Surviving family members of suicide victims speak out - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Surviving family members of suicide victims speak out

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) - Two families who experienced the most devastating loss imaginable are sharing their stories, hoping to spare someone else the same fate. They both know the cost of a killer that's claiming more lives each year: suicide.

"She was hilarious, so funny, kind, smart. She was generous, very patriotic. She loved little kids. A light went out the day she died," said Christine O'Hara, who lost her sister. 

"I went to bed and the last thing I said to him was, 'I love you,'" said Vince Gottbrath, who lost his only child, Jamie, who was 24.

O'Hara lost her only sibling, Allison, who died at 23.

The families have never met, but they tell a similar story.

"I got up to go to work and the car he drove was gone, and I said to myself, 'He got up early,'" Gottbrath said.

O'Hara remembers, "I went to check on her and her door was locked and that's when I knew something wasn't right."

They share an excruciating experience that ties them together: losing a loved one to suicide.

"Our garage door had three windows and I saw a red light and I knew the car had been running for three hours and overheated. I pulled him out and he made a little gargling sound and I thought, 'Maybe he's okay,' but the paramedics said no," Gottbrath said.

"Mom and I had to break the door down and we found her. We tried to resuscitate her, but I took one look at her and I could tell that she was gone," O'Hara said.

There were different paths to their tragic deaths. A breakup with a girlfriend led Jamie down a brief path of depression.

"What I want people to realize about Jamie is when he met this girl, he was the happiest guy in the world. It can happen and it can happen so quickly. You wouldn't believe how quickly he went downhill," Gottbrath said.

O'Hara's sister had battled depression for years and was getting help.

"She would do group therapy. She was always in some kind of counseling. It wasn't like it was something we weren't aware of," O'Hara said.

Gottbrath said, "When a person is suicidal, all they want is for that pain to end. It's not about anything else."

Both families walked a similar path after their loves ones died.

"You don't judge people when they die of heart disease or cancer, but they do make judgments in this society about people who die with mental illness," O'Hara said.

"You don't want to admit your child is having a problem like this, so it's easy to look the other way. Well, I did that and it cost me my child's life," Gottbrath said.

He has been on a mission ever since, joining the Board of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

"I can't tolerate anyone going through what I'm going through. We need to make a difference and we need to make the difference not by reacting, but being proactive to what's going on in our lives," he said.

Gottbrath and O'Hara join hundreds of others each year for an "Out of the Darkness" suicide prevention walk to remember and spark conversation about what many consider a taboo subject.

The latest government statistics show over the course of the two-hour event, 10 people will commit suicide, one person every 12 minutes.

O'Hara said, "It was so healing to know we're not alone, because it's not something that's talked about. There's a lot of whispering and people look away, and don't want to talk about mental illness and suicide."

If you suspect someone you know is depressed, watch for signs of deepening depression. Early warning signs of suicide include difficulty in school, anger, aggressive behavior, eating disturbances, anxiety, feeling like a failure, self criticism, concentrating and preoccupation with death. Late warning signs include talking about death and suicide more frequently, dropping out of usual activities, isolating from family and peers, refusing help and making a last will.

Gottbrath said, "He had a baseball collection he had collected since he was 9-years-old and a music collection. He gave it all away in three weeks' time."

"She was actually in a good place, we thought, planting a garden, making plans for the future. It seems lot of times folks are on medication and they start to get better, and that's a little riskier than when people are so depressed they can't get out of bed," O'Hara said.

Don't be afraid to ask hard questions and get help.

O'Hara said, "We can't be so passive. People are dying every day, lives are destroyed."

"I love him and I believe I'll see him again someday. I believe God will let me see him again, hopefully it's in heaven," Gottbrath said.

The latest statistics from the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention show that the number of suicides has been climbing since the year 2000. The national suicide rate stands at 12.5 deaths per 100,000 people, and the rate is even higher in Kentucky and Indiana.|

For more information on getting help, visit the website for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

You can also call the Crisis and Information Center at 502-589-4313 or 1-800-221-0446.

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