgins or streets of gold would be pretty cool.

igby 8 years, 6 months ago


Atheist, got it so easy, just read in the book of Romans, start at chapter 6, and you see that Christians never get any peace because the human mind is their worst enemy and has the ability to force a person to sin even when they do not want to. Lol.

Paul, really has a good handle on the human condition even far better than the doctors of today, when it comes to just why a person does what they do to themselves.

greenworld 8 years, 6 months ago

This is the end, beautiful friend This is the end, my only friend The end of our elaborate plans The end of everything that stands The end

No safety or surprise The end I'll never look into your eyes again

Can you picture what will be So limitless and free Desperately in need of some stranger's hand In a desperate land

Lost in a Roman wilderness of pain And all the children are insane All the children are insane Waiting for the summer rain There's danger on the edge of town Ride the King's highway Weird scenes inside the gold mine Ride the highway West, baby

Ride the snake Ride the snake To the lake To the lake

The ancient lake, baby The snake is long Seven miles Ride the snake

He's old And his skin is cold The West is the best The West is the best Get here and we'll do the rest

The blue bus is calling us The blue bus is calling us Driver, where are you taking us?

The killer awoke before dawn He put his boots on He took a face from the ancient gallery And he walked on down the hall

He went into the room where his sister lived And then he paid a visit to his brother And then he walked on down the hall And he came to a door And he looked inside Father Yes son? I want to kill you Mother, I want to. . .

C'mon baby, take a chance with us C'mon baby, take a chance with us C'mon baby, take a chance with us And meet me at the back of the blue bus Doin' a blue rock on a blue bus Doin' a blue rock C'mon, yeah Kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill

This is the end, beautiful friend This is the end, my only friend The end

It hurts to set you free But you'll never follow me

The end of laughter and soft lies The end of nights we tried to die

This is the end

Strange days

monkeyhawk 8 years, 6 months ago

It is never anyone else's fault when a person makes the choice to take their life. Unfortunately, it is the survivors who carry the guilt and pain of wondering how they could have made some sort of difference. I've heard it said that suicide is the most selfish act a person can do. In some ways, I agree. The suicide's loved ones will have a long time reconciling and trying to make their lives right again. It's a haunting memory that never goes away.

Liberty275 8 years, 6 months ago

OK, if we are going to quote lyrics...

Once I rose above the noise and confusion Just to get a glimpse beyond the illusion I was soaring ever higher, but I flew too high Though my eyes could see I still was a blind man Though my mind could think I still was a mad man I hear the voices when I'm dreamin', I can hear them say

Carry on my wayward son, For there'll be peace when you are done Lay your weary head to rest Now don't you cry no more

Guess the name of the band and you get two free internets.

weegee 8 years, 6 months ago

The town in which you live is only as good as YOU make it...Lawrence may have some problems, but it is glorious in comparison to thousands of other locations in this country.

Randall Barnes 8 years, 6 months ago


Leslie Swearingen 8 years, 6 months ago

Liberty275 Kansas! I have had suicidal thoughts and have been helped immensely though therapy at Bert Nash. The meds they gave me are very necessary to my mental well being and they are carefully monitored. I believe that God put people in my life who could help me the most. The people at my church who did not judge me but loved me. My family who was there for me when I was ready to reconnect to them. Everything happens in its own time and way. I have done a lot of very serious praying. But, I understand that there are those who are so down and out and I pray they find help and find peace. There but for the Grace of God go I.

audibleangel 8 years, 6 months ago

"Such is the cost of immortality. No person is whole. No person is free. Over time, some have determined that the only way to live is to die. In death, a man or woman is free of the weight of the past. These few souls, with their dear relatives looking on, dive into Lake Constance or hurtl themselves from Monte Lema, ending their infinite lives. In this way, the finite has conquered the infinite, millions of autumns have yielded to no autumns, millions of snowfalls have yielded to no snowfalls, millions of admonitions have yielded to none."

Christine Anderson 8 years, 6 months ago

I like what Irish and Blur have written. A word about anti-depressant meds. Yes, they have to be very, very carefully chosen, titrated, and monitored. That being said, I could not function without them. I can't count the times I've been in so much pain I thought about just checking out. Two things keep stopping me. I still have this fear that if I killed myself, I'd go to Hell. It's okay to laugh, but I was brought up Lutheran, and the teaching on this subject is very similar to the Catholic mindset. The other three very important factors are my children. I would never want any of them to think it was their fault. And, for the two who are still very much minors, I would not want them to end up with their porn-addicted, physically and emotionally abusive father fulltime.

bearded_gnome 8 years, 6 months ago

couple of thoughts: first, in the article one very important bit of advice for someone who has a friend/relative acting or speaking in such a way was left out: do not laugh it off, do not ignore it, do not minimize it! if someone you know is acting or speaking this way, talk more with him or her, let that person know you are genuinely concerned, make a short-term agreement to stay in touch and that he or she will avoid personal harm. then, call Headquarters, Bert Nash, the KU sources of help, etc. get some info yourself including hone numbers for referral.

*headquarters: 841-2345.
maybe I missed it, but didn't see the number in the article.

second, as of a few years ago, the response protocol for lmh/bert nash was entirely inadequate and itself led to some deaths, including my cousin ('06). now, the new e.r. has mental health beds set aside, but I am doubtful that the overall protocol is much improved.

third, Ive written many times on these blogsthat one reason for Lawrence's high suicide rate is the gathering here of a very diverse population, including some very high suicide groups. and, again, the mainstream mental health leaders have not adequately shaped their response to the Lawrence population, i.e. high number of young american indians--Haskell students, the KU college students, and now the rising suicide rates among the middle-aged to retiree group as lawrence attracts more older residents.

Cheesehead, it is my experience, observation, that psychiatrists generally do a very poor job of monitoring blood levels (titration) of psychoactives they prescribe. and some are just careless about selection of meds in the first place. too often depressed persons are given drugs by psychiatrist or gp, and not also given psychotherapy as they should.

it is right to call suicide in Lawrence an epidemic.

bearded_gnome 8 years, 6 months ago

would we have a lower suicide rate if we ad an in-patient mental health ward at LMH?

and regarding antidepressants linked to suicide. for many antidepressants the issue is not so simple, it isn't like you take aspirin and the side effect for you is

people who are depressed have a far higher risk for suicide attempts; perhaps this seems obvious. give these people antidepressants, the desired effect includes greater emotional strength, more mobility, a greater sense of efficacy, etc. problem is, if there's strong suicidal thoughts, that person now has more energy and motivation to do something about the repeated suicidal thoughts hammering inside his or her head. yet, after a time, the antidepressant will often help that person climb out of the mental hole, and start thinking beyond black-and-white. often the suicide risk eases after a few weeks on the drug, if it is the right one and effective.

problem for psychiatry is: there's still not a realy good overall philosophy of how the mind works, and how various neuro chemicals play a part in it.

rbwaa 8 years, 6 months ago

bearded_gnome has made very important and sensitive comments ... it would be helpful for everyone on here to reread them.

bearded_gnome 8 years, 6 months ago

Thank you RBWAA, far too many people die in preventable suicides. some suicides are not preventable but I believe that we could dramatically cut the rate of suicide in lawrence, if we chose to.

and in my earlier comments I should have added: Headquarters does a magnificent job with very short resources!

if you want to volunteer somewhere, and you're a good communicator, you ought to consider volunteering there.

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