Her pain pushes her to prevent suicides

Published September 13, 2007

In 2002, Bonnie McClelland's only son, Timothy, died by suicide.

In the months that followed, two of his friends also died by suicide and Bonnie lost her last surviving parent.

By the end of the year, with the merriment of the holidays mixing with the sorrow of her losses, she had her own bout with depression and suicidal thoughts.

"I know how it feels to stand right on the edge," says McClelland, director of the Suncoast Yellow Ribbon Suicide Prevention Program. "I don't know why I'm still here, but I am and I don't have suicide thoughts any more."

Still, the pain of losing Timothy never goes away. Even now, she wears headphones when she shops during November and December to muffle the holiday music.

Of course, not all reminders can be muffled. McClelland has spent this week reading about the suicide of St. Petersburg City Council member John Bryan. Each article and report brings home the pain of her own loss.

Monday marked the beginning of National Suicide Prevention Week, and with the attention the media have given to Bryan's death, McClelland says it's important to send a warning to others.

"I think the encouragement I would give those people is that suicide is not an answer," McClelland says. "It leaves behind more pain (than you take with you). People out there who can help you are just a phone call away."

McClelland cites two specific numbers people in crisis can call toll-free: 1-800-784-2433, or 1-800-SUICIDE (the National Suicide Prevention Hotline); or 1-800-273-8255, or 1-800-273-TALK (the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline). Both lines rout callers to mental health providers in the area.

McClelland stresses that the numbers are not just for folks with suicidal thoughts, but people who fear relatives or friends are pondering suicide.

"You can talk to someone on the other end that can help you," McClelland explains. "There's a window where it's most dangerous (for people having thoughts of suicide) and if you can get them past that, they're okay.

"The biggest problem is that we're so uneducated about the warning signs and risk factors."

Depression is a major risk factor. According to the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention, signs of depression include unrelenting low mood, pessimism, hopelessness, desperation, anxiety, withdrawal and sleep problems.

Other signs of suicidal thoughts are taking unnecessary risks, giving away prized possessions and threatening suicide or expressing a wish to die.

Giving the prevalence of the Bryan stories, it's even more important to raise awareness this week. A collaborative report headed up by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says intense media coverage of a suicide can result in an increase.

The CDC's latest report indicates suicides for 10- to 24-year-olds increased by 8 percent between 2003 and 2004 - the largest single-year rise in 15 years.

All the facts, as well as her personal pain, motivate McClelland.

"I don't want anyone to open their child's bedroom and see what I saw," McClelland says. "I don't want to see another child die needlessly and this is a needless death. Depression is manageable."