BY TOM BUSSELBERG
SYRACUSE — Abigail would’ve been anticipating her graduation from high school this spring.
But graduation day will never come for Abigal because she took her life four years ago, just three months shy of her 14th birthday.
“She was a beautiful child” her mother, Hartina Martinez said. “She was a poet, had completed two novels.”
Martinez spoke to about 300 parents, students and leaders from various community groups who met in a suicide awareness/prevention seminar at Syracuse High School on Saturday.
It wasn’t bullying that caused Abigail, to end her life. Rather, her mother said, it was severe depression.
“Had I or her father had the tools, we would’ve had a chance” to prevent our daughter’s suicide, Martinez said.
“I don’t think anybody should have to carry this pain,” she said, emphasizing that a suicide impacts many people.
“My daughter asked me, ‘Are you going to leave?’” as her older sister did.
Martinez found a woman who had suffered the loss of a loved one through suicide how to cope and prevent her daughter’s death from destroying her.
“All of us have a backpack,” she said. “You learn to carry it with you, let it overwhelm you. Then you put it away, and carry on.”
Keynote speaker Provo School District Associate Superintendent Greg Hudnall remembers well his first direct encounter with suicide.
Then a school principal, he got a call in the middle of the night from the police department.
“I felt so inadequate,” he said of the incident. He knew both the young man and his family.
“I threw up and sobbed for 20 minutes,” Hudnall said.
“From 1995 to 2005 we had two to three suicides per year in Provo School District,” he said. Someone as young as a fourth grader hanged himself at school in one incident.
Hudnall decided awareness about suicide had to be created in the district and that suicide could be prevented.
That has led to what is now a broad-based suicide prevention team that includes a wide spectrum of agencies, a speaker’s bureau, and creation of HOPE squads in every district school.
Those squads are made up of students trained to be alert to signs of suicide exhibited by fellow students. Those students help their peers get necessary support, and they report suicidal behavior to counselors, the principal, etc. They dress in yellow.
Similar squads are being organized in Davis County high schools, and they will also wear yellow.
Syracuse and Woods Cross High Schools are among Davis County schools setting up squads.
Fourteen confirmed suicides have taken place in Syracuse in the recent past, and a Clearfield High student took his life only months ago.
“I want you to live, I care about you” said Kristy Jones, Intermountain Healthcare McKay-Dee Hospital community projects coordinator. “I care about you too much to keep this (suicide plan) a secret. We’re going to be there to help.”
That team of helpers can include school teachers, principals, counselors, religious leaders, community and business leaders and others, she said.
All Davis School District employees have been trained in suicide prevention.
Hudnall said in Moab, 13 high school students recently signed a suicide pact. Five died before authorities could intervene. In Helper, near Price, he said there has been an average of one suicide per week.
Knowing how to prevent suicide is as important as knowing CPR, said Dr. Diana Abel, Weber State University Counseling & Psychological Services Center director.
“Any of us could save a life,” she said.
The acronym QPR was presented as an easy way to think about preventing suicide. It stands for question, persuade and refer.
More than 34,000 suicides occur each year nationally, one every 15 minutes, she said. Utah ranks 11th in the rate of suicide in the U.S.
Sixty percent of suicide attempts are by women but only 20 percent of those are successful. The difference comes because men tend to use more lethal means, such as firearms, Abel said.
“Suicide cuts across all groups,” she said.
In the U.S., Caucasians commit suicide the most often.
Sexual orientation and perceived or real lack of acceptance by others causes an estimated half of LGBT people to consider suicide. Among high school students who identify as being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer, 30 to 40 percent have made suicide attempts.
In 2011, 30 confirmed suicides occurred in Davis County and 400 in the state, Abel said, noting suicide is the eighth highest cause of death in Utah.
“It takes a village” to successfully tackle this problem, said Syracuse Mayor Jamie Nagle.
Suicide prevention help lines are 1-800-273-TALK (273-8255) or 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433).
Read the perspective of Bountiful Police Chief Tom Ross on suicide by clicking here.