Friday, May 17, 2019, is a special day for Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center as the Center hosts the 21st annual Women Helping Women Luncheon at Embassy Suites. The luncheon raises funds to provide counseling and education for underinsured and uninsured women and girls. Five hundred eighty people attended the 2018 event which raised $204,000. In its twenty-one-year history the fund has raised over one million dollars. This year’s theme focuses on suicide loss and prevention. This year’s keynote speaker is Gina Skinner-Thebo, and the honoree is Susan Voss.
Suicide is an important topic to me as I am among those impacted. I attempted suicide at the age of twenty-one. I was married, employed, outwardly happy, and miserable. No one detected any signs. I behaved in predictable ways. The truth was my life was falling apart. I suffered from undiagnosed depression and anxiety, and low self-esteem. My husband found me and took me to the emergency room where the doctor told me not to do it again and sent me home. My husband ridiculed me. I had no social supports, no spiritual foundation, no mental health or medical services, and no effective coping skills. I was alone. To this day, I feel frightened when I think about that time and how close I came to ending my life. While the statistics show lower rates of suicide for African American females, suicides do happen. I nearly became one of them.
The life of Gina Skinner-Thebo changed forever on July 22, 2014. Her close friend, Rachel Atwood committed suicide. The loss led Gina to reevaluate her interactions with women. She is conscious about maintaining her relationships with transparency and authenticity. She founded The Atwood Center for Women to honor her friend and to provide a space for women to express themselves and to explore issues important to them.
Susan Voss has served on the Center’s Board of Directors more than ten years, including serving as Board president. She emceed the 2017 Women Helping Women Luncheon. She has participated on the Women Helping Women planning committee and introduced others to the initiative. She believes in the Center’s whole-person approach to mental health services. She described the Center’s staff as “amazing” and “truly gifted.” I agree.
Sadly, suicide statistics tell their own story of loss and grief.
In Iowa, 451 people died by suicide in 2016, ranking the state 29th in the country. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention reports that “On average, one person dies by suicide every nineteen hours in [Iowa]. The rate of suicide deaths in Iowa in 2016 was 14.55 per 100,000 population compared to the national rate of 13.42.
The National Center for Health Statistics reports that for the years 2000 through 2016, the suicide rate for males increased 21% while the rate for females during the same period increased 50%. The ratio of male-to-female suicide rate was 4.4 in 2000 and 3.6 in 2016. The narrowing in the ratio of male-to-female suicide rates reflects the accelerated increase in female suicide rates beginning in 2007. “In 2016, suicide was the tenth leading cause of death in the United States.” More women attempt suicide while more men die by suicide. Suicide rates for females were highest in the 45-64-year-old age bracket. The rates were 6.2 per 100,000 females in 2000 and 9.9 in 2016.
A fact sheet by American Association for Suicidology reports that African Americans have a lower suicide rate than other ethnicities, based on 2014 data. Of the 2,421 suicides committed by African Americans, 475 were female. “The suicide rate for African American females was the lowest among men and women of all ethnicities.” Distinctive risk factors include “access to lethal means,” “exposure to violence,” and “exposure to racial inequality.” Barriers to mental health services include limited access due to transportation, child care, and insurance; the stigma of mental health; and distrust of mental health and medical professionals. Elements that help protect African Americans against suicide are religious faith, familial ties, community networks, and “ethnic pride.”
Suicide is a complex phenomenon that contains many variables and reasons. Pin-pointing a single cause leading to a suicide is to chase an elusive, ever-transmuting target. Individuals may experience a single event in a cluster or line of events leading up to the suicide. Chronic and long-term stress take a devastating toll that increases exponentially with time, until the person can no longer endure the onslaught and sees no alternatives. Signs and symptoms, particularly changes in an individual’s habits, demeanor, or behavior, may alert family, friends, and colleagues that something is amiss.
While many sources of stress affect women and men, women and girls experience unique adversities:
- Hormonal and body changes at puberty, pregnancy, and menopause.
- Depression during pregnancy and post-partum depression.
- Raising families, sometimes singlehandedly.
- Caring for aging parents, often while raising families.
- Job or career pressures that do not apply equally to men.
- Loss of identity when care-giving is no longer necessary, whether children no longer need emotional or financial support, or when aging parents are settled into long-term care or die.
- Relief from family responsibilities, so the woman is now free to end her life.
Included in the stellar array of counseling and educational services offered by the Center, two services specifically address suicide loss and prevention. ASIST™ (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training) teaches participants how to recognize signs and symptoms of someone contemplating suicide and where to get help. The two-day intensive is facilitated by Diane McClanahan, BSN, M. Div, and Beverly C. Butler. Diane is director of Leadership and Spiritual Life at the Center. Beverly is an ordained United Methodist clergy. Diane and Beverly both are registered ASIST™ trainers. Survivors of Suicide Loss Support Group meets the third Tuesday evening every month at the Center. The group is facilitated by Andrea Severson, LMHC, M. Div, who is a counselor at the Center, and Diane McClanahan. Diane also is trained as a Survivor of Suicide Loss Support Group facilitator. More information about these programs can be found on the Center’s website, www.dmpcc.org, and click on “Classes and Events “or by contacting Diane McClanahan at 515-251-6667 or email@example.com. The national suicide prevention hotline number is 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and website: suicidepreventionlifeline.org. The lifeline is free, confidential, and always available.
As mentioned earlier, the suicide rate for females is increasing faster than the rate for males. You can support the Center’s intention to provide counseling and education and other services to women and girls in need. Visit the Center’s website and click on 2019 Women Helping Women Luncheon for more information about the initiative and ways you can participate. You also may contact Women Helping Women Luncheon organizer Terri Speirs at 515-251-6670.