Events designed to help people understand suicide

Herald Staff Writer

JASPER — As groups across the country recognize this week as the 36th annual National Suicide Prevention Week, local suicide prevention experts are reflecting on the progress the community has made in the last two decades when it comes to suicide prevention.

Meanwhile, this week’s suicide prevention activities have included the distribution of candles at Trinity United Church of Christ Tuesday in memory of people who have died by suicide, and the fifth annual Suicide Prevention Walk planned for Saturday morning. The roughly one-mile walk, which starts at the back parking lot of the Jasper 8 Theatres, will begin at 9 a.m.; the cost is $15 for people who register before Saturday and $20 for those who sign up on the day of the event.

“Our overall goal is to raise awareness and (educate people) about suicide,” prevention walk organizer Marilyn Pitzulo, director of family health services for Tri-Cap, said of the walk. “We try and fill our goody bags — each participant gets a goody bag — with some funs things but then also some educational things, resources available in our community.”

The walk is just one of the many efforts made over the years to get the community talking about suicide — once an almost-taboo topic in the community, experts have said — and to teach people how suicide can be prevented. Statistics show it’s working, officials say. Dubois County once had one of the highest suicide rates in the state, said Janet Schnell, the founder of support group Survivors of Suicide. Now, other counties and state officials are mimicking some of the programs that Dubois County has implemented to lower its suicide rate.

“But you still come back to, ‘One suicide is too many,’” Schnell notes.

So far this year, four people in Dubois County have died by suicide, according to Dubois County Health Department Director Donna Oeding. In 2009, five people died by suicide in Dubois County, as did a Dubois County teen who died in Pike County and was not included with the county numbers. In 2006, 2007 and 2008, there were three suicides each year. 

In the early 1980s, Dubois County saw a spike in the number of suicides within the county, local suicide prevention advocate Jane Chappell said. Thirteen people died by suicide in 1997. At the time, experts would talk to community members about suicide prevention, but the county did not start dealing with the problem itself until the early 1990s, when it saw an increase in suicides among teenagers.

“Twenty years ago, they weren’t having walks,” Schnell said. “Twenty years ago, they weren’t talking about suicide.”

Since then, local suicide prevention groups have implemented “a tremendous amount of programs” throughout the county to help prevent suicide, especially within the schools, Chappell said. Educators, students and business leaders have been trained in the Question, Persuade and Refer suicide prevention method. Churches have also implemented new programs to address the suicide issue, Chappell said.

Most importantly, suicide has become something that more people are willing to talk about openly.
“I think that’s our power,” Schnell said. “One of the things that we have done really well in Dubois County is that we as a community have joined together, have gotten informed, have gotten educated so that we can stay in the community and keep providing services.”

Help for anyone feeling depressed or suicidal is available by calling 800-SUICIDE.

Contact Kasey Hawrysz at

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