Gov. Bush to present plan to reduce state’s suicide rate — (The Daytona Beach News Journal)

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The Daytona Beach News Journal

By DEBORAH CIRCELLI,  Staff Writer

Last update: March 30, 2005

Mary Anne Jackson-Trumbull has read her son’s suicide letter so many times she has it memorized.

“Please forgive me for my selfishness. I’m just worn out and tired,” she recited.

It’s been 13 years this month since David Jackson took his life. The Seabreeze High School honor graduate was 24 years old.

The letter and short stories that won her son state and national awards during school are tucked away in a cabinet in his old bedroom in Daytona Beach.

Jackson-Trumbull was just days away from visiting her son in South Carolina where he was living after college. She knew he was depressed from a relationship that ended but he was still active in church. He had also been in counseling and recently started taking medication.

She believes if there was more education about mental illness and suicide her son would have sought help sooner. Jackson-Trumbull and other local advocates are hoping legislators will pass a bill sponsored by state Sen. Evelyn Lynn, R-Ormond Beach that will create a statewide office for suicide prevention. The office would include a coordinator to promote awareness and develop community-based programs along with a statewide coordinating council.

The legislation will be discussed in Tallahassee today as part of Suicide Prevention Day at the Capitol. Gov. Jeb Bush is expected to present plans calling for the suicide rate in the state to be reduced by one third by 2010, said Terry Smith, former chair of the Florida Suicide Prevention Coalition and a member of the governor’s suicide prevention task force.

Florida ranks 15th in the nation, per 100,000 people, for the number of suicides, officials say. Volusia County has one of the highest rates in the state. Statewide, 2,294 people took their lives in 2003.

State totals for last year are not available but local estimates for 2004 show about 97 suicides in Volusia and 13 in Flagler. About half of 40 deaths still pending in Volusia County from 2004 may also be determined suicides, local suicide-prevention advocates say. That’s up from 85 in Volusia in 2000 and five in Flagler.

“This has been a huge problem in Volusia County,” said Lynn, who has friends who have lost family to suicide. “We have to identify it early and try to do everything we can to assist young people as well as the elderly.”

Suicide is the third leading cause of death for 15 to 24 year olds and second for 25 to 34 year olds, according to state reports.

Smith of Palm Coast, whose daughter Stephanie committed suicide in 2001 at age 21, said legislators would have to approve spending $100,000 to hire a director and start coordinating prevention programs.

When looking at the number of people who died statewide in 2003, Smith said that amounts to about $44 a person “to save a life,” Smith said.

Locally, Act Corp. has spent the past year using part of a $450,000 state grant to train law enforcement on crisis intervention in Volusia and Flagler counties. About 1,300 residents have attended local workshops to recognize the signs of suicide to help their friends and family. More than 100 people have also received immediate counseling services through a contract with two private practice groups.

Wayne Dreggors, executive director of Act Corp., said a program will be starting soon in Volusia County to voluntarily screen teens in middle and high schools with a written test. Students would then be referred for help. The existing teen screen program in Flagler County schools is also being expanded to help more families with counseling, Dreggors said.

Grant money also is being used for two billboards, but Dreggors said more ongoing efforts are still needed locally and statewide.

For Jackson-Trumbull, she keeps the memories of her son close by. A silk flower arrangement friends gave her at his funeral sits on her living room table along with an Easter basket he made in third grade. A ceramic angel with his name on it symbolizes David as her guardian angel.

She’s gone to a monthly support group for 13 years to give hope to others that “they can get through this.”

“You don’t ever forget, but it gives you the courage to go on,” she said.

DeLand advocate Laura Meyer, interim director of the Florida Suicide Prevention Coalition, lost a cousin to suicide and her best friend lost a son. She said people talk about homicides, yet the number of people dying from suicide is twice as high.

“We just need to beef up the resources and make people aware that suicide is a growing epidemic in our communities,” Meyer said.

Rita Repp of South Daytona formed a support group in Daytona Beach after her son died 21 years ago. She said more education is needed on mental illness.

“They need to address depression in a better way. We’re losing people of all ages and all walks of life,” said Repp, who runs the ASSURE group (After Suicide Survivors offering Understanding and Recovery for Everyone).

Gene Camp, owner of Lamp Crafters in Daytona Beach, lost a 22-year-old co-worker and friend five years ago. He’s been going to the ASSURE group ever since after finding Michael Duffy’s body.

“Maybe if we had more training we might have seen something coming or been able to ward it off,” Camp said. “He was always a smiling salesman. He could sell you on anything. It just broke everybody’s heart.”

deborah.circelli @news-jrnl.com

SUICIDE WARNING SIGNS

As the Florida Suicide Prevention Coalition points out, there is no typical suicide victim. But there are common warning signs:

  • Changes in sleep or eating patterns
  • Neglect of personal appearance
  • Depressed, angry, aggressive behavior
  • Job or financial loss
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Self-mutilation
  • Isolation, withdrawing from family or friends
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Trouble in school or work
  • Perfectionism or overly self-critical

URGENT SIGNS

  • Attitude of hopelessness or helplessness
  • Talks, writes, hints about suicide
  • Experiences lethargy, apathy or sadness
  • Exhibits extreme changes in behavior
  • Gives away possessions
  • Suffers relationship breakup
  • Buys gun or weapon or stockpiles drugs
  • Suddenly seems happier and calmer — giving impression that things have improved.

INFORMATION

For more information on suici
de or support groups, call the Mental Health Association of Volusia County and Flagler Counties at (386) 252-5785 or visit www.suicideprevention-volusiaflagler.org. If someone is considering suicide, they can reach out by calling the local hotline at (800) 539-4228 or the National Helpline Network at (800) SUICIDE (784-2433).