According to the Florida Department of Health, Monroe County leads the state in suicides out of 67 counties since 2003 with a rate of 23.1 per 100,000 people.
Next Thursday, Marathon City Councilman Bill Kelly will be wearing a single set of orange beads to remember his younger brother Tommy, who committed suicide at 20 years old.
“This is something that sticks with the family for the rest of their life,” Kelly said. “This is the number one thing that I think about. I flashback to finding him every time I start to think about it.”
Five years ago, Kelly couldn’t even talk about it. Now he speaks publicly about suicide. “It could have been prevented,” he said. “There were signals like depression and aloneness. Sometimes, a person just needs someone to advise them and get them through the night, and the next day they realize it does get better.”
“Rooms get silent when the word suicide is mentioned,” said Mary Lou Hoover, of the leadership class and the organizer of the Out of the Darkness walk (see sidebar). “People are shocked by the numbers — the amount of healthy, successful people, talented, young people in our community. It’s an epidemic, in my eyes, in our country.”
In 2013, there were 32 Monroe County residents who committed suicide and in 2014, there were 13 who committed suicide. Suicide is in the top 10 leading causes of death in Florida. Maryann Burrin of the Key West Office of Vital Statistics for the Monroe County, confirmed that there have been 14 suicides in Monroe County since January 1, 2015 and the majority of them have taken place in the past month. (There are three more deaths to be added to the list, so the unofficial count is at 17.)
“This is an alarming statistic for people to hear,” said Hoover. “We are substantially higher, almost double, of other counties our same size.”
The Leadership Monroe Class 23 tackled the issue of suicide and broke their project into three parts: a speaking panel with Kelly, Hoover, and Captain Lou Caputo, who have addressed about 20 different organizations. The second part was raising the funds to put up suicide awareness billboards and bus stop ads. The third is the walk, which will feature speakers Sheriff Rick Ramsay, Key West City Commissioner Terri Johnson, County Commissioner Heather Carruthers, and State Representative Holly Raschein. Pastor Font will lead a prayer before the walk.
“Now that the community has identified this as an issue, we really hope this will bring light to the fact that there are resources out there to help anyone who is in need,” said Hoover. “We hope this will open up the lines of communication for people to talk about it. It’s a serious issue.”
Kelly said a turning point was when a lady came up to him and said she was a survivor. “I thought she was talking about being able to live after someone she knew committed suicide. But she went on to tell me that after hearing me talk about my brother, it made her realize that she never wanted to try to kill herself again because of the pain it would cause her family,” he said. “I close my eyes and say a prayer every time I hear about [a sucicide]. It’s not just young people, it’s hard workers under stress and our veterans.”
“This is something that stays in my soul,” Kelly said. “It is serious and there are a lot of people out there that care and can help, there are a lot of people out there that love you.”
If you or someone you know is feeling helpless, the national number to call is 800-273-8255, which will put the caller in direct contact with a trained and qualified person. Locally, by calling 2-1-1, a counselor will be available to speak with you immediately. Mary Lou Hoover, Out of the Darkness walk organizer, suggests to always err on the side of caution; she said that if a friend or family member is in crisis, call 9-1-1.
The Out of the Darkness walk benefiting American Foundation for Suicide Prevention takes place Thursday, Sept. 10 with sign-in beginning at 5 p.m. and the walk taking place at 6:30 p.m. Walkers will depart from the Sheriff’s Office headquarters on Stock Island. Walkers will be given beads to coordinate how they have been affected by suicide — whether they’ve lost a child, partner, parent, sibling, friend or are struggling personally. The walk is free, but participants’ donations support the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Old Town Trolley will be shuttling people for free to the event. To sign up for the walk or donate, visit afsp.donordrive.com/event/kw. For more information, call 305-849-2457 or email [email protected].