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Suicide: A Mother's Story and Prevention Efforts In Washtenaw County

A suicide ends one life and  it forever alters the lives of family and friends. It is an issue that, despite increased awareness, is still discussed in hushed tones and often with stigma attached. On Tuesday, February 7th, the Washtenaw County Public Health Department will host a town hall forum on suicide prevention at the Learning Resource Center in Ann Arbor.  With that in mind, 89.1 WEMU's Jorge Avellan delves into the deeply personal impact of suicide and what measures are being taken to better protect at-risk lives in our community. 

"I remember the policemen coming, I remember thinking why is he here and why does he want me sit down and why does he want me to put the dog away and then it sort of hit me--is he OK and they said no."

On May 4th 2014, Cathy Radovich's life changed forever.  Her 19 year-old son Garrick Roemer died by suicide. 

"There is this six-foot six guy, right? And he hung himself in his closet, and it wasn't like you see on T.V. like somebody jumping off a bridge or something or hanging from a tree and your feet are dangling. All he really did was kneel down and he could've just stood back up. So that was really difficult for me."

Garrick was a sophomore at the University of Michigan, who lived with friends in a house near campus when the incident took place.  Cathy says her son suffered from depression, and while he was loved by many, he felt alone many times--a feeling he didn't really share.

"And every picture that you see, he's happy and healthy."

Cathy explains just how well her son hid his emotions as she looks at one of his track photos.  He was on the team at the University of Michigan.  To help others like Garrick, the Washtenaw County Health Department will host a suicide prevention town hallon February 7th.

"Suicide is preventable."

Dr. Jessie KimbroughMarshallis the medical director for Washtenaw County.  She says suicide deaths in the county increased from six to ten per year from 2006 to 2016.  The age group between 15 and 24 years old has seen the highest rate of suicide completions.  And while it hasn't been determine exactly what is causing the change, Dr. Marshall says they're not ruling out peer pressure on social media. 

"What we see locally as well as nationally is that when it comes to suicide completions, males tend to have higher rates largely more to using lethal means at trying to attempt suicide. However, when it comes to suicide attempts we see females with higher rates because, conversely, they are tending to use less lethal means."

The Family Crisis Center of Washtenaw County offers help to those who are suffering from depression and may even be contemplating suicide.  Edwina Jarrett is the founder of the center and provides counseling to those who need it.     

"I think that it's important for a person who is going through this to realize that one, they are not alone. When they work in agencies that have other people that are like them, then they don't feel so alone and they actually have a connection to be able to talk to other people. It's a matter of opening up and finding out what the deep rooted problem is. Are they having problems at home? Are they being bullied at school? Do they no have friends? Do they have a disability that they are being teased about? Or are they older, and is this something that they've lived with all of their life and they're just tired?"

Cathy will share Garrick's story at the town hall.  And while it's been very difficult for her family, she smiles from ear to ear when she remembers her son.  She told me about her favorite memory. 

"It's the first moment I saw him. It was interesting. He was born and had all this hair, and I remember thinking, 'Oh my gosh, you look like a little old man.' And at that moment, I thought, you have lived a lifetime, you're a wise old man, and I knew he was going to be good, and that he was going to have a great life. And he did. He really did. He lived the life he wanted up until his death, and I know he didn't want that."

Below you can find links to different resources offered in Washtenaw County for people suffering from depression or who are contemplating suicide.  You can also find national statistics on suicide.

Washtenaw County Community Mental Health 24-hour hotline: 734-544-3050

Suicide Prevention Town Hall

Family Crisis Center of Washtenaw

Washtenaw Alive

Suicide Prevention Lifeline and Help for Veterans

National Network of Depression Centers (Ann Arbor)

CDC National Statistics

Ann Arbor Suicide Loss Survivor Support Group

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— Jorge Avellan is a reporter for 89.1 WEMU News.  Contact him at 734.487.3363 or email him javellan@emich.edu

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