Raising Awareness About Suicide Prevention

By Brenda Flanagan

“His last words to me were, ‘Mom, I love you.'”

Tricia Baker picks up a pair of shoes from the line. These belonged to her son, Kenny, who suffered from depression and ended his life — age 19.

“It’s been over five years and I still miss him every single day,” she said.

After Kenny’s death, the Bakers helped create an exhibit called “In Their Shoes.” It encourages people to speak up.

The pairs of shoes represent 243 New Jersey youths who suicided between 2010 and 2012.

“It was really a surprise,” said Nick Clements.

Clements’ brother killed himself. Nick says people need to talk.

“And my family knew really nothing about any depression symptoms — nothing. We thought he was 100 percent fine leading up to it,” he said.

Nationwide, more than 39,000 people killed themselves in 2011 — up from around 37,000 two years before. New Jersey saw almost 680 suicides in 2011 — compared to 650 in ’09.

A little pair of shoes represents a 10-year-old boy who killed himself. In fact 81 percent of the shoes represents boys. Studies show while more girls try suicide, it’s the boys who actually do it.

“Me and my friends, we would kind of hold things back,” said Joseph Witte.

Witte’s 29. A decade ago, he considered suicide, but called a friend.

“The one friend who I initially talked to — saying I was attempting — made sure to stop by and talk to me so I had plenty of people who were telling me they cared,” he said.

New Jersey offers suicide prevention hotlines and treatment programs. But one advocate says the state needs a website to coordinate everything.

“It’s complicated. I’ve had people that work for the state of New Jersey call me and ask me where can I go to get access,” said Scott Fritz, co-founder of the New Jersey Society for Prevention of Teen Suicide.

One major development hailed by suicide prevention advocates: safety nets now planned for the Golden Gate and the George Washington Bridges. Stats show the GWB’s a focal point for suicide: 18 in 2012, plus 43 attempts. Thirteen suicides and 49 attempts so far this year.

Kevin Hines jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge.

“When I threw myself over the rail, it was instantaneous regret. This is extremely common with people who attempt to take their lives and live,” he said.

That he lived, he calls a miracle. His message: “Suicide doesn’t have to be the only option. That at every dark and dismal tunnel there is light at the end. You just have to keep going to find it.”

He thinks the safety nets will save lives, but should’ve been built sooner.

Related: Suicide Prevention Programs