Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Avon Lake, Suicide and Ignorance



    The headline in the paper spelled out this tragedy: “Avon Lake Girl’s Suicide prompts schools to offer counseling.”
     A 14 year old student at Avon Lake high school became a parent’s worst nightmare, as she ended her life by her own hands. Though little is known about this young lady, she joins an ever increasing number of students that end their life in such a drastic way. It is a death that is nearly always misunderstood, and almost exclusively linking to some form of depression. It is the third leading cause of death in high school students.
     The thoughts and prayers of everyone should be with the family, as they struggle to understand this death. Like many others, they will spend countless hours trying to make sense of this untimely death, and search for answers. Sadly, the answers to those questions may never be discovered. Many advocates, myself included, experience losses such as hers as if we were close friends, because we share a common bond. We all hope the family and friends find peace and a way to move on from this tragedy.
    All of this reminds me of the time several years ago, that I was trying to open some doors of awareness with the leaders of Avon Lake. After several conversations, I was left bewildered at such Neanderthal and outright prejudicial thinking that anyone in positions of power could ever possess.
     The first contact was with a high ranking school administrator. I approached him about doing a mental health and suicide awareness program. His response was a bit unsettling as he claimed “we have no need for those types of programs.” As I mentioned earlier, suicide is the third leading cause of death in people at the high school level, and he saw no need for more education and awareness? This leaves one to wonder why he felt that way.
     Next up was the mayor’s office, and it was here that I heard the most outrageous comment ever used to describe people afflicted with a disease. This former mayor was blunt in his assertion that he “did not want mentally ill people living in Avon Lake!”
     Avon Lake, a moderately affluent suburb with a population of over 22,000, would have over 3,500 people who suffer from a mental illness. So with that in mind, I asked this man if he planned on one day goose stepping all these people out of his community the way Hitler did back during the time of the Holocaust. With that question, this strange guy hung up the phone.
     Next on the list was some city council members, and they were just as ignorant.
     When I questioned the first one, and asked him about the mayors comments, he answered, “ I was a combat pilot so I know all about mental illness!” Now being a combat pilot is a commendable and impressive accomplishment, however, as I spoke with him, it was evident that he was just being arrogant and ignorant. He found nothing improper with comments from the mayor and, in fact, laughed about them. It makes one wonder if he flew some of his missions without oxygen at high altitude. If not, perhaps he is just an idiot!
     Next on my list was a councilman who is a local business man. He informed me that the mayor at times makes comments that are “out of character” for him. However, he refused to condemn the mayor judgments. Like the other one, he laughed and made a disparaging remark, and used the word “psychos” to describe people in crisis. It makes one wonder what other terms he uses to refer to people who are not part of his moral universe. As Martin Luther King Jr. once said,” Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity!”
     An effort to communicate with other members of this council proved fruitless. One man even said “I don’t care” and unceremoniously hung up on me. What is that old saying about cowards dying many deaths? Interestingly, several individuals who have been involved in the local chapter of the National Alliance of Mental Illness, NAMI, live in Avon Lake. Additionally, for many years support groups have been meeting in that city with the same people that this former mayor and city council members have stigmatized.
     In retrospect, it is easy to understand why I received responses from the leaders in this community. It is widely accepted that mental illness is a hugely nondiscriminatory disease. It will strike the wealthy and the destitute alike. The biggest difference is readily available treatment, and that is not always available to people in lower incomes. As their comments stand as testimony, this group is lead more with arrogance, and ignorance, rather than being exposed to enlightenment and awareness. The leaders cannot understand that mental illness is just as prevalent in their community, as it is in less affluent communities such as the city of Lorain.
     I did find a couple of bright spots and one was Judge Darrel Bilancini. He took the time to sit down with me one on one, and discuss the seriousness of this issue. He had in-depth knowledge of this concern, and was always mindful of the challenges that students do face.  I was more impressed that he was courteous and never thought mental illness is a laughing matter. A far cry from the stupidity exhibited from the city and school officials.
     I never met former mayor Karl (KC) Zuber, but I did speak on the phone with him. Like Judge Bilancini, he was respectful and intelligent. Interestingly, he was always willing to meet with me on these issues, and did show a sound understanding of this subject.
     If the community wishes to honor the life of this young lady in a positive a meaningful fashion, I have two pieces of advice.
     First, stand up to the ignorance that is displayed by the ones that mock and belittle the seriousness of mental illness. Demand awareness and understanding, which will remove the stigma and open the door for people to feel free to seek treatment. Learn to accept those afflicted with understanding, compassion, and empathy. Condemn the bigots that permeate the discriminatory practices that exist as a huge roadblock to recovery.
     Finally, take the advice of former NFL coach turned football analyst, Tony Dungy, whose son committed suicide back in 2006. He said “Parents, hug your kids each chance you get. Tell them you love them each chance you get. You don’t know when it’s going to be the last time.”

