‘You are not alone’: Panel focuses on mental health and suicide prevention

Tim Krivanek holds up a photo of daughter Nina, who died by suicide.

The COVID-19 pandemic is magnifying mental health issues, and among them is suicide — for people of any age, from teens to senior citizens.

According to the Snohomish Health District, suicide is the ninth leading cause of death in Snohomish County and resulted in 107 deaths in 2010. Suicide rates here are also higher than the national average. Although females are more likely than males to attempt suicide, males are more likely to succeed due to their tendency to use firearms, the health district says.

To spread the word on how to help prevent suicide, the City of Edmonds — led by City Councilmember Luke Distelhorst — brought together via Zoom a group of panelists who have struggled with mental health issues and those working to prevent suicide.

The common message shared during Wednesday’s presentation on how to prevent suicide:

— Talk about it.

— Listen

– -Be there.

Tim Krivanek and his wife Carrie lost their daughter, Nina, to suicide. Tim Krivanek says Nina was “funny, loved sports, was athletic, everybody liked her, but, what we didn’t realize is that she was sad all the time; she buried it, she hid it.”

When the couple began to understand how depressed Nina was, they took her to counseling and to the doctor; she was on medication. “She didn’t want to die, he said; “she wanted to live, but she was in so much pain.”

How to help? Don’t tell people to “just get over it,”  says Krivanek, who serves on the board of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. “If somebody’s having a heart attack, or suffering from cancer, you don’t say ‘suck it up and get over it,'” he said. “Mental health is physical health, they are the same.” That’s something Krivanek said he and his wife realized too late for Nina.

Two Scriber Lake High School graduates participating in the panel — Shea and Thalia — agreed.

Shea, a Scriber Lake High School graduate, talks about suicide.

“I felt like I wasn’t taken seriously,” said Shea. “My issues were just written off.”  She added: “I spent most of my teen years being suicidal and I almost lost my brother to it,”

Thalia says her family helped push her through: “They really listened to me and took the time to hear me.”

The message from both former students: Take your child seriously before they get to the “I’ll prove it to you stage” and try to hurt themselves. “Don’t tell them ‘oh, but I love you,'” added Shea.  “That didn’t work; you have to work at it.”

JoAnna Rockwood

JoAnna Rockwood is an Edmonds school psychologist who helped initiate the Edmonds School District’s suicide prevention program five years ago. Counselors, psychologists, nurses and support staff spent the summer modifying the program to make it work virtually during the COVDI-19 pandemic.  “This crisis is not over,”said Rockwood.

Of the nearly 50,000 people who committed suicide in the U.S. in 2017, 20% were 65 and older. “They are,” said counselor Michelle Reitan, “at highest risk of suicide.”  She said there may be a number of reasons: declining health, retirement, moving away from a community and support network or loneliness. Some illnesses — such as stroke, thyroid, multiple sclerosis and vascular issues — may also trigger depression, and so can medication.

Through the Edmonds Senior Center, Reitan can offer remote counseling via Zoom. The center also runs a lunch delivery program to senior center members, with volunteers having daily face-to-face time that seniors especially need now, since some have not left their homes since the virus struck in March.

Michelle Reitan

According to Reitan, Rick Steves’ employees are also volunteering to phone senior center members and have reached out to 1,800 just to see how they are doing and keeping in touch.

The City of Edmonds also has a website with community resources at wecare.edmondswa.gov.

The takeaway from all panelists:

–Reach out to friends, co-workers, children, family and senior citizens.

–Listen to what they say. Though you may not understand, their pain is real.

–Respect them for talking about their fears and concerns.

–Support them to find the help and resources they need.

–Let them know “You are not alone.”

You can watch the entire recording of the Zoom presentation via the City of Edmonds Facebook page.

— By Bob Throndsen

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