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Silent Struggle: Suicide survivors share how they are coping with the pandemic, where you can get help

Published: Nov. 17, 2020 at 6:28 PM EST
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ST. JOSEPH/ELKHART COUNTIES, Ind. (WNDU) - If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, you can reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. It provides free, 24-hour support. The number is 1-800-273-TALK. You can also visit the website.

In one way or another, the pandemic is affecting everyone. But for some people, it’s not obvious the toll it’s taking from the outside.

“I think a lot of people are in my boat because they don’t realize they actually have a mental illness,” said Jennifer Martin, of South Bend.

For Martin, the pain of losing her mother - her rock and confidant - to cancer almost 20 years ago triggered multiple suicide attempts when she moved to Indiana from Missouri.

“I think the first time – I don’t think I really wanted to hurt myself - I think it was more of attention. But I was crying out for help,” she said.

Gregg Schimmel tells 16 News Now he’s attempted suicide several times since being diagnosed with major depression in 1998.

“People think it was for attention, but no, I was literally trying to put an end to it,” he said. “I’m always thinking about it, but just, you know, I just don’t follow through anymore.”

When the pandemic started, Schimmel said his depression didn’t change, but forced routine changes affected Martin.

“I mean, I started getting really low again. And I admit, I did think of [suicide],” explained Martin, “because the longer I was staying in the house, the more I was getting isolated, and it was affecting me really, really bad.”

The latest CDC numbers show suicide is the second-leading cause of death for people between the ages of 10 and 34. It’s the fourth-leading cause of death for the 35 to 54 age group.

During the pandemic, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline tells 16 News Now that more people have called their hotline this summer: a 4 percent increase in June; up 6 percent in July; and a 4 percent jump in August compared to the same months in 2019.

“What we’re finding is that people are telling us, they’re experiencing thoughts of self-harm, or thoughts are killing themselves several times a week. That is astonishing,” expressed Debbie Plotnick, Vice President for State and Federal Advocacy at Mental Health America (MHA).

From January to September of this year, Plotnick said more people are taking mental health tests on the MHA website when stacked against each of the last six years, adding two-thirds of respondents are under age 24.

“These are things that are all in this confluence of more people feeling more stress, more people admitting they’re feeling stress, more people saying they’re thinking of self-harm, or suicide. And the fact that there’s more lethal means around than usual,” she said.

From January to October, just over 18.5 million guns were sold in the U.S., beating the total for all of 2016 – the previous annual high, reports Small Arms Analytics & Forecasting.

Plotnick says this is why firearms need to be safely stored.

“So that if another member of your family, like your kids, or your grandkids, that that the means are not available,” she said.

During the pandemic and before it hit, the Clubhouses of Saint Joseph County and Elkhart have been a refuge for people like Gregg Schimmel and Jennifer Martin, who’ve been able to meet others living with mental illness.

“They come in and feel like, ‘Hey, I have something. I’m needed, I’m wanted, ’which is really important to people,” said Mark Buchanan, Executive Director of the Clubhouse of St. Joseph County.

“The Clubhouse has helped me a lot, a lot, a lot. And, like I said, it keeps me from isolating and stuff like that. And I be around people that, you know, have mental illnesses. And so if they help me, I help them, too,” Jennifer said.

Helping others is why Jennifer and Gregg want to be open about their struggles with suicide.

“Because if you can get through this you can pretty much tackle anything,” said Gregg. “It’s said that we’re all here for a specific reason, and we have to find our quote unquote, calling.”

Jennifer also maintains hope after everything she has gone through the last 20 years.

“I think life is a miracle. I think life is something special. And even though you’re low and don’t have the courage to seek help, there is help out there. I mean, you can be your lowest but you there’s always help out there to help you,” Jennifer said.

Click here to visit the Mental Health America website.

If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, you can reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. It provides free, 24-hour support. The number is 1-800-273-TALK. You can also visit the website.

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