23 comments:

  1. Sadly, I don't think that you have done yourself or anyone else any favors by posting this at this time. You are simply using this tragic incident as an opportunity to slam officials of Avon Lake who previously turned you away. At this moment in time, I don't care if they were rude or made stupid comments to you years ago. Did you post something at that time? That just simply does not matter today as I prepare to go to the funeral home to pay respects to the family and friends of a 14 year old girl who is no longer here. My only focus can be on the pain that we all are experiencing, trying to make sense of something that does not make sense and trying to figure out how to comfort my own children as thier hearts are broken. Your timing is just quite simply insensitive!

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    1. Thank you for your comments. In answer to your question, I have published stories on suicide prevention for many years. I have given countless speeches on this subject for to thousands of students, so your comments of being insensitive are just not true.
      Personally, I do not care if they were rude to me, that does not matter. What does matter to me is that many individuals that run cities and schools ignore this silent epidemic of kids taking their lives. I appreciate that you are paying respects to this young lady. I have met with dozens of family members, who have had their children and loved ones die in a similiar fashion. So do not insinuate that I do not understand.
      My goal has been and always will, to prevent this from occurring. Being called insensitive is unfair, as you do not even know the work I have done in the past. Sticking ones head in the sand to a monumental problem that teen suicide is, is not a solution, it is ignoring the problem. I suggest you find out just who I am and what I do before you judge me.

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    2. I grew up in Avon Lake lived there from 1961 till 1990.My first exsperiment with drugs was bought from a police officer in 1974. His name was Skipp. Dont remmember his last.My daughter 16 yrs old at the time was given cocain and alcohol from a man that i went to school with. This man is still part of al society. He runs a buissness there when i contacted the al pd they just dint care. As far as im concerned theres nothing but a bunch of arogant drunken a holes in that town. so im not suprised that u got the attitude u got as they think there better than everyone else.Good Luck

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    3. Thank you for your comments. I shake my head at the attitude that I receive. This person who is posting insults, well, that is being done to project away from failures in that city. Good luck to you.
      George

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    4. These are not insults these are facts. I could name 10 people off the top of my head that have mental issues in AL. This includes child rapist all the way down to drunken drivers repeats. There are more bars in AL than any other town i have lived in. And AL is a very small town the smallest town i ever have lived in.So exscuse me George i think what im saying is the people who run AL are very ignorant and very arogant I dont know if you have children our not. If you do how would you feel if your child was given cocain and alcohol when she was 16. My daughter has a everyday struggle because of some arogont piece of work from AL.

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    5. Susan M. Ockajik-EicholtzSeptember 13, 2012 at 11:08 PM

      Those comments made several years do make a difference. There is still much stigma surrounding mental illness, and its sometimes fatal result--suicide. My niece took her life in May, a lovely young lady from Vermilion, Ohio. She had Bipolar Disorder. Before her suicide, she had voiced suicidal ideations to several friends. Just prior to her tragic action, she was texting with some friends. She let them know her intentions. They knew exactly where she was. Because they were never taught suicide prevention techniques, she was not able to be saved. We need to educate the public, even teens, about this tragic end to lives full of promise. It is so sad that the young lady in Avon Lake took her life. People, stop sweeping this issue under the rug. In case you did not know it, suicides outnumber homicides in the United States. Keep doing what you are doing, George. Do not give up the fight!

