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Candles light way for suicide prevention

Hood River mother brings urgent message

When a family loses a relative to suicide, the survivors bear an especially painful grief.

Susan Gabay of Hood River wants to make sure other families have the resources they need to prevent that experience, and to connect to others if the tragedy should occur.

On Sept. 10, families are encouraged to light a candle near a window in honor of World Suicide Prevention Day. But Gabay hopes for even more than the ceremonial remembrance.

Working to bring suicide awareness and prevention to families in the Gorge, Gabay is striving to remove the shroud of silence and shame from the dialogue about suicide.

“I feel compelled to do something,” said Gabay, who lost her daughter Susanna, a 2007 Hood River Valley High School grad, just two years ago. “If I can get someone to pay attention to a loved one in trouble maybe they can make a difference.

“I believe that the more someone is willing to talk about this, the more others will share their own experiences; not live in isolation.”

And, based on the data, there are a lot of people who have something to share regarding suicide.

According to the World Health Organization, one in six people have been affected by suicide, and each year around 1 million people worldwide die by suicide. In 2010, fatality statistics for Oregon list 678 deaths by suicide in the state for that year.

“We are finally beginning to get some media attention on the issue with the rise in military suicides,” said Gabay. “I believe we need to be encouraging people to seek help and reducing the stigma tied to talking about suicidal feelings or suicide, and mental illness.”

Gabay acknowledges that she did not have the information she needed to recognize the suicide risks her daughter faced alone. Becoming part of local prevention efforts is now a vital part of her hopes for the future.

“I really want to focus people on the help available here through the Mid-Columbia Center for Living,” said Gabay, “and all the mental health help out there. We have counselors at the high school; the hospital. There are many people who can help.”

According to Joella Dethman, director of the Hood River County Commission on Children and Families, the entire staff of HRVHS has been trained in a prevention program entitled RESPONSE. This training provides tools to anyone who suspects an individual is suicidal to intervene and get them to a skilled professional.

“I also want people to understand that this happens to good people, good kids. It’s not just about the high-profile media cases of stars and drug overdoses. This happens to regular people, who are having mental health struggles in regular families.”

Ongoing prevention training called QPR is being offered free of charge through HRCCF grant funds to any group or organization that requests it. Q stands for “question”; P stands for “persuade”; R stands for “refer.” The course provides simple guidance on how to assist the suicidal individual to access expert help.

The training lasts two hours. The course is offered in Spanish (through The Next Door Inc.) and in English, taught by Mike Mueller of Immanuel Lutheran Church. Interested persons may contact HRCCF or either of the providers.

Gabay recognizes that suicide is a subject that many caring people do not know how to address. To guide affected families who may need information, or helpers working with survivors, Gabay is now preparing an information packet that can be given to families during a crisis.

“I can hand-deliver it or mail it at whatever point the family decides they’d like to have the resources,” said Gabay. “People need to have help without being judged.”

To obtain more information on Gabay’s suicide resource packets individuals may contact her at 541-478-3576.

Gabay also notes that she has helped to facilitate an annual suicide survivors’ conference co-sponsored by the Hood River County Commission on Children and Families abd YOUTHTHINK of The Dalles.

The free event will be held this year on Nov. 17, 10 a.m. to noon, in the Columbia Gorge Community College board room, 400 E. Scenic Drive, The Dalles. Pre-registration is requested by emailing Debbyj@co.wasco.or.us or calling 541-506-2673. This is exclusively for those families who have already experienced a suicide.

More information on World Suicide Prevention Day may be found at iasp.info/wspd.

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