Survivor shares life-saving message for anyone considering suicide

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Suicide is a major public health concern in our country.

In 2017, the U.S. saw more than twice as many suicides as homicides, and it is the second-leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 34.

Whitney Downing says she nearly added to those statistics.

"I first started self harming as a teenager, and I was very silent about it," she said.

Whitney, now 23, is on the autism spectrum, and was diagnosed with major depressive disorder.

"Emotionally, I felt out of control. When I was cutting myself, I felt like I could control my pain," she said.

Licensed psychologist Mary Wilson, PhD, with Stormont Vail Behavioral Health in Topeka, says to truly help loved ones, we need to get past the stigma of suicide, and ask blunt questions.

"It's a mental health symptom that we need to treat," Wilson said. "Sometimes it's easier to start by saying, 'Have you ever wished that you were dead? Have you ever wished you could go to sleep and not wake up?' By putting words to probably some deep pain and some feelings they're having inside, it creates an atmosphere where people can answer that question honestly."

Clues you need to ask a loved one those questions include: a person feels hopeless; mood changes, irritability or anger; changing activities and losing interest in things they enjoyed; and any stresses like bullying, school trouble or - for adults - legal or financial problems.

If your loved one admits to thoughts of suicide, take action.

"If they actually have a plan, then it's important not to leave them alone. They need support and help," Wilson said.

Whitney's turning point came last year, when she heard Kevin Hines speak in Topeka, about surviving an attempt to take his life by jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge.

"I made a promise the first time I heard him speak, and that promise was to always be here tomorrow," she said.

A tattoo now covers her scars, replacing physical reminders with positive messages. She also has a safety plan, which includes who to call and what to do, and positive reminders for herself.

Whitney now takes classes at Washburn, and works with the Topeka Police Department's crisis intervention team on responding to people with mental health issues.

She and her sister also are planning a suicide prevention conference for youth to take place next July, with Kevin Hines expected to speak.

"It's okay to talk about your pain. Your thoughts don't have to become your actions," she said.

If you or a loved one is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255. It is a free service for people to use.

In Shawnee County, Wilson said Valeo Behavioral Health offers crisis services for adults, while Family Service and Guidance Center offers services for children.

Info from Valeo Behavioral Health:

Valeo’s Crisis Center, 400 SW Oakley, Topeka, is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Anyone age 18 and over who is experiencing a crisis can walk in anytime day or night to meet with a crisis clinician. Crisis Clinicians can provide crisis counseling, assess the need for additional support services, assist in facilitating psychiatric hospitalization, and screen for state hospitalization.

Information from Family Service and Guidance Center:

Crisis Services available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year (all ages). FSGC's crisis services assist families with emergencies related to mental health issues. The crisis team can help with threats to harm one's self or others, dealing with extreme behavior and significant parent/child conflict.

For information on the Shawnee Co. Suicide Prevention Coalition, click here.