Fighting her addiction to marijuana at 14, becoming...

October 20, 1991|By Cindy Parr | Cindy Parr,Contributing writer

Fighting her addiction to marijuana at 14, becoming bulimic at 18, then pregnant at 19, Mary just didn't see any other way out.

Beforeshe had turned 20, Mary had attempted suicide three times.

"I just didn't feel like I had any other options," said the 33-year-old county resident. "I didn't want to go on with the situation that I was in at the time."

When she was 10, Mary, whose real name is being withheld to protect her privacy, swallowed a bottle of aspirin after an argument with her parents. She doesn't consider that a suicide attempt, but a plea for attention.

"I can't even remember what the argument was about. Nothing happened, I never went to the hospital, but I did get sick," she said.

Three times she tried to overdose by injecting large amounts of her father's insulin into her veins.

"The last three attempts were deliberate. I knew I wanted to die," she recalled. "In each situation, I felt like I wasn't in control.I couldn't stop smoking marijuana, I couldn't deal with the bulimia and I couldn't decide whether to have the baby or have an abortion."

With the strong support of her family and about 10 years off and on of therapy, Mary says she is happy and glad to be alive.

"Death should never be a choice," she said. "I have come a long way, and I attribute that to my family. They always offered me their help and never shamed or demoralized me for what I did.

"I am glad that I did not complete my attempts. I am very happy; I have a family, a home and a career in nursing, which allows me to help save the lives of others."

As a nurse, Mary said she's interested in helping others who are thinking about suicide and in educating their families.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer last month declared October as Youth Suicide Prevention Month in Maryland.

Francis Scott Key High School teacherBill Hyson has taught students for seven years that suicide is not the solution to day-to-day teen pressures.

"We let students know that we all go through depression and there are ways to cope," said Hyson, a health and physical education instructor.

"We try to sensitize the students to the warning signals, not only for themselves, but for their classmates. What's more important is that they know they are not alone; there is a support system for them. All they have to do is tap into it through a trusted adult."

A drop in a student's grades, deep depression at the loss of a friend or loved one, a sudden move to give belongings away for no apparent reason or a feeling of euphoria after depression are warning signals that might indicate a teen is contemplating suicide, Hyson said.

Groups such as Carroll's Youth Services Bureau offer counseling and support and identify at-risk teens through referrals from the schools, Juvenile Services and parents.

"We question their thoughts on suicide," said Kathleen Burrows, the bureau's assistant director. "Maybe they have been thinking about it, or maybe they even have a plan.

"We try to assess their risk by asking these questions," she said. "We see what type of support system they have and if there is anyone they can talk to.

"If there is no support, they are more at risk," Burrows said. "So we give them something to focus on, like where they see themselves in the future. We take them seriously and maintain frequent contact."

Hyson said through his health course, taught predominantly to ninth-graders, he has found that there are problems that might not be deemed serious by an adult that can be devastating to a teen.

"One real problem is peer pressure, the need to fit in with an acceptable group," he said. "We, as adults, know that it is OK to be yourself. But, to a 15- or 16-year-old kid, just being yourself is not always viewed as a viable solution."

Ann Hepding of Westminster started the county chapter of Seasons, a support group for survivors of suicide, in 1989. In March 1987, her son, Steven, 26, committed suicide after being distraught over a girlfriend.

Hepding said a number of factors could lead teens to contemplate suicide.

"A general picture is usually a child that comes from a broken home and is having problems in that home and/or at school," she said.

"A teen who has been contemplatingsuicide will attempt it more easily under the influence of drugs or alcohol," Hepding said.

In Carroll, the number of teen suicides has been relatively low, said Howard Held, director of the Carroll County Mental Health Bureau. But the number of suicide deaths does not reflect accurately the much higher number of teens attempting suicide, he said.

For example, a teen might slit his or her wrists, then seek medical treatment, Held said.

"If the teen-ager sees a doctor, there is no way we can get that information from the doctor because of confidentiality," Held said. "And, in an emergency room, most of the time the reason for visit is logged in as lacerated wrists, not a suicide attempt.

"That's the problem we have as professionals: How do we get an accurate count on attempted suicides?"

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