Overflow Crowd Attends Suicide Prevention Event in Farmington Hills
Area residents come together to bring suicide and depression 'out of the darkness'.
When 12-year-old Chase Edwards died, no one knew he was gravely ill. But that’s because his symptoms didn’t manifest in ways that would have alerted his parents to his sickness.
His symptoms weren’t fever, swelling or vomiting. They were instead changes in sleep habits, trouble focusing and dropping grades. His illness was depression. And one Sunday evening in 2003, young Chase succumbed to it, commiting suicide while his parents cooked dinner.
“What in the world does a 12-year-old have to be depressed about?” his father Jeff Edwards asked. “Well, what does a 12-year-old have to be diabetic about?”
Chase was sick, Edwards told an overflow crowd who attended the informational event, “Out of the Darkness and into the Light: The Epidemic of Suicide,” held Wednesday at Farmington Hills City Hall.
And so are kids and adults in the Farmington community. Farmington Hills police chief Chuck Nebus said that to date this year, some 36 adults in Farmington Hills have threatened suicide. Or at least that’s how many have been reported to the police, he said. There have been 35 suicide attempts and five suicides among adults in the city this year. Ten teens have threatened suicide, and six have attempted suicide.
Last year, Farmington Hills city council members became alarmed after receiving reports about 13 young people who threatened or attempted suicide in one month. Reaching out to community members, Bates and council colleagues Dr. Randy Bruce and Dr. Ken Massey formed the Farmington Area Suicide Prevention Task Force, which hosted the Wednesday event.
Then in May, the day after Mother’s Day, Massey got a phone call no one was expecting, and no one can imagine: His stepson, Graham, had killed himself.
Massey had to tell his wife, Katherine, who not even 24 hours earlier had a wonderful phone call from her son, wishing her a happy Mother’s Day. They talked about Graham’s new job. They talked about life, and never once did the family think that his would end, and they would be left to pick up the pieces.
Massey’s grief was palpable and filled the room as he urged the community to learn the symptoms and signs of depression and suicide, and to take action.
“Every eight minutes we lose someone to suicide,” he said. “Which means that every nine minutes there’s a family left to cope.”
Eric Hipple, former quarterback for the Detroit Lions, is coping. His son, Jeff, also died by suicide. After Hipple left his career in football, he went into the work of helping others grappling with depression, and today is the University of Michigan Depression Center Outreach Coordinator.
He said that suicide requires three things: the sufferer has to feel like a burden, has to feel like he or she is isolated, and has to have developed the ability to take a life.
No one knows how someone develops that ability, he said, “But the first two things, we can do something about.”
He said that we have to ask our children and loved ones the tough questions: Are you depressed? Are you feeling bad enough to want to die?
And we have to be prepared to act.
He wasn’t. In fact, he said, he took his son to doctors to prove that there wasn’t something wrong with him, rather than treating him like there was a diagnosable and treatable illness at play.
Hipple had the same preconceived notion of mental health that most people have, he said.
“We talk about physical health all the time,” Hipple said, and what comes to mind are positive things: good nutrition, exercise and fitness. “If I say ‘mental health,’ the first thing that pops up is a negative.”
He said that talking about good mental health, communication and being connected to others have to become as commonplace and stigma-free as talking about good eating habits and a fitness regime.
“We need to promote the idea that getting mentally healthy is good,” Hipple said. “We have to take the fear out of it.”
If you need immediate help with depression or suicidal thoughts, or you know someone who does, call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency room.
Help is available at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK; Common Ground Mental Health and Crisis Intervention at 800-231-1127; and at Samaritan Counseling Center at 248-474-4701. You can find the Farmington Area Suicide Awareness Group on Facebook.
Additional information, including the signs and symptoms of depression, can be found at chaseedwardsmemorial.com.