Somber, but important: Community discusses suicide awareness and prevention

Written by Gillian Smith
 | Wednesday, 07 May 2014 16:22

The Merry Room at the Duxbury Free Library was packed Monday night as com- munity members gathered for a meeting to discuss one of the most prevalent issues that has affected almost every single person in town.

No Place For Hate, in conjunction with the Library and the Senior Center, held a meeting to discuss the alarming number of recent suicides in Duxbury. With five suicides between May and September last year and 13 suicides in the past five years, many community members have raised the question as to whether suicide is an epidemic in Duxbury.

The meeting was opened by Town Manager René Read, who this week celebrates being Town Manager for one year. Before Read assumed to position of Town Manager, former Town Manager Richard MacDonald alerted Read to the seemingly high rate of suicides in town. During his first meeting with Harry Katz, of the Duxbury Interfaith Council, Read expressed his concern about the somber issue. 

“Within my first six months on the job in the town of Duxbury, we lost five of our citizens to suicide,” Read said, after taking a minute to gather his thoughts.

Read called the conversation “difficult, yet important,” and credited Katz with working quickly to put plans in place to open the topic up for discussion.

“You can only begin to change something once you acknowledge its existence,” Read said. “I am sure that many of us here this evening have been impacted by the loss by way of suicide. As you all know, one loss of this type is simply too many.”

Katz, who is also the chair of Duxbury’s No Place for Hate chapter and New Eng- land’s No Place for Hate or- ganization, said No Place for Hate was started in 2000 in Duxbury after a hate crime took place in town. The organization has brought the white ribbon campaign to the high school to raise awareness about violence against women, discussed bullying at the middle school, and held awareness campaigns around town.

Suicide Facts:

More than 38,000 people in the uS die each year by suicide
Suicide is the third leading cause of death for young people 15-24
Suicide is the second leading cause of death for college students
Middle aged men have the highest risk of suicide than any other age group
90 percent of all suicides have some form of psychiatric mood disorder
More men complete suicide than women (4:1), however women attempt more often than men (3:1)
More than 5,000 older adults over 65 die by suicide every year

Also speaking at the event were Bob and Debbie Neal, Duxbury residents who lost their daughter, Jamie, to suicide on March 10, 2010 at age 21. Debbie Neal spoke first, with the hope of putting a face on suicide.

“Jamie, our beautiful daughter, died of a brain disease,” she said. “Jamie did not want to die. She wanted to get better and continue to live a meaningful and purposeful life.”

Diagnosed with bipolar disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder, Jamie ex- celled both academically and athletically, succeeding most extraordinarily in math, statistics and economics. While she was a ball of energy that infected and inspired others, she also had what Debbie called a “darker side,” when she was young growing quiet and vis- ibly frustrated in her early school years. Perfectionism became a theme in her life, in public school and at college, as well as with sports.

“Most of the time, Jamie veiled any sadness with a ra- diant smile, cheerful attitude and ready sense of humor,” Debbie said.

Debbie explained that, as Jamie grew older, it was more difficult for her to maintain her “bubbly attitude,” and she started experimenting with drugs and alcohol. Years later, Jamie’s family learned that she had been raped at the age of 16. Jamie blamed herself because she had been drink- ing at the time, and carried the guilt with her for several years before opening up to her therapist and her parents.

“Most of her life, Jamie seemed to possess an un- shakeable exuberance and self-confidence,” Debbie said. “She was especially loving and kind towards kids who struggled with a disability or who had trouble fitting in.”

In February 2010, during a medical leave from Wil- liams College, Jamie seemed to be doing well, taking online courses and seeing a therapist regularly. Though she seemed to be getting better, she often had nightmares and said she was unable to slow down her thoughts.

“Without our recognizing it, her depression came flood- ing back,” Debbie said. “We will never know if it was a momentary slip into depres- sion that caused her to take her own life, or if what we saw as recovery was a veil over a deep and agonizing depression that would never go away.”

Bob Neal focused on people in the audience, people who are dealing with the problem of suicide. Bob cited statistics from the Center for Disease Control, saying suicide is the

10th leading cause of death for Americans ages of 45-64 and is the third leading cause of death for people 15 to 24, accounting for 20 percent of deaths for that age group. A key factor in pre- venting suicide is to appropriately identi- fy when someone is or may become suicidal. In every case, Bob said, the most important thing is to treat it seriously, even if the person does not seem like someone who may have suicidal thoughts. 

“It requires you, on the spur of the moment, to reconstruct your whole frame of reference,” he said. “It’s very hard to do.”

Important Resources: 

Samaritans, 1-877-870-HOPE,
Hope Floats Healing Center,
Duxbury Interfaith Council, 781- 934-8388,

Bob also discussed gaps in the mental health system that do not allow mental ill- ness patients to have the best care possible. In many cases, patients may need to have several doctors in order to have the best care and Bob said the current system does not foster a good system for both psychotherapy and medications. Many patients require time with psychologists, who cannot prescribe medication, so they need to also have a psychiatrist or general practitioner to prescribe medications. Those two care providers often do not communicate with each other, resulting in poor care for the patient as medications are altered and therapies changed.

Among other topics of discussion was rape, which Bob said is a major contributing factor to depression and suicide. According to the Center for Disease Control, one in five women will be raped in their lifetime. A rape victim is 13 times more likely to make a serious attempt on their life than a non-crime victims. Thus, two to three percent of all women will make a seri- ous attempt on life after being raped. Bob said it is important to teach both males and females about rape starting from an early age, so as not to foster a culture of suspicion or taboo about the topic.

Also at the meeting were representatives from the Samaritans, a group of volunteers that provide programs and a statewide hotline for people who need to speak with someone when they are in need. The most important thing to ask someone is “Are you feeling suicidal today?” If the answer is yes, the best thing to do may be to call 9-1-1, bring the person to the hospital, or get them in touch with someone who may be able to help them, such as a family member.

Several audience members had questions and com- ments about the importance of supporting both young adults and seniors in town who may be experiencing depression or having suicidal thoughts. While the discussion was just one step towards awareness, many expressed hope that the topic would be further discussed and programs put in place to help those in need.