Suicide Survivors

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					              Guest Editorial
                                                                                                                By Chris G. Caulkins, MPH, FF, EMT-P

               Suicide Survivors
               Understanding mental illness is key to assisting people in need

                 Like many of you, I am a paramedic and a firefighter. The
               thing that may set me apart is that I am also a suicide
               survivor; a person in a club no one wants to join. I would like
               to take this opportunity to help you, my peers, understand the
               nature of mental illness and suicide.

                  My life has changed completely—twice. The first change
               came after the death of my wife, Mary, on March 5, 2003,
               and the second came on October 15, 2008, after the death of
               my 27-year-old brother, Jeremy. The cause of both Mary’s and
               Jeremy’s deaths was severe depression that resulted in suicide.
                  With Mary, our family could see the runaway train of mental
               illness coming down the tracks and could do nothing about
as whole
               it in spite of our best efforts. Mary was on six medications
               at the time of her death, had received in-patient and out-
               patient care, read self-help books avidly, sought religious
                                                                                  Chris is pictured with his wife, Mary, and his brother, Jeremy.

                                                                                   Mary was many things to many people: wife, mother,
  fails to     counsel, tried meditation and breath work, was a member of         daughter, sister, grandchild, niece, friend and dog mommy, to
               a peer support group, went through electroconvulsive therapy,      name a few. She was an avid outdoor person and worked as a
recognize      and was attended to regularly by her psychologist, psychia-        physical therapist.
               trist and social worker. Every time Mary was hospitalized, her      Jeremy was a brother, son, grandson, nephew and friend. He
  mental       friends and family rallied to support her with telephone calls     was an executive chef at a country club and was in college
illness for    and visits to the behavioral health unit. We loved Mary and        working toward becoming a law enforcement officer. Jeremy
               she knew it.                                                       was the life of the party and a self-proclaimed “mommy’s boy.”
  what it         Jeremy was a different story. Although my family was aware
               of anxiety and depression issues, we had no idea as to the         Understanding Mental Illness
really is.”    depths of his despair. Later, I learned from Jeremy’s journal         According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
               that he felt he was somehow morally flawed and “less of a           (CDC), suicide is the 11th-leading cause of death overall, the
               man” because of his disease. Because of these beliefs, he          No. 2 cause for the age 10–24 group, and the third-leading
               kept the extent of his illness from the very family and friends    cause of death in the 24–35 age group. It is said that each
               who loved him and would have offered help. Instead, Jeremy         suicide affects at least six other people. In my estimation, this
               kept his pain to himself and drank alcohol until he passed         is a gross understatement.
               out every night, just so he could get to sleep. According to          My purpose here is to give Mary’s and Jeremy’s lives meaning
               the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, it is estimated that   by helping other people with this affliction. To do this, you must
               29% of people diagnosed with a mental illness abuse either         be willing to enhance your understanding of and response to
               alcohol or drugs.                                                  psychological emergencies as I convey three messages: 1) the
                  Mary succumbed to her illness early one cold March morning      nature of mental illness; 2) taking away the stigma; and 3)
               in the back seat of her van in a parking lot of an apartment       helping the survivors if the unthinkable occurs. Notice that
               complex not more than two miles from our home. In spite of         care of the patient has been omitted. This is because items
               great pains taken by her social worker to ration her medica-       one and two will help tremendously with care, and because
               tions, she managed to fatally overdose on them.                    you are already very competent in the te
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