Published Saturday, April 24, 2010 in Local
Coweta suicide numbers soaring
By Alex McRae
Suicides are rarely reported in the news. But a local couple says if they were, headlines would have been far too frequent in recent months.
Husband and wife Lynn and Nancy Bradley founded the Coweta chapter of the Survivors of Suicide group in 1997. For 13 years they have helped countless people deal with the personal anguish and pain that follows the loss of a loved one to suicide.
The Bradleys say that federal Centers for Disease Control figures show that for years Coweta has averaged about 11 suicide deaths annually. But according to anecdotal reports from friends and associates in the health care and law enforcement communities, the Bradleys believe that number has skyrocketed in recent months. They have been told there have been 15 suicides in Coweta since Jan. 1, and that almost a dozen suicides occurred in November and December 2009.
"The poor economy has certainly led to a lot of anxiety and depression," Lynn Bradley says. "But there are other factors involved, too. No one really knows why suicides seem to be increasing right now, and we don't have the answer. We just want people to know that if you are a friend or loved one of someone who has committed suicide, there is help out there to deal with your grief."
The Bradleys became involved with the SOS support group not long after the suicide death of Nancy's brother, Billy, in December 1996.
Billy had been struggling and the family knew he was depressed and troubled.
"He mentioned suicide once," Nancy says. "But we didn't know what to do and it looked like he was dealing with things, like he was taking the right steps."
Billy saw a psychologist. He was taking prescription antidepressants and attended meetings of a support group. In the end, it wasn't enough and Billy took his life.
As is often the case, family members blamed themselves. Nancy took it hardest.
"He was my baby brother and the youngest of eight kids," Nancy says. "I felt like it had always been my duty to take care of him. I felt like I had failed."
As they started to deal with their grief, the Bradleys sought assistance and found Survivors of Suicide. The closest group was in Henry County, and Nancy and Lynn attended their first meeting in February 1997.
Everyone in attendance had a different story. But they all had the same question:
"That's what everyone wants to know," Nancy says. "Sadly, it's a question that usually doesn't get answered."
After attending several meetings in Henry County, Nancy and Lynn felt a glimmer of hope.
"The more we got involved the better things got," Nancy says. "Hearing the others talk I realized I could get through it, but I realized you can't do it alone."
The Bradleys also felt there was a similar need in Coweta County and talked of forming a local SOS group. At the same time, a friend of the Bradleys who had lost his wife to suicide was looking for help. Out of the blue, the friend contacted the Bradleys and they talked.
In August 1997, the Coweta chapter of Survivors of Suicide had its first meeting.
"I felt like something good had to come out of my brother's death," Nancy says. "And I thought this might be it."
The Coweta SOS group only works with survivors of suicide, but the local meetings have also been attended by people who have attempted suicide and failed. The Bradleys say coming to a meeting often gives them a new perspective on the consequences of their actions.
"When they see the impact of a suicide on the surviving family members, it really changes their attitude," Nancy says. "People don't realize how devastating a suicide is for those left behind."
Meetings of the local SOS group are held the second Monday of each month from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Crossroads Church main building at 2564 Highway 154. Those interested in more information about meetings may call the church office at 770-254-0291. The local SOS group operates under the auspices of Crossroads Church's care and counseling ministry, led by Dr. John Hobbs.
Those who attend may talk or listen.
"We see lots of tears and some anger and some guilt," Nancy says. "But some people just want to sit quietly and listen. That's fine, too."
The Bradleys have heard tales of tragedy ranging from the suicide death of an 11-year-old child to the story of a woman whose husband and two sons all committed suicide within 18 months of each other.
"All the stories are heartbreaking," Nancy says. "We are there to offer hope and I think people who attend the meetings realize that."
Lynn says the key is finding help early.
"If we can get to people early they can share their feelings in a safe, supportive atmosphere," he says.
The Bradleys say common themes about the causes of suicide emerge at each meeting.
"There is usually a loss of self worth," Lynn says. "People who lose their jobs lose their self-esteem. We are also hearing about more and more people who are depressed because of medical issues."
Lynn Bradley says potential suicide victims have three things in common: Feelings of helplessness, feelings of hopelessness and feelings of haplessnes.
"They know something is wrong," he says. "They just don't know what to do or where to go. We can help."
Lynn and Nancy Bradley are qualified lay counselors and have undergone training at the Link Counseling Center, but they are not professional psychologists and are quick to point those in need to skilled professionals.
"If someone needs professional help, we make sure to help them contact the right person," Nancy says.
The SOS group deals with survivors of suicide, but sometimes receives calls from people who are troubled and may be contemplating suicide. They are often referred to the Suicide Prevention Action Network of Georgia (SPAN), which can be contacted at www.span-ga.org
Lynn and Nancy Bradley are available day and night for anyone seeking help and can be reached at 770-251-6216. They encourage anyone coping with a suicide to contact them.
"Some are just scared to admit they have a problem," Nancy says. "We try and show them that getting help is not a sign of weakness. It's a sign of intelligence."