Dressed nicely, she raised her hand and began telling her story. Nervously, but with a steady purpose, a woman in her early 20s explained how she attempted to take her own life on several occasions. The gathered guests at St. Mary’s-in-the-Hills, Lake Orion, turned to where she was, near the back of the room, resting their arms on the chairs as they looked back and listened, shaking their heads as if to say, “Dear God, no.” And she told her story. How she attempted to cope with her suicide attempts, relaying her story to concerned friends who wanted to be helpful.
“Trust your parents. They love you and would do anything to help you.”
Little did they know that was the root of her issues.
Her own father was molesting her. And she was trapped by this dark secret for years.
Let that sink in for a minute.
Depression and suicide played a significant role in the course of my adult life. In 2001, I was working as a reporter at a suburban Detroit newspaper. The owner of the paper, though diminutive in stature, was a giant of a man. He came to America from Germany with only the money in his wallet and his toolbox. (At least, that’s the story he once told me, with great pride). Oh, and an insatiable drive to succeed.
And succeed he did. Literally, with his bare hands, he built an automotive customization company from the group up. He secured contracts with the Ford Motor Company, Honda and Toyota, eventually growing a few businesses into an empire which included real estate, livestock and newspapers. He was wealthy, a multi-millionaire.
He had personal relationships with presidents. In fact, it was at his own Texas ranch in 1996 he presented George W. Bush (then the governor of Texas) the idea to consider running for president. This man had a beautiful wife, wonderful twin children and was seen as a hero to everyone with whom he came in contact. He was a gregarious, gentle man with a big smile and a sincere greeting for everyone from his business lieutenants to the newest entry-level hire at one of his companies. On July 6, 2001, in the pool house of his sprawling Grosse Ile estate, Heinz Prechter was found dead. He hanged himself.
Understanding the reasons for depression and suicide was far less prevalent in 2001. All I knew – me, and the hundreds who worked under the umbrella of Prechter’s holdings – was we could only muster a response of, “Why? Why, Heinz?”
Who knows for sure. Remember in the classic movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” when George Bailey considers taking his life, then sees what Bedford Falls is like without him? I always think of Heinz Prechter whenever I watch. It makes me painfully sad. Yeah, his companies began to tank, get sold off and eventually dwindled. And that hurt many of us, financially.
Maybe it was caused by the post-9/11 collapse of the American economy. Maybe it was an- other reason. Regardless, what makes me sad is not the economic impact of his passing, but the simple fact he is no longer with us. And everything he worked so hard to build soon began to fade away.
Suicide can happen anywhere, affecting men and women, boys and girls, young and old. Different situations precipitate thoughts of suicide. And it’s an issue that warrants more than just passing attention.
There are no easy fixes. And there’s no way suicide can just be brushed off, swept under the rug as it has been for too many years. “Lake Orion and Oxford (located just to the north) have a higher-than-statistical-average for suicide,” said the Rev. Laurel Dahill, rector at St. Mary’s-in-the-Hills. “It runs across all demographic lines, and often happens in clusters. Just last summer there were three suicides in a cluster. The victims didn’t know each other, which adds another dimension to the concept of cluster suicides.”
In fact, just before this early-March gathering of the church’s Take My Hand ministry, a 2015 graduate of a local high school took his own life. The problem remains, showing an obvious need of addressing it.
The idea of the ministry was born from a 2015 diocesan vestry retreat. Although the local high school already has a program in place which supports students who consider suicide, “How did this young man slip through the cracks?” Dahill said. “The other confounding thing about this is that it’s a generations-old problem. It draws the observation that somehow solving personal problems in this manner, although horrible on so many levels, is somehow approved by the silent response it gets.”
In the obituary of the recent graduate, it stated the cause of death was ‘sudden illness.’
“It begs the question,” Dahill quipped, “if suicide is that bad, why isn’t anyone speaking up about it?”
Sure, there were a number of resources locally, but few of a preventative nature. Grief sup- port and fundraisers were available – after a suicide had already taken place.
“We decided that if no one else was going to do something to shine a light into this dark issue, we would,” Dahill said.
Members of the vestry, who presented the idea for the Take My Hand outreach, discerned how to go about creating it. So they dug around and asked questions. Of the Oakland County Sheriff ’s Department, Crittenden Hospital, a local funeral director and a non-profit support agency.
Eventually, the focus and mission began to take shape.
“We decided on the name Take My Hand to represent both reaching out to someone else, and asking for someone to reach out to us,” Dahill said. “And then we began to let the dream grow.”
The goal is to have the ministry grow beyond the church’s vestry and into the wider congregation, where more people can get involved.
On a cold and messy Monday night, nearly 60 guests gathered at St. Mary’s-in-the-Hills to discuss suicide. They asked questions. They related personal stories. They offered support. And they learned.
Sallie Amalfitano, a licensed social worker from Beaumont Hospital, Troy, facilitated the conversation about suicide. Sadly, suicide in the local community keeps her busy.
“We deal with between 25 and 50 suicide attempts on a weekly basis,” she said. “And one in four is among the elderly.”
Amalfitano touched on the goals of suicide prevention strategies, as well as some of the myths surrounding how to talk with someone expressing suicidal intentions. The key, she said, is to reach out and offer hope.
“If you can give someone some kind of hope, that can be a game-changer,” Amalfitano said. “Helping them see outside their world, and showing there’s hope.
“The people who kill themselves are inside this bubble and they can’t see hope.”
Some facts, resources about suicide
Coming up: How to speak to youngsters about suicide. This takes place at Mary’s-in-the-Hills, Lake Orion at 7 p.m.on Monday, June 13.
While adults are able to talk to young people about illness and issues with drugs and alcohol, many find it harder to discuss suicide. This program gives parents and adults the tools needed to discuss suicide, plus address other issues relating to suicide.Call St. Mary’s at (248) 391-0663 for details.
- Behavioral changes unusual to that person.
- Talking about wanting to die or kill themself.
- Looking for a way to kill themself, such as searching online or buying a weapon.
- Talking about feeling hopeless with no reason to live.
- Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain.
- Talking about being a burden to others.
Talk of suicide: What to do?
- Seek help immediately.
- Stay with the person.
- Get them to the hospital.
- If they refuse to go, call 9-1-1. (If you are speaking to someone who is discussing suicide who is not near you, call the operator and ask them to call 9-1-1 in the area where this person is located).
- Suicide Hotline Number: This is available 24/7 and can be reached at (800) 273-TALK.
By the numbers
- In 2015, approximately 800,000 people worldwide died of suicide.
- Suicide is the 10th-leading cause of death overall; among people ages 15-44, it is the third-leading cause of death
- Michigan is ranked No. 16 nationally in suicides annually.
- There is one death by suicide every 12.3 minutes in the United States.