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Suicide: Breaking the Silence, Part 1 - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Suicide: Breaking the Silence, Part 1

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NEWPORT, Vt. -

Every 13 minutes someone takes their own life in this country.

"Gage shot himself... It was a moment I can't describe," said Mary Butler, Gage's stepmother.

In Vermont, suicide is the second leading cause of death for people between the ages of 10 and 24, statistics a group of Newport moms know all too well.

"We all have something in common. We lost the most precious thing you could lose... is a child and it doesn't matter how old they are. My son was 34," Betty Barrett said.

Barrett's son, Michael, hanged himself in 2004.

"I didn't know how to deal with it," she said. "This was my son. This isn't the normal. The parent goes before the child."

For the loved ones left behind the pain can be unbearable.

"Our family is never going to be the same," Amanda Chaput said. "We have a hole that will never be filled."

Chaput's younger brother took his life last March. Shawn battled depression, but suicide is not something his family ever saw coming.

"Did I think he would kill himself? No," she said. "Just before he shot himself he had called 911 because he did not want any of us to find him."

"We need to convince everybody in this state that this is a huge public health problem," said Charlie Biss, who heads the child, adolescent and family unit at the Vt. Department of Mental Health.

Biss says 1057 Vermonters have died by suicide since 2001, averaging about 80 suicides per year.

Vermont males kill themselves at a rate four times that of females, 81 percent versus 19 percent.

More Vermont men die by gun than any other method-- 63 percent-- whereas females tend to take their lives through intoxication-- 44 percent.

Men and women 40-59 have the highest suicide rates in the Green Mountains.

"When I say it's a complex public health problem it's not just the people who are dying, it's all the people who are thinking at some point in their life about this," Biss said.

Biss says 1 in 5 Vermont kids say they've contemplated suicide. Michael's mom knows firsthand about the hopelessness and isolation that accompanies these suicidal thoughts.

"I am a suicide attempt survivor myself," Barrett said. "You're in an emotional pain that turns physical."

Health officials say other warning signs include:

  • Talking about death, dying or suicide
  • Seeking access to guns, medications or poisons
  • Dramatic mood swings
  • Feeling trapped
  • Withdrawing from life
  • Increased substance abuse

So how can you help?

"Sometimes when you know your child is having problems you go between feeling like you're prying to feeling like I just want you to keep talking to me," Butler said.

Health officials say taking the time to talk and listen can save lives.

"That's the part that we usually feel least comfortable with and yet it probably really opens the door for people who are contemplating suicide," Biss said.

"For me, anybody I can help is honoring my brother," Chaput said.

Eliminating the shame, putting faces to suicide and bringing their stories out of the darkness.

Related Story:

Suicide: Breaking the Silence, Part 2

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