Editor’s note: The topics discussed in this article may be considered sensitive to some readers.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) lists suicide as the tenth leading cause of death in the United States, with 44,193 Americans dying from suicide each year. In monetary value, suicides cost the U.S. 51 billion dollars annually, though the emotional toll is immeasurable. For every suicide, there is an average of 25 attempts, which means that there are many opportunities for intervention if the warning signs can be interpreted in time. On Nov. 4, Prosper was one of the hundreds of communities across the nation that joined in the Out of the Darkness Walk to raise awareness for suicide prevention and to offer hope to families who have experienced a loss due to suicide.
Breaking down the numbers
Suicide does not discriminate, though there are statistics that may help you recognize if someone might be at risk.
According to the AFSP, an average of 121 suicides occur per day in the U.S., with firearms accounting for nearly half of the deathes and men dying from suicide 3.5 times more often than women. The rate of suicide is listed as highest for middle aged white males, with white males accounting for 7 out of 10 suicides in 2015. Though males are nearly four times more likely to die from suicide than females, twice as many women attempt suicide each year compared to males in the U.S.
Texas is consistently slightly under the national average for suicide rate per 100,000 individuals, with a rate of 12.44 in 2015, compared to the national average of 13.26. Though Texas remains slightly below the average, rates have been steadily escalating since 2006, when 10.3 Texans and 10.97 citizens per 100,000 died due to suicide. Texas ranks in at 41 for suicide rates by state, with an average rate of one person dying from suicide in Texas every three hours, clocking in as the eleventh leading cause of death in Texas. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for people aged 15-34 in Texas, with more than twice as many people dying from suicide in Texas each year than by homicide.
In 2015, the AFSP listed the highest suicide rate as occurring amongst adults between 45 and 64 years old, with the second highest rate occurring in individuals 85 and older. Contrary to most popular belief, younger groups have consistently lower rates of suicide compared to middle-aged and older adults. The rate of suicide deaths is 4:1 for the elderly, compared to 25:1 for youth in America.
The highest suicide rate by race/ethnicity in the U.S. was amongst whites, followed by American Indians and Alaska Natives. Firearms accounted for 49.8 percent of suicides, followed by 26.8 percent by suffocation, 15.4 percent by poisoning and 7.9 percent of suicides occurring due to other methods. Though these statistics paint demographics that are most likely to be affected, it is important to be aware of the warning signs in any demographic, since anyone can be affected by suicide.
The AFSP lists certain risk factors for suicide, such as mental health conditions, substance abuse, serious or chronic pain or heath conditions, stressful life events, prolonged stress factors, access to legal means of suicide such as firearms, exposure to the suicide of someone else or sensationalized or graphic accounts of suicide, previous suicide attempts and a family history of suicide or attempted suicide.
Out of the Darkness
Early Saturday morning, citizens of Prosper and neighboring cities gathered at Windsong Ranch at 8:30 to participate in the Out of the Darkness Prosper Walk, which started at the lawn next to the Amenities Center and continued for roughly three miles up Windsong Ranch Parkway. These walkers marched in spirit with an estimated 250,000 people across the nation who walked in hundreds of cities in all 50 states in order to support the AFSP and their mission to bring hope to those affected by suicide.
The Prosper chapter of the Out of the Darkness Walk was organized by resident Wendy Tyler.
“Fourteen months ago, my 15-year old son Christian took his life,” Tyler said on why she got invovled. “He was a junior at Prosper High School, and he took his life at the end of the first week of school.”
Christian was described as a creative soul who is deeply missed by the Prosper community. The youngest of five siblings, Christian was drawn to artistic fields, and he loved music, filmmaking, drawing, graphic design and writing. Six weeks after his death, his sister researched ways to get invovled in raising suicide awareness, and she came upon the AFSP website, where she learned about the Out of the Darkness Walk that was held in Bonham last year.
“It was just a beautiful event,” Wendy Tyler said of the Bonham walk, which the Tyler family attended, “but it wasn’t my community… I knew that we had so many people in this area, in Prosper, and in the surrounding suburbs that needed to have an event like that.”
Wendy Tyler contacted the AFSP the next week to organize a walk in her community, and they agreed to sponsor the event in Prosper as long as she was willing to put in the work.
Wendy Tyler attributed her interest in starting a walk in Prosper to her need to make sense of things. “It doesn’t take away the grief, but it gave me some sort of purpose. I feel like people don’t want to talk about it,” she said about suicide. “Families don’t want people to know, because there’s a stigma. They don’t want their child or their loved one being remembered as having taken their life. If we don’t talk about it, it’s not going to end.”
Out of the many teams walking in Prosper, Chandler’s Drumline was one of the largest. While the Tyler family lost Christian at the start of last school year, another family suffered a devastation at the end of the year, with Wendy Tyler citing the deathes of both her son and Chandler Fetterolf as the two main reasons why organizing the walk in Prosper was so important to her.
