The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

State, national, world

November 17, 2013

State attacking suicide: Rates are increasing for both Oklahoma and the nation

The aftermath of a suicide is an endless tunnel — of pain, regrets and questions.

Could something have been done to stop him? Why did she do it? What warning signs were there?

The act of taking one’s life leaves no easy answers for those left behind.

“The majority of people who are survivors spend the rest of their lives not talking about this and suffering in silence,” said Mike Brose, executive director of Mental Health Association in Tulsa, which soon will rename itself with the word “Oklahoma.” “You don’t necessarily get over it, but you can get better.”

Oklahoma has a suicide rate that’s above the national average and was 12th highest among all states and the District of Columbia in 2010, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Both Oklahoma’s and the nation’s rates are increasing. The state’s suicide rate rose by 13 percent from 2000 to 2010, according to the CDC. And now, partly because of a rise in suicides among baby boomers, suicide is one of the leading causes of death among nearly all age groups.

More funding for programs and better understanding of mental illness are crucial,  Brose said. But his association also is mounting an effort to give people the basic skills for how to recognize and respond to a relative, friend or other person who may be suicidal.

The approach is called QPR — “Question, Persuade and Refer,” and the hope is for it to become as widely accepted as CPR.

QPR training outlines ways to persuade individuals to seek help and provides resources for referral.

 “It’s an attempt at getting people much more comfortable than they typically are around this issue,” Brose said. “I’ve heard it over and over again from survivors, ‘I didn’t know what to say.’”

Brose’s organization in Tulsa also is expanding beyond the city, filling gaps created by the Oct. 31 closing of the Mental Health Association of Central Oklahoma in Oklahoma City.

The organization is changing its name to reflect the broader mission and will take over at least two programs the Oklahoma City group had provided. One provides free mental health services to low-income people and a second screens teenagers for mental health issues.

In the meantime, the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services is developing its own suicide prevention plan, using $500,000 in state funding in addition to federal grants.

A boy’s death

Nearly a decade after her teenage son killed himself, Michele Magalassi, of Owasso, painfully recalls Brandon’s behavior in the weeks before his death.

His birthday was approaching, and birthdays in the family were big events. This time, Brandon, then 14, was not interested in planning anything.

“He was tired all the time, withdrawn from the family. He was just not engaged,” Magalassi said. “Had I known more about depression, I would probably have asked more questions … We just had no idea that he was that volatile.”

In May 2004, Brandon, a popular honors student and football player, got into some trouble at school, along with others, for writing in a student’s yearbook. His father, Billy Magalassi, picked him up, took him home and returned to work. Brandon’s brother Justin was home, but left to go to the school field house.

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