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    6. Thank you for your insight Susan. You are correct, comments made years ago do matter. If you read some of the push-back responses I received, you will notice a total lack of anger or disgust for the individuals who actually made the ignorant and in some ways, bigoted declarations. Not one person from Avon Lake asked me the names of the individuals mentioned.
      It is also true that teaching kids to respond properly to a crisis, such as your niece, can prevent tragedies.
      Once again, thank you
      George

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  3. Saying "I told you so" now might make you feel better but it's not helping anyone. Use this as an opportunity to present your case again, if you meet with resistance, then voice it immediately. Don't wait years until a tragedy and use it to massage you own ego.

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    1. I never said "I told you so", but again, you can say what you wish. If you feel so strongly about this subject, why are you not asking the powers to be as to why they had such a negative view of people with mental health issues? Instead of insulting me, why not do things that will protect your children?
      Massaging my ego? Not sure where that came from, but it is not true. Spending countless hours in schools working with teachers and students on suicide prevention, that would be true. Spending many other hours with police officers, medical personal and family members, that would also be true. Again, you are judging someone you do not even know! But thank you for your post.

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  4. While I know nothing of your trials with Avon Lake's leaders in the past and am all for spreading awareness, your article implies that people knew nothing of this young girl's problems because of the stigma in more affluent towns like Avon Lake. My son went to her memorial on Saturday night as did so many from our community(we have lived in Avon Lake since 1990 and my son played sports with one of her brothers). Her mother talked openly and said she has struggled with clinical depression so she had been diagnosed. Having experienced suicide in our own family, professional counciling does not always guarantee heartbreaking tragedies will not occur.

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    1. Thank you for posting.
      I am not sure what you mean by saying that people knew nothing of this young girls problems, I meant little was known publicly. I know quite a bit about her situation, but still I decided against using her name. My comments were based on the ignorance of some of the leaders there, not the general population. My comparison with affluence is based that the illness strikes every social economic class equally.
      I agree, that you cannot prevent all suicides, but unless the leadership of any community can see past the stigma that mental illness can cause, how can anyone feel free to seek treatment and not be fearful of repercussions.
      I think your anger should be directed at the people who demean mental illness, not against someone who has volunteered countless hours working in classrooms to bring awareness.

      George

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    2. Not really sure why you presumed I was angry, because I am not. Just trying to make sure you have all the information. I am guessing you are getting overly defensive. Please try to encourage open discussion. You may not realize how you came across in your article.

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    3. Not defensive at all., it stands by itself. I have open discussion, that is why all comments are published and answered. And you came across as angry because you "assumed" that I was stigmatizing because of affluence, which if you read the article with an open mind, you would have ascertained. All I did in article was state what happened, and people can draw their own conclusions if they want leaders who act like the ones described.

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  5. Anonymous you just dont get it. George is and was trying to help these kids in school, but the people were to ignorant to listen or give him the time of day. I really do think that is what every school needs. he is not saying it because of what happened to the 14 year old. with these programs in the school systems maybe these kids qould understand things differently. No one knows maybe this could of been prevented, she is the only true one that why... Maybe mom has been open about it but it is not your place at all to say what mom has said to everyone over the internet or wherever. Truely it is none of your business, you shouldnt be worring about why or how. Just let the family know you are in there thoughts and prayers.

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    1. Thank you as that has always been my goal. The people making the sarcastic remarks are part of the "pushback" being lead by people like that former ignorant mayor. My guess is the negative comments are from the bigots who feel mentally ill people should be placed in prisons and forgotten about. Again thank you.

      George

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  6. People need to take responsibility for their own personal family issues, instead of blaming leaders of the town of AL. I have grown up here my entire life and came from a big family, with no mental illness to speak of. Bullying needs to be address in the school systems and written policies need to be drafted. I don't know this family's personal issues but I'm sure if the mother stated her daughter had this mental illness, it was already handled by professionals with that family. As far as drugs and alcohol, yes there are those peole in every community and in every state. Just be on top of what your children are involved in, which also includes the nuts on the web. I also see fathers wanting to get custody of their children, but they sit in bars most of the time getting DRUNK themselves. Great image for their children! All's I'm saying is take responsibility for your own families.

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  10. Knowledge is power when it comes to saving lives; an educational program on suicide may be very helpful

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  11. People should be more aware of mental health problems. Most of them are turning head in other directions, and discrimination is present too.

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