Chandler William Fetterolf of Aubrey, Texas died on May 30, 2017, less than three months shy of his eighteenth birthday. His obituary describes him as someone who had an infectious personality, was willing to sacrifice himself for the happiness of others and was a best friend to all who knew him. Chandler took up an interest in music from a young age, and grew to be a talented musician, serving as a member of The Colony High School Drumline for three years before transferring to Prosper High School and joining the Prosper High School Drumline and The Mighty Eagle Steel Drum Band. Chandler is described as having been a remarakble human being who touched many lives, and the organization “Chandler’s Drumline” serves to honor his memory and raise funds for suicide prevention and education.
Chandler’s Drumline was started by Chandler’s mother, Kimberly Blythe, in reponse to losing her son to a lifelong battle with depression. “He had stuggled with depression his entire life,” Blythe said. “It’s something that affects so many families. We just want so badly to raise awareness.”
Blythe said that depression is something that many families deal with. She stressed the importance of parents listening to their kids when they say that they are depressed and not being afraid to discuss it.
“We’re just doing everything we can,” Blythe said on raising awareness for suicide prevention and talking about suicide. “So many people are blinded by it — there’s such a stigma. It’s not as recognized.”
Blythe said that Prosper has been an amazing support system for her and her family, and they are blessed to have the support of the community. The Prosper Band, especially, has been a major proponent of honoring Chandler’s memory and supporting the family through their loss.
A community in mourning
The goal of the AFSP, according to their website, is to reduce the suicide rate by 20 percent by the year 2025, with each walker bringing this goal one step closer to being achieved. An total of 281 people showed up to the Prosper Walk on Saturday, with more people filtering in and out to make donations.
Out of the hundreds of walkers, a large amount of the people who showed up to volunteer, walk or lend support had been personally affected by suicide, and they supported both the AFSP and Wendy Tyler’s goal of talking about suicide.
Amongst the hundreds of walkers was Nassat Parveen, who volunteered for the event and greeted walkers with a “free hugs” sign. “I actually lost a close friend of mine to suicide three years ago,” said Parveen, who is in her senior year of studying neuroscience at UTD — a field that was inspired by her loss. “He was only 19. He was also my first love… I wanted to really get involved and see why people do these things. I feel like through volunteering and through connecting with others, it’s almost helping me to get my answers, and it’s also helping me to share my story.”
Stephany Coleman, who volunteers with the AFSP Board of Directors, was also present at the walk. “I was personally impacted by suicide five years ago when my youngest brother died by suicide,” said Coleman. She got involved in order to talk about his story, continue to learn more and be part of the community to raise awareness. Coleman, a graduate student, is also training to be a counsellor in order to professionally help others who are affected by suicide.
The Prosper Walk surpassed their goal of raising 30,000 dollars, with 33,663 dollars raised the day prior to the walk, though walk donations are still being accepted until December, 31, with 526 participants contributing to the cause as of Nov. 3. Wendy Tyler stated that this figure had risen to o $37,066 dollars after the walk. To make a donation to the Prosper Walk, visit www.afsp.org/prosper.
The AFSP has been raising awareness for suicide prevention and bringing hope to families affected by suicide for thirteen years through their now annual walks. The first walk that took place in 2004 garnered roughly 4,000 walkers in 24 communities, while this year, a quarter of a million walkers from 415 communities participated.
“As the core of the Out of the Darkness Walks, the Community Walks are proof that when people work together, they can make big changes in our world,” the AFSP website states.
Warning signs and how to help
Reasons for suicide rarely trail back to a single cause, with many factors contributing to an individual’s decision to take his or her life.
“Suicide most often occurs when stressors exceed current coping abilities of someone suffering from a mental health condition,” the AFSP website states. “Conditions like depression, anxiety and substance problems, especially when unaddressed, increase risk for suicide. Yet it’s important to note that most people who actively manage their mental health conditions lead fulfilling lives.”
Signs to be aware of in individuals who might be at risk for suicide include talk about being a burden to others, feeling trapped, experiencing unmanageable pain, having no reason to live or conversation about wanting to kill oneself. The AFSP lists specific behavioral factors to be on the lookout for, including increased use of drugs or alcohol, online searches for ways to kill oneself, reckless activity, withdrawing from activities, isolation from loved ones, sleep disturbances, saying goodbye to people, giving away prized possessions and aggressive behavior. Moods commonly experienced by suicidal individuals include depression, loss of interest, anxiety, rage, humiliation and irritability.
The AFSP has chapters in all 50 states and is the leader in fighting against suicide by providing funding, creating educational programs, advocating public policy and supporting survivors of suicide loss. To learn more about the AFSP and how you can get involved, visit https://afsp.donordrive.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=cms.page&id=1196&eventID=4654.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline offers a national network of crisis centers that provide confidential and free support in order to walk people through emotional distress or suicidal crises on a daily basis. Their website, https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org, lists specific resources that people suffering from suicidal thoughts can access, broken down by demographics such as youth, disaster survivors, veterans and more.
If you or a loved one are struggling with thoughts of suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. A representative will be available to talk 24/7.