COLUMBUS Donna Wolff is trying to end the stigma associated with suicide.
That helps explain the large cross tattoo on the inside of her forearm. Wolff, a hairdresser from Norfolk, said it is a good conversation starter. When she is doing a client’s hair, they often notice the tattoo and ask about it.
It’s then that she tells them about Zebulun, her 18-year-old son who died of suicide two years ago.
She shared some of her story in Columbus recently at a suicide prevention training workshop at Youth for Christ.
Zeb, as he was known, was a senior at Lutheran High Northeast. Wolff described her son as a popular, good-looking teen who played football and was on the speech team. But the all-American kid was troubled.
He had attempted to kill himself before. Wolff said Zeb went to counseling and was on medication for depression, but neither helped.
Then came the fateful day of March 1, 2009. Wolff and Zeb’s father were returning home from a trip to Omaha and found their son dead in their farmhouse.
She was so emotionally stunned that it took her a month before she could even cry. She has grieved since then and said the loss of her son is with her every day. But Wolff was determined not to let her son’s death be another statistic.
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in Nebraska. Knowing other families were experiencing the same feelings she was, Wolff started the SOS Support Group in Norfolk to help others deal with the issues they experience after the loss of someone to suicide.
“Suicide is such a different animal. There is so much stigma. There is so much blame and guilt, so much survivor guilt that comes along with suicide. There is so much finger pointing,” Wolff said.
She also works with the Northeast Nebraska Suicide Prevention Coalition which provides free public trainings within a 150 mile radius of Norfolk for people to learn about mental illness and depression.
“We are truly on a crusade to get the word of suicide out there, to let people know depression and suicide are very real topics and very hard topics to talk about, but we need to start talking about them,” she said.
The coalition covers a five-county area in northeast Nebraska. Since the beginning of this year, she said the group has been contacted about 22 completed suicides in those counties. And those reports haven’t been limited to teenagers or college students. Older adults have also become among the growing number of individuals who commit suicide.
Andres Sandoval, outreach coordinator for the Norfolk Community Health Care Clinic, served as the program facilitator of the Columbus training. He said the majority of people who are considering suicide do make their intent known through verbal cues and warning signs.
It might be as obvious as stating that they wish they were dead or that they are going to kill themselves. But behavioral changes like moodiness, putting personal affairs in order, sudden interest or disinterest in religion and giving away prized possessions are also signs.
Suicidal behavior can be triggered by various situations like rejection from a loved one, a recent move, diagnosis of a terminal illness, loss of job and death of a family member. Whatever the cause, Sandoval said it is important to see the signs and clues because people who are suicidal can often be stopped.
“Suicide is the most preventable type of death and almost any positive action can save a life. Of course there are always exceptions to this rule ... but for some people, all they want to do is release the pain. They really want to find the help they need and then they move forward and aren’t suicidal any more,” Sandoval said.
Wolff said simply asking someone that is suspected of being suicidal if they in fact are, can be enough to prevent that person from killing themselves. Most people who are suicidal don’t want to die, but can’t see any other way of making their pain stop. They feel like they are alone.
“They have blinders on and can not see the huge amount of people who love them and care for them,” she said.
By directly asking a person if they want to kill themselves, they most typically will tell you. “They actually feel like someone cares about them and that they aren’t being shoved off to the side,” Wolff said.