Published Sept. 14, 2012
By Michelle Dupler, Tri-City Herald
It wasn't one thing or one bad turn of events that led Cindy Adams to try to take her own life.
It wasn't the loss of a job or a bad break-up or failing a class in school.
Like most people who attempt suicide, Adams' decision was the result of years of struggling with depression -- with being in so much pain she could see no other way out.
"I felt like I was falling down this dark, deep hole and nothing I could do ... I felt like I tried to reach out but I kept falling and darkness enveloped me and I couldn't figure out ways to make a change," she told the Herald. "At some point along the way I think I decided it was easier to commit to dying than to living."
But Adams survived her attempt, and recovered from her depression and has a message of hope and resilience for other people who have fallen down that hole.
"Life can be different," she said. "Your value and belief in yourself will come back."
It's that message local advocates are hoping to spread Saturday with the fourth "Walkabout to Talk About Suicide Prevention" in Kennewick, an annual event designed to raise awareness about suicide in the community, to remember those lost to suicide, and to reach out to people who may be having suicidal thoughts to let them know they are not alone.
This year's event will include the walk, plus information and resources from advocates and counselors.
It also will include the debut of an art project by students from Columbia Basin College, Tri-Tech Skills Center and Lutheran Community Services. The project is a banner that will be carried on the milelong walk, made up of 85 panels created by students to express their thoughts and feelings about suicide.
Valery Tolle, the artist who coordinated the banner project, said the project was intended to give young people a voice about suicide and to raise community awareness.
"Art transcends cultural and language barriers -- all of those things that get in the way of having a dialogue about something," she told the Herald. "Those are the kinds of projects I love to work on where people have the freedom to express themselves with freedom and without judgment."
She said the honesty of the students' work on the banner was impressive.
"In doing this, kids started opening up to each other. They would be sitting around a table, looking at each other's art work and start sharing their stories," she said.
Sharing is important because depression can be an isolating illness. People who are thinking about suicide often will withdraw from friends and family because from their point of view it seems no one can understand their pain.
Adams said she pushed a lot of people away during her depression, partly because she came from a family that didn't talk about mental health issues even though depression was hereditary.
"Because I knew you didn't speak about it, I tried to have this second life that I kept inside -- self-loathing, helplessness, hopelessness," she said.
The depression started when she was a child and persisted into her 20s and 30s. She tried college a few times, but the depression interfered.
"I didn't want to leave my apartment. It was so hard to leave the house and go to school every day," Adams said.
And for years, she thought she was alone in feeling like that. Her suicide attempt came at age 33 while she was living in Spokane.
The National Institute of Mental Health reported that 90 percent of people who die by suicide have depression or another mental health disorder or a substance abuse problem -- often in combination.
Suicide is the third-leading cause of death for people ages 15 to 24, but it happens in all age groups. It is the seventh leading cause of death for men and the 15th leading cause for women.
Sandy Owen, director of preventive health services for the Benton Franklin Health District, told the Herald that of the 17 people who committed suicide in Benton and Franklin counties since Jan. 1, the youngest was 21 and the oldest was 85. Many were in their 30s or 40s.
Kristi Haynes, facilitator for the Benton Franklin Suicide Prevention Coalition, said that's down from 24 people through the same time last year, but she doesn't believe that can be viewed as a trend.
"I'm happy it's less," she said.
But for every person who dies by suicide, national statistics show another 11 people attempt to take their own lives.
Materials published by the National Institute of Mental Health emphasize that suicide is not a normal reaction to a stressful event, despite the common perception that people commit suicide because something bad happened in their lives.
Most people who attempt or commit suicide have one or more risk factors, including a mental health disorder such as depression or anxiety; family history of mental health disorder or substance abuse; family history of violence or sexual abuse; and exposure to the suicidal behavior of others such as family members or peers.
The institute reported that the risk for suicide also is associated with a change in brain chemicals such as serotonin, and that researchers have found decreased levels of serotonin in the brains of people with depression and people who have committed suicide.
And experts say people who are thinking about suicide typically show warning signs. Suicide attempts rarely are spontaneous.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention include as warning signs indicators of depression such as hopelessness, desperation and withdrawal; talking about wanting to die; giving away possessions, or acquiring a gun or pills that might be used in a suicide attempt.
"The emotional crises that usually precede suicide are often recognizable and treatable," the foundation's website said. "Although most depressed people are not suicidal, most suicidal people are depressed. Serious depression can be manifested in obvious sadness, but often it is rather expressed as a loss of pleasure or withdrawal from activities that had been enjoyable. One can help prevent suicide through early recognition and treatment of depression and other psychiatric illnesses."
-- Help is available locally through the Benton Franklin Crisis Response Unit by calling 783-0500, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.
Published with permission of the Tri-City Herald. Additional news stories can be accessed online at the Tri-City Herald.
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