NEWARK – Aug. 16, 2009. Danielle Wood had a plan.
She staked out the spot ahead of time. She remembers pacing back and forth, trying to get the nerve; pulling off the side of the road and turning on her hazard lights.
She remembers the police officer who pulled up behind her, and how she consciously avoided eye contact.
Then, she remembers throwing herself off an overpass.
“I just remember going over the side, and I don’t remember anything else,” she said.
Tuesday was Mental Health America of Licking County’s annual suicide prevention vigil. A large crowd gathered at Real Life Church of the Nazarene then marched down East Main Street and around the Courthouse Square.
They carried purple and turquoise balloons — the colors of suicide prevention and awareness. They hoisted signs with suicide statistics and messages of hope. Several shared stories of loved ones lost or, like Wood, now 33, their own struggles.
When she woke up in the hospital, police told Wood she’d dropped somewhere between 55 and 70 feet, she said. Doctors told her they didn’t know if she’d ever walk again or be able to control her bowels. She spent about three weeks at Grant Medical Center in Columbus and 13 months at a treatment facility in Licking County. Now, while she walks with a slight limp, she’s otherwise OK.
“While I was (in the hospital), God just put the people in my life,” she said. “I just started meeting people, and, you know, I started getting better.
“My life is so beautiful now.”
Licking County’s suicide rate is about 14.5 per 100,000 people, compared with a national rate of 11.5, said Justina Wade, Mental Health America suicide prevention coordinator. Tuesday’s event was meant to raise awareness of the issue, offer comfort and support to people who have lost someone to suicide, and spread that message that treatment is available and it works.
“Don’t be afraid to reach out for help,” Wade said. “And don’t be ashamed. There are people out there that care and aren’t going to judge you.”
Sixteen-year-old Audrey Evans carried several balloons with her father’s name, Jerry Evans, written in dark, permanent marker. Jerry Evans died by suicide about four years ago, when Audrey was going into the seventh grade.
On her left foot, Audrey has a tattoo that reads “foot’n,” because her dad was a barefoot water surfer, she said. His death changed the way she thinks about everything because it taught her how special life is, she said.
“It seems really cliche — life is really important; live it up — but it’s actually really true,” she said. “Somebody loves you, no matter how low you get.”
Jeannie Morrison carried a picture of her nephew, Brian, who died by suicide two years ago when he was 30. Brian is grinning in the picture — a testament to how ornery he was, Morrison said.
“He was awesome. He had that little baby face,” she said. “It’s been really difficult. I just can’t believe it. What was going on in (his) head and why? Those are answers we’ll never have.”
Before her own attempt, Wood was struggling with depression and addiction, she said. She fantasized about suicide, and finally, she felt it was her only option.
“My life was just a mess,” she said. “I had done some treatment, but it all seemed hopeless. I couldn’t see anything good.”
When she woke up, though, her first feeling was relief. Standing in the Courthouse Square on Tuesday, she shared that message with the crowd.
“Don’t give up,” she said. “Reach out. It can get better. It can get so much better.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts, call 211 for help.
Editor’s note: September is Recovery Month, 30 days dedicated to celebrating people fighting to overcome mental or substance abuse disorders. Recovery Month encourages open discussion of mental illnesses. It spreads the message that help is available, treatment works and people can overcome.
This is one of a series of articles The Advocate is running during Recovery Month, spreading the message and sharing the stories of those who fought — or are fighting — to recover.
This post appeared in the Newark Advocate September 10, 2014.