At Issue: Suicide Prevention

Lisa Fielding
July 22, 2018 - 3:26 pm
WBBM's Lisa Fielding on this week's At Issue talks to a suicide attempt survivor and Stephanie Weber, executive director of Suicide Prevention Services.

WBBM Newsradio/Lisa Fielding

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CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- Suicide is one of the top 10 causes of death in the US right now. If fact, numbers are on the rise. In Illinois alone, suicides are up by 20 percent.

The recent deaths of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade have raised awareness about suicide.

"Every case, every human is individual. It's up to 46,000 people a year now," said Stephanie Weber, Executive Director, Suicide Prevention Services, who lost her mother to suicide in 1979.

"She was 61 years old. I was married, living out of state with four small children. She was in a coma for two days. When she came to, I was holding her hand. I was crying and she started crying. I said mom, it's ok. She said it's not ok. I don't want to be alive," Weber recalled.

Her mom's death lead her to the Suicide Prevention Services. Now it's become her life's mission to educate and talk about suicide.

"After my mom died, there were several days of total and utter blackness, like I was floating above the earth but within 18 months, I was volunteering on a hotline in South Bend, Indiana. Through there I learned about the American Society of Suicidology. I formed a survivor division there, and eventually I got a master's degree in counseling. I declared suicidology as my field."

In 1984, Weber formed the Crisis Line of the Fox Valley in Aurora. In 1996, she said she realized more needed to be done in education and training.

"I pulled some people together and got $10,000 in grant money and we brought someone in to do training and 20 years later, we are one of 7 agencies in the country. We have everything under one roof. We do education and training, we do counseling, we have contracts in the schools, we have a hotline, we have an attempt support group and a loss support group."

Mike Knenlein attempted suicide six years ago.

"I felt worn out. I'd gone through a period of time when I had a neck injury. I had a lot of pain. It wiped out my ability to play tennis or play golf. I didn't have a real social background or support network," he said.


"Eventually I convinced my self everything would be better if I just left. I wrote a letter. I was trying to tell people I wasn't depressed, but I was just worn out."

Knenlein recalled the night it happened.

"My wife found me, fortunately. When I woke up the next morning in the suicide ward, I was furious, but that's when things turned around," he said.

Weber says if your loved one is suffering, there are signs to  look for.

"The second attempt is usual the one to kill someone. People like Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade, they looked like they had the perfect life. Did they? They did not. The mask they wore on the outside was hiding the pain on the inside." she said. "If you talk about it, you have to be taken seriously."

"My note that I wrote addressed my wife, my kids. God, how he was going to handle it. I just don't want to deal with it again. That's depression. There is no joy when you're depressed. The brain chemistry changes," said Knenlein.

Weber says suicide is a major public health issue, accounting for nearly 45,000 deaths in 2016 alone.

Mental health conditions are often seen as the cause of suicide, but suicide is rarely caused by any single factor. In fact, many people who die by suicide are not known to have a diagnosed mental health condition at the time of death.

"Some of this is the economic, they are losing their jobs, losing their homes, the pressure," Weber said. 

For survivors, Weber said she is forever changed, as are other loved ones left behind.

"It's the guilt, it's the anger. Eventually, after two years of grief work, it's eventually saying ok, I'm going to carry a little piece of this forever. She didn't mean to take me with her. It's such a hard feeling in the beginning because, yes, I feel like I could've done something but that puts us in a God-like position. In retrospect, there were warning signs," Weber said.

Weber added that talking about it is the first step to saving lives.

"The good news is that the stigma is lessening. I think more people are talking about it and that's a good thing."

If you need help or have a loved one who is suffering, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK or the Suicide Prevention Services Hotline at 630-482-9696 or visit spsamerica.org.