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LOCAL VOICES: A mother’s crusade against suicide

A mother's poignant words recount her son’s suicide and why an annual commemoration to him through ‘Kevin’s Cause,’ remains an enduring crusade By WANDA JACKSON As a survivor of a suicide loss, I founded “Kevin's Cause,” a

A mother’s poignant words recount her son’s suicide and why an annual commemoration to him through ‘Kevin’s Cause,’ remains an enduring crusade

By WANDA JACKSON

As a survivor of a suicide loss, I founded “Kevin’s Cause,” a suicide prevention nonprofit organization, on March 4, 2010, in Carson, Calif., because I didn’t want to see others become victims of suicide, nor did I want to see the lives of their loved one’s shattered like mine.

Anthony and Wanda Jackson. Courtesy Wanda Jackson

Anthony and Wanda Jackson. Courtesy Wanda Jackson

I was blessed to have a family, friends, and members of the community to help me make “Kevin’s Cause” what it is today. Our mission is to save lives by educating the community — both professional and lay people — on how to recognize a crisis and refer appropriately for help. The target audience is varied and includes parents, friends, neighbors, teachers, ministers, doctors, nurses, students, colleges, office supervisors, squad leaders, foremen, police officers, advisors, caseworkers, firefighters, and others strategically positioned to recognize and refer someone at risk of suicide.

We provide educational programs, as well as professional resources to those who have attempted or lost someone to suicide, and we share information and guidance for loved ones. We are in the working stages of providing suicide-prevention training for professional organizations, groups, colleges and high schools, or businesses seeking these skills. I am very proud that the City of Carson proclaimed Sept.12 as “Kevin’s Cause Day.” We also received proclamations from the city, and the City of Compton, as well proclaiming the month of September Suicide Prevention Awareness month. “Kevin’s Cause” also has received various plaques and certificates.

Kevin Jackson. Courtesy Wanda Jackson

Kevin Jackson. Courtesy Wanda Jackson

I am a certified Question, Persuade and Refer instructor (QPR) with a mission to reduce suicidal behavior and save lives by providing innovative, practical and proven suicide prevention training. The signs of crises are all around us. We believe quality education empowers all people, regardless of their background, to make a positive difference in the life of someone they know. I have taken numerous suicide prevention classes as well. I am not a professional, however, it does not take a professional to save lives.

My husband, Anthony and I lost our youngest of two children and only son, Kevin to suicide on Tuesday morning, Aug. 26, 2008.  I will never forget that morning after finding my son dead. My life suddenly became a living nightmare. ­The excruciating pain and devastation of finding him were extremely overwhelming. I was in shock, felt numb, confused, in denial, and disbelief. Unless you’ve walked in my shoes, you can never know the pain, emptiness, and heartbreak I feel from losing a child. It doesn’t matter if your child is a baby, a teen or an adult; to lose a child is the worst thing a parent can live through. But for me, there’s also another “worst” — to lose a child by suicide. Losing a child by suicide is traumatic and surreal.

As a survivor of a suicide loss, I feel a strong obligation to let my voice be heard in protest of the many thousands of lives lost in this country and around the world to suicide.

I am a strong advocate for “Kevin’s Cause,” in loving memory of my son Kevin. I will forever miss my son’s laughter and his “contagious” smile that still warms my heart today. Kevin was handsome, smart and there was a time when he was happy and funny. He loved his family and we loved and still love him dearly. Kevin has two beautiful children, who my husband and I are raising. He has a sister, nephew, and a host of relatives and friends who love and miss him as much as we do. I know that if love could have kept my son alive he would still be here today because all that love could do was done.

But, I didn’t know that a year and a half before Kevin’s death, he would be jumped on, placed into ICU with a traumatic brain injury, (TBI).  I didn’t know that more than half of all people who suffers TBI’s will become depressed a year after their injury and experience thoughts of death. Nor I did I know that the leading cause of suicide is undiagnosed and untreated depression.

I didn’t know the warning signs of depression or suicide. Had I known, perhaps I could have saved my son’s life. I will never know the answer, but I do know there is nothing I can ever do to change the outcome of that day my son ended his life. I can, however, help prevent this tragedy from happening to others through education and awareness in loving memory of my son. My son, who we nurtured from a baby, encouraged, supported, and loved unconditionally, ended his precious life at the age of 30.

