BLOOMINGTON — In the wake of the apparent suicides last week of designer Kate Spade and celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, Central Illinois mental health experts are encouraging people to reach out if they are struggling.
“Of course people have their own reactions to terrible news like this,” said Chelsea Mueller, director of outpatient services at Heritage Behavioral Health Center, which has facilities in Decatur and Clinton. “The difference is how it translates to what we do as a society.”
The deaths of Bourdain, 61, on Friday, and Spade, 55, on Tuesday, brought the topic of suicide to the forefront of news headlines and social media posts. While media attention can bring understanding and awareness to mental health issues, insensitive language and headlines designed to shock can increase the stigma, said Mary Garrison, a professor at Millikin University and author of “Your Playbook for Beating Depression: Essential Strategies for Managing and Living with Depression.”
When high-profile people die by suicide, something called “suicide contagion” can occur, she said. Providing people considering suicide factual information and avenues for help such as crisis hotlines can decrease the numbers.
“Reach out to somebody,” said Karen Zangerle, executive director of PATH (Providing Access to Help) in Bloomington, which maintains a crisis and social services referral hotline at 211. “Reach out and talk to a stranger at PATH, who is someone who is going to listen to you open-minded. Reach out to your best friend, reach out to your spouse, reach out to an organization such as the Center for Human Services.
"If you're not going to reach out, then my message to family and friends is reach out on behalf of the person who you are concerned about,” she said.
Suicide is the 10th-leading cause of death in the United States, according to a report released Thursday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and rates have been climbing for years. There were 44,965 suicide deaths in 2016, and no single factor can be blamed for the 30 percent increase in deaths by suicide from 1999 to 2016, experts said.
The number of suicides in McLean County has been declining since 22 reported in 2015, which was up from 16 in 2014.
In 2017, there were 19 suicides, with an average age of 46, according to the McLean County coroner's office. Since Jan. 1, there have been five suicides, with an average age of 50.
“The take-away message here is to listen for the signs,” said McLean County Coroner Kathy Davis. “If you know or suspect someone might be thinking about suicide, or seems depressed, call 211. Every life is important and you don't know what they may be going through.”
Help also is available through the Center for Human Services (309-827-5351) and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255).
Zangerle said the number of suicide-related calls to 211 in 2017 totaled 1,482, up from 1,413 in 2016.
But so far this year the number is down.
“We're almost halfway through the year, but our suicide calls are down, I feel, rather drastically,” said Zangerle. “From Jan. 1 to (Friday) we've only had 531.”
During the same time frame last year there were 635 suicide-related calls to 211.
Zangerle urged anyone struggling with depression or thoughts of suicide to seek help. She said it is important for trained PATH volunteers to assess “the likelihood of person making an attempt, so we ask a lot of different questions.”
If you know someone struggling with depression or who has lost a loved one to suicide, the best way to help is to be available, Mueller said. No one wants to think they're being a burden, so offer to spend time together, to just listen.
Not knowing what to say is fine; being there is the important part, she said.
Signs that could indicate a person is contemplating suicide include loss of interest in favorite activities; major changes in eating and sleeping habits; difficulty concentrating or making decisions; and talking about feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness.
“It's finding your own support, whatever that looks like for you,” Mueller said. “Find the people you feel safe and comfortable enough with to talk about it. That's one of the definite benefits of social media. There are all sorts of people who have been through similar situations and are easier to relate to. It's important to say 'This happened, and I'm struggling with it, and I need to work through it.'”