I truly do not want my son to be remembered by how he died. Kevin left us so many beautiful memories that we will treasure a lifetime. We will never stop grieving our son’s death because true love never dies.

Suicide is a cry for help, the cause of extreme, overwhelming emotional pain, hopelessness, and is the end result of a severe, horrible and debilitating mental disorder. The emotional suffering is what pushes people to the edge. They feel that they are living in a very dark bubble with no way out; no hope at all. People that take their own lives do not really want to die; they want to stop their pain — which could be real or imaginary, but for the loved one it is real. Sadly, our loved ones found life too complex and painful to continue living, and the only way to end this pain was to end their precious life.

When a survivor loses someone to suicide we can feel that their death should not have taken place when it did. Suicide is a death where you may feel you were cheated in a way that is somehow different from an illness like cancer or a car accident. However, that is part of the problem. We have become a society that overlooks mental health as an actual illness. We place stigma and judgment on the subject, especially when it leads to suicide. Why? Because we take the position that the person made a choice to do this. A conscious, healthy, regular frame of mind choice to end their life, and that could not be further from the truth.

In summary, suicide is a serious public health problem that causes immeasurable pain, suffering, and loss to individuals, families, and communities nationwide. The causes of suicide are complex and determined by multiple combinations of factors, such as mental illness, substance abuse, painful losses, exposure to violence, and social isolation. Suicide prevention efforts seek to:

  • Reduce factors that increase the risk for suicidal thoughts and behaviors
  • Increase the factors that help strengthen, support, and protect individuals from suicide

Ideally, these efforts address individual, relationship, community, and societal factors while promoting hope, easing access to effective treatment, encouraging connectedness, and supporting recovery.

Suicide is a hidden crisis and a taboo subject among many cultures. Suicide occurs across all economic, ethnic, social, and age boundaries.

Over 42,000 people in the United States die from suicide annually or 1 person every 12.3 minutes. This exceeds the rate of death from homicide and AIDS combined. More people die by suicide than from automobile accidents. According to medical research, more than 60 percent of us will lose someone we know to suicide during the course of our lifetime, and more than 20 percent of us will lose a family member. Suicide does not discriminate; it occurs across all economic, ethnic, social, and age boundaries.

Ninety percent of people who die by suicide have a diagnosable mental disorder at the time of their deaths. Most commonly, a depressive disorder or a substance abuse disorder. It’s important to note that most people who actively manage their mental health conditions lead fulfilling lives.

The first step in preventing this tragedy is learning and recognizing the warning signs and risk factors. Here are some signs to look out for in a suicidal individual’s conversation:

  • Being a burden to others
  • Feeling trapped
  • Experiencing unbearable pain
  • Having no reason to live
  • Killing themselves

Specific things to look out for include:

  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs
  • Looking for a way to kill themselves such as searching online for materials or means
  • Acting recklessly
  • Withdrawing from activities
  • Isolation from family and friends

Persons considering suicide often display one or more of the following moods:

  • Depression
  • Loss of interest
  • Rage
  • Irritability
  • Humiliation
  • Anxiety

Remember, no one can fix another person’s problems; you’re there to help offer support and hope, and ensure they can make it through another day. Also, they will need more help than you alone can provide. You are not trying to be their psychiatrist, but you can be a bridge of hope to helping them get the help they need, because, too often, someone who is suicidal is either not accessing any kind of professional care or they don’t think they need it.

If you think someone is suicidal, please don’t leave them alone. Stay with them or find someone else reliable to stay with them. Don’t be afraid to ask the question.  In some cases, someone who is actively suicidal or thinking about it may already have a plan. If someone appears to be in imminent danger, call 911 or take them to the nearest emergency room. If you are unsure what to do, please call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), and you will reach a trained counselor at the crisis center in your area, and they are there 24-7.

You can do this. You can help save a life today by talking to someone about suicide. Together we can make a difference!

For information on donating to “Kevin’s Cause” or for more information regarding mental health and suicide, please visit our website at www.kevinscause.org.

Compton Herald is a digital news publication providing clear, fair and current news, information and commentary about Compton, the Los Angeles metropolitan area, Los Angeles County, California, and the world.

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